Watchdog: ‘Rail passengers want ticketing reform’

Speaking at a major rail industry conference today Anthony Smith, Passenger Focus Chief Executive will make the case for fares and ticketing reform to be based on the ‘way passengers use the railway now, not around what suits the rail industry’.

Advance purchase train tickets are great for those that want good deals and the certainty of booking their seat. However, six out of 10 long-distance rail passengers travel on flexible tickets, the watchdog said.

These tickets suit them and fares regulation has helped keep off-peak longer distance tickets relatively affordable. There are worrying rumours that book ahead only, airline-style ticketing for longer-distance services will be suggested as part of the reviews looking at industry value for money.

Anthony Smith, Passenger Focus Chief Executive said:

“While passengers will recognise that some degree of demand management is required to manage capacity, we should not sleepwalk into a totally book ahead long-distance railway. Not only does this not reflect how passengers want to travel and the tickets they currently use, it is in danger of destroying one of the railway’s great advantages – frequent trains matched with flexible tickets offer great choice.

“While the current fares system needs reform it must not be replaced by a system that could fundamentally change who uses the railway – there needs to be a robust public debate before this happens.”

Passengers are already facing three years of inflation busting fare increases. Talk of further rises to ‘manage’ demand at peak times also sets alarm bells ringing. Hiking peak prices will mean that travel in the morning could become very, very expensive.

Anthony Smith said: “The cost of providing the railways must be seen in the broader context of the economy. Commuters are helping fuel the economy – the cost of providing peak capacity is part of the cost of having a modern, developed economy.”

Anthony Smith concluded: “In many ways the railways are become more successful: more passengers, higher satisfaction and better performance. Yes, the cost of providing the railway must be kept under control but fares reform runs the risk of killing the golden goose – reform should be based around what passengers want and more people will want to use the railway.”

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