Rail industry calls for fares overhaul


Train operators have called for an overhaul of the fares system including bringing in smart 'tap-in, tap-out' ticketing with single leg pricing, weekly capping and a smoothing of the 'cliff edge' between peak and off peak.

Due the nature of the UK rail system, the government may need to introduce legislation to change the regulated fares system - much of which has been in place for over a generation - and allow train operating companies (TOCs) to deliver the called-for 'root and branch' reforms.

TOCs hope that if the proposals are adopted - over a possible 3-5 year timescale - they could offer a ‘best fare guarantee’, so customers would always be paying the lowest fare available.


Paul Plummer, Chief Executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said: 'The result of our nationwide consultation is clear – customers have different needs and want an easy to use range of rail fares to meet them. Our proposals can deliver exactly that – creating a system that better fits how people live and work today.

'Rail companies are already working together on plans for real world trials so people can see what our proposals could mean for them. However, current regulation needs to be updated and we want to work with government, who are key to making improvements a reality, to deliver the better fares system the public wants to see.'

The proposals from the Rail Delivery Group, which represents TOCs, are supported by the independent watchdog Transport Focus and result from the largest ever fares consultation launched last year and involving 20,000 passengers, which revealed an overwhelming demand for change.

The consultation found:

  • eight out of 10 want the system overhauled;
  • nine out of 10 want consideration of smart or electronic tickets, with the potential for price capping
  • eight out of 10 want consideration of fares based on encouraging travel to fill up empty seats.

Commuter plans

The RDG proposes a seven-day season ticket that would set a cap or maximum price. Lower caps could be introduced for off-peak travel or concessionary travel funded by a local authority. With pay-as-you-go pricing and a ‘tap-in tap-out’ system, commuters that currently buy weekly season tickets could save money when they travel fewer than five days a week or are able to travel off peak

Smart technology to give customers the fares that meet their needs and provide incentives for different types of travellers

Long distance plans

The RDG wants to allow people to mix and match peak and off-peak fares. This would mean ticket prices could be set more flexibly, spreading demand. This would be supported by a wider range of on the day fares and hopefully reduce overcrowding and make travel more convenient.

A long time coming down the line

The demands for an overhaul of the system have been made many times before and follow on from failed government attempts to bring in smart ticketing, which have costs the taxpayer scores of millions.

This work by the RDG compliments the ongoing Government Williams Review, which some will see as resulting from a final breakdown in public relations for the rail sector.  

Rail companies have suffered from a lack of trust in recent years, with mistakes at Network Rail often adding to the patchy service, outdated rolling stock, constant delays, stalled upgrades, cost overruns, rising fares and timetabling chaos constantly seen on the network.

The plans are revenue neutral and mean that while many fares would fall in price some would up, with the possibility of dynamic pricing to smooth demand between peak and off peak.


The RDG is developing trials of the plans and want to work with government to run them this year in the following areas:

  • Single leg pricing - sale of tickets on a single leg basis so that people can mix and match the best value fares for the outward and return journeys
  • Pay as you go - on a suburban commuter operators coming into London, expanding flexible commuter fares beyond the capital
  • Leg-based pricing - where the price of a rail fare is calculated based on the additive price of the number of legs in the journey

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