Fares reform must be prioritised in rail review, say passengers

A year since the biggest ever rail fares consultation opened, passengers still grappling with an outdated fares system say government should prioritise fares reform and enable change as soon as possible.

Eight in 10 (81%) passengers think updates to the fares system should be prioritised by the independently chaired Williams Review looking at the whole rail system, according to an independent survey by Populus commissioned by the Rail Delivery Group.

The results come exactly one year since the rail industry and Transport Focus started the biggest ever public consultation into how the fares system could be reformed to make it easier to use. The consultation ran for three months and received almost 20,000 responses across Britain, including input from over 60 umbrella organisations representing over 300,000 other organisations, authorities and individuals. In all, eight out of 10 who took part want the current system changed, with respondents calling for a fairer, more transparent and easier to use experience.

The latest poll shows that passengers want to see change delivered quickly, with almost eight in 10 (77%) saying it is important that the government works with the rail industry to enable change within the next three to five years. This timeframe is especially important among commuters (79%) and people who take the train for business (80%).

The poll also found that among rail users:

  • Only one in 10 (11%) feel the range of rail fares on offer always fits with their lifestyle and the way they want to travel, falling to just 5% of people who use the train for business.
  • Six in 10 (60%) say rail fares always, often or sometimes feel too rigid so they have to fit their plans around them, rather than the other way around, which rises to two-thirds (67%) of part-time commuters and eight in 10 (80%) people who use the train for business.
  • More than eight in 10 (85%) think it’s important that the fares system is updated to enable flexible workers to save money.

The current fares system is based on regulation that has remained largely unchanged since it was introduced in 1995 and assumes customers will buy their ticket by visiting a ticket office. Regulations have also failed to keep pace with the rise of smartphone technology or how people work and travel today. Part time working and self-employment having increased by over a third in just over two decades, but the rail fares on offer are still geared towards people who work five days a week.

In February, the industry submitted its ‘Easier Fares for All’ proposals. They advocate moving to a ‘single-leg’ structure, as currently operates within London, so that customers are able to choose the most appropriate ticket for each leg of their journey. Changing fares in this way would mean that customers would only pay for what they need and would enable an industry guarantee for the first time to ensure that they are always getting the best value fare. It would also unlock a host of other improvements such as the roll-out of a ‘tap in tap out’ system with a price cap across the country, offering savings for commuters travelling fewer than five days a week or working flexibly. 

Overcrowding could also be reduced by up to a third on the busiest long-distance services with people having the flexibility to mix-and-match different types of single tickets, with no need to commit to a return when they buy an outward journey.

To support a rolling programme of reform across Britain over the next three to five years, the industry wants the Williams Review to recommend that the government updates regulation. To bring the changes to life for passengers, rail companies are currently moving forward to develop a series of real-world fares trials across the country.

The industry is also working to improve ticketing within the constraints of the current system, including cutting jargon, making more tickets available on smartcards and mobiles and introducing technology to make it easier for customers to find the right fare on some individual routes. However, these welcome incremental changes are not a substitute for the network-wide benefits that would be unlocked for all passengers through meaningful fares reform brought about by regulatory change.

Paul Plummer, chief executive at the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the rail industry, said:

“Passengers across the country want to see the wheels turning on fares reform. Work around solutions are not enough – bringing decades old regulations up to date is the only way to deliver easier-to-use, more flexible and better value rail fares for all our passengers.”

Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent passenger watchdog Transport Focus which led the easier fares consultation jointly with the RDG said:

“Transport Focus research shows that rail passengers want a fares system that is simple to use, easy to understand and is flexible enough to cater to how people work and travel today.

“Making sure passengers are confident they can purchase the best value ticket for their journey remains their top priority for improvement. The outdated fares and ticketing system continues to erode passenger trust; fundamental fares reform from the Rail Review cannot arrive a minute too soon.”

Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:

“Business communities across the UK rely on the rail network to move people and goods, and need a modern, simple and logical fare regime. Reform of the current system is long overdue, and the rail review is a good opportunity to kickstart this process, both to improve the customer experience and also to support changing patterns of work and travel.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Populus conducted an online sample of 2,016 GB adults 18+ between 24 May and 27 May 2019. A sample of 1,147 people use the train. Excluding those who responded ‘don’t know’, the survey found:

  • Eight in 10 (81%) think updates to the fares system should be prioritised as the government undertakes a review of the whole rail system.
  • Eight in 10 (77%) think it is important that the government works with the rail industry to enable change within the next three to five years. This includes 79% of commuters and 80% of people who take the train for business.
  • One in 10 (11%) feel the range of rail fares on offer always fits with their lifestyle and the way they want to travel. This includes just 5% of people who use the train for business.
  • Six in 10 (60%) say rail fares always, often or sometimes feel too rigid so they have to fit their plans around them. This rises to two-thirds (67%) of part-time commuters and eight in 10 (80%) people who use the train for business.
  • More than eight in 10 (85%) think it’s important that the fares system is updated to enable flexible workers to save money.

Data is weighted to be representative of the population of Great Britain.  Targets for quotas and weights are taken from the National Readership Survey, a random probability F2F survey conducted annually with 34,000 adults.  Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by it rules.  For further information see http://www.britishpollingcouncil.org/ 

2. The ‘Easier Fares for All’ proposals explain how updates to regulation would enable the transparent, simpler to understand fares system people want, including:

  • Commuters travelling from outside London in to the capital or elsewhere could benefit from the kind of weekly capping system currently available for journeys within London. 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. This supports changes in working patterns, with part time working and self-employment having increased by over a third in 22 years. 90% of consultation respondents wanted consideration (definitely or maybe) of price capping.
  • Long distance and leisure travellers could see demand spread more evenly across the day, potentially reducing overcrowding by up to a third on the busiest services. Updating regulations around peak and off-peak travel would mean ticket prices could be set more flexibly, spreading demand for a better customer experience. This would be supported by a wider range of on the day fares. 78% of respondents wanted consideration of fares that encouraged empty seats to be filled.
  • All customers could have more options and no longer need to commit at the time of buying their outward journey to the time of day when they will return, instead mixing-and-matching different types of single tickets, and making changing travel plans easier. 74% of respondents wanted consideration of fares based on the amount of flexibility required.

If the proposals are developed and adopted, they could enable the industry to offer a ‘best fare guarantee’, so that customers would be assured that they would always be paying the lowest fare available where and when they buy it, which meets their needs.

A reformed fares system would also help make the most of technology like online accounts, smartcards and smartphones to make ticket buying simpler, so that customers are shown fares which match their needs while screening out irrelevant choices that cause confusion.

3. Consultation outcomes: the rail industry worked together to develop proposals following three months of intensive activity, with almost 20,000 consultation responses and conversations with over 60 organisations representing over 300,000 other organisations, authorities and individuals, enabling it to build the most comprehensive picture ever of what Britain thinks about rail fares and ticketing. Including:

  • more than eight out of 10 people (84%) want to see the fares system reformed. Fewer than 1 in 10 (8%) thought reform was unnecessary
  • around nine out of 10 people (88%) want changes to how tickets are sold
  • seven out of 10 people (68%) think the cost of fares should reflect the time of day they are travelling
  • eight out of 10 (78%) felt that encouraging the filling up of unused seats should be prioritised
  • a similar proportion (81%) want to be able to buy tickets using online accounts

4. Fares trials: To inform changes to regulation, the following fares trials are being developed:

  • 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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