Jenny Randerson writes…Now is the time to reform our fares system for the future

t is no secret that our rail fares system is broken. With customers having to choose between over 55 million fare combinations, it is understandable that they would have no confidence in getting the best value fare for their journey. 

That’s why I welcomed the largest ever public consultation on fares reform which took place last summer, and saw responses from almost 20,000 passengers, business groups, local authorities and accessibility groups from across the country. 

The public has spoken – over 80% of respondents want to see fundamental reform within our fares system and they now cannot be ignored. 

The rail industry has been at the heart of this initiative for reform alongside Transport Focus, and I am encouraged by their proposals which set out a two-stage process to deliver meaningful reform. 

The first stage would see the outdated Ticketing and Settlement Agreement (TSA) replaced by a new set of regulations underpinning the fares system. Then, the necessary commercial changes could be rolled out as part of refreshed government contracts with train operating companies. But, of course, these stages rely on the Government. 

That’s why I am today calling on them to act on the industry’s proposals and implement these recommendations. 

But this cannot be the only change. As Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson, I am in regular contact with commuters, accessibility groups and businesses – they tell me that they want value for money, fair pricing, simplicity, flexibility and assurances that they are getting the best value fare for their journey.

With a reformed system, this could all be within reach and I am encouraged to see that the industry’s proposals seek to address these understandable concerns of passengers. 

These proposals could see a “tap-in tap-out” payment system introduced for commuters nationwide; greater local control over fares in devolved areas; and more comfortable journeys with a better range of fares for people travelling long-distances.

We must work together to ensure the system is fit for today and the future, and to put an end to customers having to change their lives to work around today’s rigid fares system. 

Working patterns in Britain have been changing for some time and these proposals will provide more suitable measures which could allow flexible and part-time workers to save money. This will also be supported by changes which would allow passengers to make the most of technology such as online accounts, smartcards and smartphones to simplify their experience. 

A reformed fares system could also have a positive effect on the wider rail network as increased revenue delivered by more people travelling, attracted by a better range of tickets, could be spent by the Government on improvements to help modernise our railway. 

Over 1.7 billion journeys are made every year and there is a significant need across the country to upgrade trains and stations; expand the railway network; and provide better connections to towns and cities, such as linking up the Northern Powerhouse with North Wales.

One of the tests of the Government and its Williams Review will be how effectively and how fast it works with industry and passengers to implement these reforms. The industry says that work can begin now – it must.

I will be watching with interest how the Government responds to these proposals and seek to hold all parties involved to account. We must see through the change that is necessary on our railway and ensure train companies and the Government deliver what people want. 

* Jenny Randerson is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, and is the party's front bench spokesperson on transport.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Richard Easter 3rd Mar '19 - 9:46am

    I’m afraid more than simply tinkering around the edges is needed on the rail system. The whole set up is an inefficient con-job – be it ridiculously franchising out large tracts of the network to assorted foreign governments, the embarassing IEP programme and woeful Thameslink trains, HS2 and the fetish for scrapping guards on trains – whilst punishing / prosecuting existing staff if they fail to carry out the extra duties properly, the downgrading of intercity services to new trains with painful seating akin to a church pew and scrapping catering to useless trolley services.

    All whilst the fares are jacked up. It is an insult.

  • William Fowler 3rd Mar '19 - 10:24am

    You have to force efficiency into the railway system by capping fares at the opportunity cost of driving a car which works out at around 12p a mile – a bit unfair as it does not take into account purchase costs but you could divide that by four if the car was full of people so I think fair enough…

  • Helen Dudden 3rd Mar '19 - 11:44am

    Accessible transport. With more disabled people wishing to work, that’s important. Only, one wheelchair ♿ space on the buses, there is the continued buggy wars for those getting excluded. Of course, the law on wheelchair space, was weak after the Supreme Court decision. But if you have a buggy with child, is it fair? There is also, the issue of larger baby carriages, they are often blocking exit and entrance. Health and Safety being ignored? I know someone in wheelchair had an accident, ramp the wrong way round, smooth on top.

  • Martin Land 3rd Mar '19 - 1:25pm

    I know, the railways are over-priced, poorly run, etc. But until February 14th when I had to go to an academic event at King’s College, London I hadn’t been on a train in the best part of four years. I was frankly astonished. Firstly, I could go straight to Blackfriars, no longer having to change at Kings Cross. Secondly, the train was very clean and comfortable. There was excellent electronic information everywhere and wi fi too. I was, frankly gobsmacked. Yes, it was very expensive, but…. Of course, I’m sure being a daily commuter is much less fun (though that’s a matter of free choice) and must be hideously expensive, but there is no denying that the improvements are astonishing.

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Mar '19 - 2:06pm

    Before reforming transport it is necessary to find competent leadership. Labour has said the SofS should resign by Monday.
    Why is he being defended?

  • Kay Kirkham 3rd Mar '19 - 2:53pm

    Re: Helen Dudden’s comment. Its not just wheelchairs and baby buggies. Mobility scooters enable independence for people with mobility difficulties not serious enough for a wheelchair to get around. Every train company requires a different permit and getting such a permit is incredibly difficult. My partner has one permit for all the bus companies in West Yorkshire because they have worked together and he an just roll up at he bus stop. He also has a permit for some Northern Trains but can only use five stations and has to book ahead. Needless to say, we use the car for most journeys with the scooter in the back and the blue badge to hand.

  • The huge variety of prices is the focus of present discontent. The differences in splitting tickets can be huge. Yesterday I found it much cheaper to book two tickets from Liverpool to Reading, rather than just one. Having the internet is certainly an advantage, as are electronic tickets. You have to be careful if you are splitting a journey that when one train is late you do not find you have to buy a new ticket on you connection. However an hour or two reading the rules for each company should see you all right!
    If train companies simply always offer the cheapest fare first it would be much easier. Somehow I feel that it is not going to be that simple.

  • Helen Dudden 4th Mar '19 - 9:19am

    Kay Kirkham. You never addressed the problems with baby buggies and larger baby carriages.
    I’ve refused to have a baby buggy forced in by my legs and my footrest. My Power Chair is heavy, if the bus crashed, the buggy could be damaged and the baby get hurt or worse. It could get stuck under the foot plate. I’m of course then blocked in, and can’t escape. You should never have an escape route blocked anyway!
    As any Wheelchair user knows we have our Wheelchair facing backwards on the bus. My Wheelchair has special breaking system and is crash tested.
    Are baby buggies crash tested, are baby carriages crash tested?
    A lot of Wheelchair users will know their chairs are made out of toughened steel.
    The batteries are heavy to say the least.
    It’s of little use bringing in law that is lightweight. A colleague of mine said it’s need further thoughts.

  • Travelled to London from Scotland on the publicly owned LNER last Saturday. Excellent value first class with a senior Railcard… And very kind and friendly service by the staff…. Quite a contrast to the awful privately owned South West Trains when I continued my journey to Bournemouth.

    Ps. How anybody can live in that awful, dirty, smelly and expensive place called London is beyond my comprehension these days.

  • nvelope2003 4th Mar '19 - 5:51pm

    South West Trains do not operate any trains to Bournemouth or anywhere else and have not done so since August 2017 when the Government, in the person of one Mr Grayling, gave the franchise to another company with a similar name. South West trains was an excellent operator and its loss of the franchise was widely regretted, especially when it appeared that the replacement operator was costing more and has yet to fulfil its promises. Not such a good advertisement for state control of the railways I feel. I am sure LNER is an excellent operator but it is the same people who ran it before. I expect you do get good service if you travel First Class but not everyone can afford it even with a Senior Railcard. Does it also give you one third off the expected tip ?

  • nvelope2003 5th Mar '19 - 11:06am

    No wonder that so many people need to use food banks when huge sums of taxpayers’ money is spent on subsidising rail travel for the better off instead of helping those on low incomes.
    Maintaining the cards which offer reduced travel for various groups was a requirement of both the franchise system and BR but the revenue foregone has to be obtained from somewhere, like for the free bus travel and of course this is provided by taxpayers in the form of extra subsidies.
    If we are to have railways then there needs to be a genuine attempt to reduce the huge operating costs, including those of the public sector Network Rail. At present it seems that those who make the decisions have a vested interest in keeping things as they are because they benefit from the present arrangements.

  • For clarity and factual accuracy, East Coast and South West franchises have always been “profitable” in that the franchisees pay the Government rather than the other way around and I believe made a “profit” under BR. The issue was East Coast was overpaid for. The new South West franchisee paid £2.7 billion (NPV). Whether or not the new franchisee are offering a better or worse service is up for debate. But they are offering to have 53,000 more peak time seats in and out of Waterloo, faster trains and more early and late trains.

    As it happens the South West franchise as it now is was pretty dreadful under BR. Running older trains – particularly the old “slam door” trains longer than much of the rest of the network. As it happens newer trains were coming in when it was being privatised so it would have improved under BR.

    I am pretty agnostic about privatisation versus nationalisation of the trains. BR was certainly not some utopia! The real question is how much money we are prepared to put in from taxation. As it happens as to actually running trains I think private companies are probably better than BR/nationalisation.

  • nvelope2003 6th Mar '19 - 10:39am

    David Raw: When the railways were first privatised in the late1990s applicants for franchises had to bid on the basis of the full cost of operation including the cost of track, signalling and terminal costs – stations etc but the Labour Government changed the system so that the state paid for this and the train operators only needed to bid on the basis of direct train operating costs so some operators could offer premiums instead of asking for subsidies. East Coast and South West Trains were able to do this but it is unclear whether the premiums really cover the track and signalling costs although some experts consider that Stagecoach South West Trains did.
    South Western Railway is a partnership between First and a Hong Kong railway operator. It failed to provide the proposed improvements in December 2018 and my inquiries indicate it will only partially provide them in May 2019. The only earlier and later trains I can find are where connecting services have been replaced by through trains.
    There are a handful of extra off peak services on Mondays to Fridays but they do not operate on Saturdays as promised.

    It is not just a name change but a different company and although it has been let down by Network Rail in my experience punctuality is not so good. In 20 years of using South West Trains I can only recall one occasion when the train was late arriving home.
    As Michael 1 rightly points out the issue with East Coast was that the previous private operators overbid with their premium payments because the “profits” did not rise as hoped. Any idea that Britain’s railways are not heavily subsidised is misguided. The taxpayers provide about £6 billions annually, mostly to Network Rail although subsidies to the private train operators have fallen sharply.

  • nvelope2003 7th Mar '19 - 3:03pm

    It appears that Virgin/Stagecoach actually paid more to the Treasury during its franchise than when the route was in the public sector.

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