4 October 2011: We’ve met officials leading the Government’s fares review and told them what passengers want to see from it.
Obviously, the punitive plan to raise fares by 28% by 2015 needs to be reversed. With fares rising four times faster than wages, we really are in danger of making trains the ‘rich man’s toy’ that the Transport Secretary so blithely called them. Grim new figures from estate agents (hardly your usual suspects in transport debates) show that with the fare rises, in many cases it will now make more sense to brave London’s famously extortionate property market than fork out for the commute from suburban areas with far cheaper house prices. This doesn’t bode well for the Government’s plans to build new housing outside the greenbelt – or, obviously, for the hard pressed commuter.
Apart from tackling the spiralling cost of travel, there are a range of smaller changes the Government (working with train companies) could implement that would make fares simpler and fairer. Like, if you buy an advance ticket but then miss your train, you could pay the difference between your old ticket and the new price, rather than having to fork out for the entire full fare. Or introducing discounted season tickets for people who work part time. Or temporarily opening up First Class if standard is packed to the rafters. We’ve put forward a range of these kind of common-sense ideas in our Fair Fares Charter, and we’re hopeful that we’ll see commitments to some of these as part of the fares review.
We also told officials what passengers don’t want to see: trying to tackle overcrowding by pricing people off peak time trains; replacing affordable walk-up fares with an EasyJet-style ticketing system where you have to book in advance and fare prices change by the minute; and unstaffed stations with ticket machines that won’t sell you the best fare for your journey.
These are passenger concerns that could be lost in the fares review if it remains an industry-only affair. We made it clear that the review must truly listen to the people who use the railways, and not just train companies and industry insiders. That means high quality public consultation with roadshows, online surveys and involvement from the official watchdog Passenger Focus. It also means greater transparency about the industry’s finances. Right now, information about revenue from fares (for example, how much will be raised by lifting the cap on regulated tickets, on what routes, and whose coffers it will end up in) is withheld from public access, making it impossible to hold both Government and train companies to account, or weigh up the pros and cons of new proposals on fares.
The team we met couldn’t say much in response since the scope of the review has yet to be published. But we do know that this has the potential to be the biggest shake-up of our fares system in a long time, and we need to make sure that this opportunity for cheaper, simpler, fairer fares is not wasted.