This is a sponsored post by the Rail Delivery Group.
It is an inescapable fact that our lives have changed since the 1990s. Technology has evolved, bringing us the smartphone and allowing for the introduction of flexible working, while buying goods and services has been made even easier with the advent of digital wallets and chip and pin. Yet in this time, well-intentioned but ultimately counterproductive regulations underpinning rail fares have remained unchanged.
Further layers of requirements have been added through individual franchise agreements, with little or nothing taken away. This means that long-standing anomalies are becoming locked in resulting in bigger problems for customers, and there are now around 55 million different fares in the system.
It is no secret to those who work on Britain’s railways that an overhaul in how fares are set and sold is needed.
This is the basis behind the proposals the rail industry is announcing today, Easier Fares for All. The new proposition can be described in one simple premise: customers should only pay for the travel they need and always get the best value fare where and when they buy it.
The proposals are the result of the Easier Fares Consultation the industry ran last summer in partnership with independent passenger watchdog, Transport Focus. This was the biggest consultation ever conducted on how the rail fares system works.
The response was overwhelming and unequivocal. Of the almost 20,000 people who took part, including customers, businesses and passenger groups, over eight in ten said they wanted to see the system reformed. Customers want fares that meet modern working patterns, flexibility if plans change and the best available price for the service received.
Achieving what people want means starting afresh. We need to move away from a system of fixed packages of pre-prescribed fares to one where a single journey on one train serves is the basic building block. It’s like moving from Spaghetti Junction to a Manhattan-style grid system – logical and easy to navigate.
This type of re-structure could enable commuters across Britain to benefit from a pay-as-you-go, ‘tap-in tap-out’ system underpinned by seven-day price caps currently only experienced in London. This would give commuters far greater freedom to mix and match their tickets, potentially saving money for people working fewer than five days or travelling off-peak.
At the same time, long distance travellers would see a far larger range of cheaper walk-up fares and greater flexibility to travel when they want to. This would see a better spreading of demand and overcrowding reduced by up to a third on some of the busiest services.
Updating fares regulations could also go beyond improvements to customer service and support greater local accountability. Where relevant powers are devolved, updated fares regulations could help local political leaders to have more control over their transport systems, enabling them to co-ordinate train fares alongside other transport modes. Even where powers are already devolved, this is difficult to achieve because rail-only fares are set under different national rules to local travel schemes.
However, train companies alone cannot rebuild the system.
The industry wants to work with government to update the regulations underpinning the system and run a series of real-world trials to test their proposals further. Change is necessary however the system is organised. While these proposals represent a first submission to Keith Williams’ wider rail review, the journey towards a better fares system can start now.
With the Government’s support the industry is optimistic that the benefits could be rolled out across the network over the next 3-5 years. We’ve listened. It’s time to work together to give rail customers what they want. It’s time for easier fares for all.
Read the proposals at www.bigplanbigchanges.co.uk/easierfares