UK rail fares come under spotlight in new consultation

UK rail fares come under spotlight in new consultation

Britain’s rail companies are launching a public consultation to seek ‘root and branch reform’ of fares and ticketing regulation.

The announcement follows new research by KPMG which shows that only one in three (34 per cent) rail customers is 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.

Reform has the potential to transform the buying experience for customers, making it easier for people to be confident they are getting the right ticket.

Well-intentioned but ultimately counterproductive regulations underpinning rail fares have remained unchanged from the mid-1990s, when the 1995 Ticketing Settlement Agreement spelled out how fares should be set and sold.

It assumes all customers will buy their ticket by visiting a ticket office and sets out in detail how customers must be able to buy a ticket from each of the 2,500 stations in Britain to every other station in the country.

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Since then, 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.

As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for rail companies to guarantee the right fare.

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 having increased by over a third in 22 years.

Updated, fit-for-purpose fares regulation would enable the right changes for the long-term.

The consultation will help the industry to establish a road map which delivers against these principles.

The industry wants to then work with governments to make fares simpler, easier and more trusted while continuing to enable investment in the railway.

To help frame the consultation, the Rail Delivery Group, which brings together all rail companies, has commissioned an independent report from KPMG to identify key principles which are driven by what customers and the country need from the railway.

These principles should underpin fares offering that is fit for the future and include:

  • Being transparent, predictable, fair, trusted, easier to use and value for money for customers.
  • Offering integration with other modes of transport.
  • Offering personalised, flexible fares which best serve customers in different markets.
  • Enabling growth, innovation, efficiency and choice.
  • Providing funding for investment and avoiding the need for additional taxpayer subsidy.

A final report will be informed by the consultation and will make proposals to governments with options for fares reform.

The industry’s proposals will be designed to be neutral in overall revenue terms with no change in average fares, and therefore not requiring any extra taxpayer support for the railway.

Commenting, 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 £10billion-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.”

Contribute to the consultation here.