Will Quince is MP for Colchester.
The rail fares system is not fit for the modern era. The current system was established in the 1990s, and has been incrementally tinkered with ever since. Layer upon layer of further requirements have been added in new franchise agreements. The result is a system that leaves the public unsure as to whether they are getting the best value fare.
That’s why last summer I was pleased to see the launch of the rail industry’s Easier Fares consultation, and why I welcome the fact that the industry has now come forward with proposals for change.
The consultation ran for three months and almost 20,000 people responded. Businesses, local authorities, community organisations and accessibility groups also contributed and unsurprisingly their verdict was clear – eight out of ten people want the fares system to be reformed. The calls for change in the consultation responses are overwhelming: 88 per cent of people want changes to how tickets are sold; 74 per cent want flexible ticketing and 90 per cent want ‘smart’ ticketing in their area, with the potential for price capping, to be considered.
The rail users in my constituency rightly ask for value for money, fair pricing, simplicity, flexibility and assurances that they are getting the best value fare for their journey. In response, the rail industry has now launched their proposals – Easier Fares for All – setting out how updates to regulations will deliver the fares system that people have asked for.
I welcome the fact that the industry’s proposals address some of the points raised by me and my former colleagues on the Transport Select Committee in our rail inquiries, such as the need for flexible and smart ticketing, and making the most of technology – including online accounts, smartcards, smartphones and better integration of rail fares with those for other modes of transport countrywide.
To deliver these benefits, the industry is proposing simple changes. At their core is moving to a ‘single-leg’ structure, which could allow customers to choose the most appropriate ticket for each leg of their journey in a way they are unable to today.
To give you an example: thousands of my Colchester constituents are commuters: many work flexible office hours, sometimes three or four days a week in the office, and their outward and return journeys are not always at peak time. However, they buy a weekly season ticket which means they are paying the same as a five-day a week peak time commuter. With flexible ticketing and the option of a ‘pay-as-you-go’ tap-in tap-out system, they would instead only pay for what they use.
Importantly, the proposals could also help reduce overcrowding on peak times and attract more people to travel, supporting increased investment across Britain.
A simpler, reformed rail fares system, which guarantees that we are always getting the best value fare for your journey, is urgently needed to restore the public’s trust and confidence in the rail system and get more people travelling by train.
The Government launched the independent Williams Rail Review last year to look at the future of Britain’s railway. The Review is an important vehicle to help deliver the industry’s changes to rail fares, but the industry is also right that the preparatory work must begin now to ensure we give the public the system they deserve.
I also welcome the Government’s decision to launch a twelve-week consultation on a possible roll out of pay-as-you-go (PAYG) ticketing to more rail stations across the South-East. PAYG is an efficient and cost-effective method that has made travel easier for a vast number of rail users already. I hope colleagues will join me in urging the Government and industry to work together to deliver this positive change for passengers now.