Rail fares reform - the sector reacts


The recent calls for a rail fare overhaul from the Rail Delivery Group, appear to have provided a rare moment of unity in this fragmented sector - in that everyone seems to agree things need to change.

At the heart of what has been proposed is essentially the kind of smart ticketing already enjoyed by Londoners.

The Department for Transport and rail operators have made several attempts to introduce smart ticketing over the last few years. None of which have proven to be very successful.

Behind any real change will need to be a scrapping of the regulatory system that puts limits on fare flexibility. This would require legislation, something the DfT could find difficult.

Stretched from Brexit and understaffed, Transport Network understands from senior figures in the department it could be years at least before they can put through any major legislative programme.

Reform will also require a new understanding of franchise structures that would protect operators against the risk of a more dynamic and most importantly perhaps will not see operators' profits immediately collapse through the loss of season tickets.



A DfT spokesperson said: 'RDG’s contribution to the Williams Review is welcome. In the short term, we are ready to work with the industry on how their proposals might work and be tested in the real world.'

The DfT is also working with train companies to expand pay as you go on SWR, c2c and West Midlands Railway networks and providing Transport for the North £150m to help roll out multi-modal smart ticketing.

It is also consulting on expanding ‘pay as you go’ further in the South-East.


Anthony Smith, chief executive, Transport Focus, said: 'The current process is broken and its faults well known. The time for piecemeal changes has gone – we need root-and-branch reform to maximise the benefits and boost value for money ratings.

'A lot of things in these proposals are sensible and long overdue: single journey-based pricing will simplify and make the system easier to explain.

'New fares that match the way that people want to travel today will make rail more attractive. Current fares regulation does stand in the way of achieving much of this. But regulation also caps some prices and any talk of relaxing this could make some nervous. So, I’m pleased to see the plan talk of replacing regulation rather than removing it.

The MPs

The chair of the transport committee, Lilian Greenwood MP, said: 'It’s no surprise to us that passengers want real reform of rail fares. In a 2016 Report, the Transport Committee labelled parts of the rail ticketing system ‘overly complex, opaque and unfair’ and nothing has changed. The call for fairer fares has only become louder and more insistent after a year in which many passengers experienced appalling levels of disruption and promised improvements to services have been delayed or cancelled.

'The Rail Delivery Group’s proposition to the Williams Review that passengers only pay for what they need, are always charged the best value fare, can use smart tickets and season tickets that suit today’s working patterns all make complete sense to us, and are welcome recognition that things need to change.

'But the devil will be in the detail and my Committee, along with many of the other rail-watchers, will be keeping a close eye on this work to ensure it develops in ways that are fair, transparent, recognises the needs of passengers and takes account of the vital contribution that the railway makes to our society and economy.'


Darren Shirley, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: 'The fares and ticketing system is broken and desperately needs fixing, so we welcome these proposals. We’re particularly pleased to see proposals for more flexible commuter tickets to reflect modern work patterns, something we’ve long called for, and for nationwide smart ticketing. What’s not clear however, is if these proposals will also lead to an end to the annual fares rise, which fails to reflect the level of service passengers receive the previous year.

'It is now up to the Government to take forward these proposals to ensure we have a fares system that is fairer and easier to use; that integrates ticketing across all public transport; and that genuinely puts passengers at the heart of the railways.'

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