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Pay-as-you-go rail travel could be introduced across the UK

Joanna Faith
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Joanna Faith

Pay-as-you-go train fares could be rolled out across the country under new proposals to modernise the UK’s rail ticketing system.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), the trade body representing train operators, also wants to expand the weekly capping system, currently available for journeys within London, nationwide.

Pay-as-you-go-pricing and a ‘tap in tap out’ system would cut costs for commuters who travel off-peak or fewer than five days a week, according to the RDG.

It said this would support part-time and self-employed workers.

Under the plans, passengers would no longer have to buy split tickets to pay the cheapest fare.

Split ticketing is when commuters buy multiple tickets for one journey to reduce costs.

The RDG said split-ticketing would no longer be necessary because people would be offered the best combination of tickets for their journey and pay the lowest price.

The radical proposals follow a consultation into what people want from rail fares, based on responses from close to 20,000 people across the UK.

It found eight in 10 people would like the current system to change, with respondents calling for a fairer, more transparent and easier to use experience.

Another suggestion is to reduce ‘price cliffs’ between peak and off-peak travel periods and allowing customers to better match actual departure times to preferred departure times, which the RDG said would reduce overcrowding on busy routes.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the RDG, said: “The railway has changed beyond recognition since a new model for running it was introduced in the 1990s. One area that is crying out for change is the system of fares and ticketing.

“Reconfiguring a decades-old system originally designed in an analogue era isn’t simple, but this plan offers a route to get there quickly.

“Ultimately, it is up to governments to pull the levers of change. So, this report is a call on them to work with us to update the necessary regulations and subsequently the system of fares.”

Darren Shirley, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, believes the fares and ticketing system is “broken” and desperately needs fixing, so his organisation welcomes the proposals.

“We’re particularly pleased to see proposals for more flexible commuter tickets to reflect modern work patterns, something we’ve long called for, and for nationwide smart ticketing,” he said.

“What’s not clear however, is if these proposals will also lead to an end to the annual fares rise, which fails to reflect the level of service passengers receive the previous year,” he added.

Shirley notes that it is now up to the government to take forward these proposals to ensure we have a fares system that is fairer and easier to use, which integrates ticketing across all public transport and genuinely puts passengers at the heart of the railways.

The RDG said the proposals are revenue neutral, meaning no change in average fares or taxpayer support.