Rail fares and ticketing are unnecessarily expensive and complicated - it's a mess that successive governments have ducked responsibility for sorting out. The Scottish government has now taken action, cutting fares and pledging to remove pricing anomalies. But will the same deal be extended to train users south of the border?
Rail fares and ticketing are unnecessarily expensive and complicated – it’s a mess that successive governments have ducked responsibility for sorting out. The Scottish government has now taken action, cutting fares and pledging to remove pricing anomalies. But will the same deal be extended to train users south of the border?
Last March, under pressure from Campaign for Better Transport, the UK government began consulting on a review of fares and ticketing. This included everything from the principles behind pricing and how we can spread the morning and evening rush, to practical steps to make buying tickets easier.
The promise was that it would set us on the path to simple and affordable rail travel. Since then all has been quiet. The findings of the review were due to be published next month but have been delayed until early summer. The department for transport is being tight-lipped over their content.
In the meantime, the Scottish government has taken action, announcing three measures which, if adopted across the board, would go some way to sorting out the current problems. Under the Scottish plans, commuter fares north of the border will go up by less than inflation when the new Scotrail franchise begins in 2015, off-peak fares will be frozen for 2014 and 2015, and the anomaly known as split ticketing will be ended.
The legacy of a botched privatisation, split ticketing means it can be cheaper to buy two or more tickets covering different parts of your journey, rather than a single ticket for the whole thing. In practice, passengers undertaking the same journey at the same time can end up paying markedly different prices.
For example, a walk on single between London to Coventry costs £44.40. Singles from London Euston to Milton Keynes and then Milton Keynes to Coventry total £31.70, a saving of 29 per cent and with no need to change train. Prices on other routes would be up to 49 per cent cheaper if England and Wales adopted the Scottish pricing model. The Scots have also invested in reopening lines cut by Beeching, for example the Borders Rail line between Edinburgh and Galashiels.
Earlier this week, Campaign for Better Transport wrote to the transport minister demanding that he follow the Scottish lead. We are also calling on rail user to contact him setting out how freezing ticket prices and removing pricing anomalies would benefit them.
The number of franchises and extent of the network would make it more intricate to resolve such problems in England and Wales than in Scotland, but this is no excuse for inaction. We expect the government’s fares review to set out a route to simpler and more affordable train travel.
It’s time that passengers in England and Wales benefited from cheaper and simpler fares, not just those in Scotland.
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