Call for ‘flexible’ rail fares to reflect home working shift
The UK Government must look to reform the way rail fares are set to meet the needs of changing working patterns post-pandemic, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) has said.
Speaking at Holyrood’s fringe event on rail reform at the SNP conference, the RDG’s director of nations and regions, Robert Nisbet, called for more “flexible” ticket options to reflect the fact more people will want to continue working from home.
He said: “Our argument at the moment to government, and it’s an argument that we’ve been making for a while now, is that we need to have a much more flexible approach to the fares system because what we have at the moment is stuck back in the 90s.
“We need to start working seriously on a flexible season ticket solution for those people that want to go into the office maybe just two days instead of five days a week.
“Unfortunately, we’re hamstrung, because we need the government to work with us on this because it requires changes to the regulations. This is a fairly consistent theme that we’ve been presenting to government in Westminster, to say please look at this seriously.”
He added that the Williams Review – a root-and-branch review of UK railways launched in 2018 – should put fares reform at its heart, including integrated ticketing to allow different modes of public transport to be used with a single ticket.
The white paper from Keith Williams, deputy chairman of the John Lewis Partnership and former chief executive of British Airways, is due to be published next year. It has been subject to delays due to last year’s general election and the coronavirus pandemic.
Concern has been expressed about rebuilding confidence in using public transport once public health restrictions are lifted.
The number of passengers using public transport has dropped dramatically, with the latest figures indicating ScotRail passenger numbers for April to June fell by over 95% compared to the same time last year.
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said: “People are actually quite anxious about making use of public transport at the present moment. As a result of that, we are seeing what appears to be an increasing number of people who are using their car for shorter journeys in a way that we don’t want to see happening going forward in the long term.
“A key part of building back that greener agenda is not just about trying to sustain some of the benefits we have achieved over the course of the pandemic in terms of active travel, but also to give people confidence in moving back into using public transport as a safe means by which they’ll be able to get to their work or getting about their daily journeys.”
Alex Hynes, managing director of ScotRail, added while passenger numbers went up slightly over the summer, there has been a drop again due to the second wave of COVID-19.
However, he added: “I think the market will come back to rail because it’s phenomenally brilliant for connecting urban centres and you can be productive on board the train in a way that you just cannot with other modes.
“But I think we are going to see some fundamental shifts in demand across our communities and business and leisure segments.”