Ministers have announced ‘steps to pilot’ new flexible rail fare systems but the announcement is short on detail.
The announcement came as average rail fares rose by 2.7%, which is higher than the widely used CPI inflation measure (2.1% in July 2019) but slightly lower than the (2.8%) RPI measure.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said the Government had ‘frozen’ regulated fares in line with inflation while transport secretary Grant Shapps said it was part of ‘a year of action towards creating a rail industry relentlessly focused on improving [passengers’] experience’.
Officials said a new fares trial on Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) will provide passengers on certain routes with the opportunity to purchase better value tickets aimed at part-time workers, ‘reflecting modern working patterns’.
David Gornall, commercial director for GTR, said: ‘We are delighted to be working with the Department for Transport on a trial of a flexible carnet-style smart ticket that, later this year, will allow part-time workers on a section of the Southern network to benefit from cheaper fares normally afforded only to season ticket holders.’
The details of the routes for the trial and the level of discount that the carnet will offer are expected to be released later this year.
Although the plan is described as a trial, it appears similar to carnet-style tickets already offered by South Western Railway, which offers a discount of only 5%.
Officials said the Government will also establish a new ‘fares trials fund’, to kickstart further trials this year across the country. However, it was not stated how much cash would be in the fund.
Mr Shapps implicitly conceded that real progress on the issue is a long way off.
He said: ‘Delivering such significant change will take time, but passengers can have total confidence that these trials will help provide the evidence needed to develop wider reforms to the fares system and a significantly better service.’
Officials pointed out that the announcement of the GTR trials coincides with the start of a trial on LNER services from London to Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh.
The trial effectively means that passengers will no longer be overcharged for single tickets, compared to the price of a return.
The DfT said that where previously a passenger travelling between London and Edinburgh purchasing a ticket at the station would have paid £150.50 for a Super Off-Peak Single ticket or £151.50 for a Super Off-Peak Return ticket from 2 January, under the trial, the cost of a Super Off-Peak Single is now £75.75.
The trial was previously announced in August last year, except that at that time (prior to the fare rise) it was said that the cost of a single between London and Edinburgh would be £73.70.
David Sidebottom, director at watchdog Transport Focus, said the trials 'could help take some of the sting out of rising rail fares' but called for their benefits to be rolled out across the country as soon as possible.
He said: 'We know that passengers find the ticketing system far too complex. The presence of cheaper fares that are hidden in the system damages trust between passengers and train companies.
'Transport Focus has long called for a fares system that is simple to use, easy to understand and is flexible enough to cater to how people work and travel today.'