The UK’s rail companies have published their proposals to overhaul the country’s fares system, aimed at making ticketing ‘easier to use’ and understand.

Rail Delivery Group (RDG) says the proposals represent the industry’s first contribution to the Williams Review of the framework of the UK’s railways. The organisation is pushing for work to begin now between the government, operators and passenger groups to review regulation and implement a “series of real-world trials to support a rolling programme of reform across Britain over the next three to five years.”

The suggestions follow the largest-ever public consultation into what UK residents want from rail fares and come after passengers faced an average 3.1 per cent rise in fares at a time when delays are at a 12-year high and satisfaction is at a ten-year low.

The industry is calling for updates to regulation and claims such a move would enable more transparent, simpler fares system. The system would be backed for the first time by an industry ‘best fare guarantee’.

According to RDG, ensuring customers are always charged the best-value fare would be enabled by the system moving to a ‘single-leg’ structure such as the one that currently operates in London so travellers can choose the most appropriate ticket for each leg of their journey.

Proposed reforms also include a move to e-ticketing and ‘tap-in, tap-out’ pay-as-you-go capabilities across the country, as well as greater local control in devolved areas and better integration of fares with those “for other modes of transport”.

For commuters, the industry is proposing more flexible solutions for those who work from home or otherwise do not travel into the office every day. RDG says a pay-as-you-go system with weekly capping similar to that seen for journeys within London would enable commuters to save money by eliminating the need to buy a weekly or monthly season ticket.

RDG says such a move would support changes in working patterns, such as part-time or self-employed travellers, and is based on the fact that 90 per cent of respondents to a public consultation wanted price capping to be considered.

Occasional business or leisure travellers could see demand for spread more evenly across the day, potentially reducing overcrowding by up to a third on the busiest services, according to RDG. Updating regulations around peak and off-peak travel would mean ticket prices could be more flexible, supported by a wider range of on-the-day fares, says the group.

Furthermore, all customers would have greater flexibility in their travel times by no longer needing to commit to the time of their return journey when buying their outward ticket. They will instead be able to mix and match different types of single tickets.

RDG says cooperation among all parties on implementing reform would “encourage over 300 million more journeys, taking people off the road and on to the railway, increasing revenue to give governments options either to re-invest in lower fares or in the network”.

RDG CEO Paul Plummer said: “The result of our nationwide consultation is clear – customers have different needs and want an easy-to-use range of rail fares to meet them. Our proposals can deliver exactly that – creating a system that better fits how people live and work today.

“Rail companies are already working together on plans for real-world trials so people can see what our proposals could mean for them. However, current regulation needs to be updated and we want to work with government, who are key to making improvements a reality, to deliver the better fares system the public wants to see.”

Mike Cherry, national chairman of FSB, commented: “Many small businesses rely on the rail network, so it’s key that the current out-of-date fares system is improved. The system needs to be brought into line with the more flexible way businesses work. This will allow companies to access the best deals when travelling, as well as making it easier to travel – and businesses to trade – across the regions of the UK. We appreciate that the rail industry has brought forward its proposals and we now call on government to start taking this work forward.”

Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, added: “The fares system needs to support businesses across Britain who rely on rail travel to move goods and services across a skilled workforce. We agree with the industry that the rail fares system needs reforming. Britain needs a modern system that makes travelling simpler, is more flexible for commuters and is fairer for businesses who need to change their travel plans at short notice.”

Read the full proposal here

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