Do train fares need simplifying?

Reform of rail fare regulations is being explored
Reform of rail fare regulations is being explored

A simpler and more flexible train ticket system could be delivered as part of proposals for ‘root and branch reform’ of countrywide rail fare regulations.

The rail industry, along with independent watchdog Transport Focus, is launching a public consultation to establish a direction for change in order to make the system less complex and easier to understand.

The current regulations, which have remained unchanged since the mid-1990s, have been described as well-intentioned but counterproductive.

With around 55 million different fares now available it has become increasingly difficult for rail companies to guarantee the right fare.

Any proposals from the industry would be designed to be neutral in overall revenue terms and would require Government support to implement.

Changes could address the problem of through-ticket peak-time premiums, where a passenger’s journey has more than one leg and is charged for a peak-time fare even though part of their trip is off-peak.

Proposals could also look at flexible smart ticketing for people who work part time.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “As part of the industry’s plan for change, we want to work in partnership to drive root and branch reform of well-meaning but out-dated fares regulation.

“Working together, we want to develop proposals to reform fares and regulation to make it easier for our customers to get the right ticket, enhancing trust in the system and supporting continued investment to improve the service.

“Unpicking the regulation of a £10bn-a-year fares system that underpins such a vital public service means there are no quick-and-easy solutions.

“The change that’s needed won’t be easy and the industry doesn’t have all the answers, which is why we want to hear views from passengers, communities and businesses in all parts of the country.

“There have already been improvements and more are on the way but this consultation will enable us to create a clear roadmap with the country so that we can make the right changes for the long-term more quickly.”

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, added: “Rail passengers want a simpler, more understandable and modern fares system which matches the way we now travel.

“Opening up the debate and looking at the pros and cons of various reform options is welcome. Transport Focus will make sure the passenger voice is heard in these debates.”

The announcement follows new research by KPMG which shows that only one in three (34 per cent) rail customers are very confident that they bought the best value ticket for their last journey and fewer than one in three (29 per cent) were very satisfied with the experience of buying their ticket.

The 1995 Ticketing Settlement Agreement spells out how fares should be set and sold, but since then further layers of requirements have been added through individual franchise contracts, with little or nothing taken away.

Meanwhile regulations have failed to keep pace with the rise of smartphone technology or how people work and travel today, with part-time working and self-employment both on the rise.

To help frame the consultation an independent KPMG report was commissioned to identify what customers and the country need from the railway.

Key principles underpinning a future system include being transparent, offering integration with other modes of transport, offering personalised and flexible fares, and enabling growth, innovation, efficiency and choice.

The consultation is set to start on Monday June 4 and will run until September, with a final report due in the late autumn.