The railway ticketing and fares consultation is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change fares for customers. The Government must act on its recommendations.

The rail industry has launched a consultation it claims will deliver ‘root and branch’ reform of fare regulations that date back to the mid-1990s. For customers, this represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change ticketing and fares that we must seize.

A say for passengers in the tickets they buy to get them to school, to work, to an apprenticeship, to university, or to see family and friends, is long overdue. The fares system we endure today was established by John Major’s Government in 1995, and years of franchising agreements have added layers of complexity to the system. The result: passengers today are faced with an overly complicated fares and ticketing system. The fact that passengers, in grappling with the aging system, have learned the art of split ticketing to save themselves money, just demonstrates the scale of the task at hand.

Complexity in the current system has made an overhaul of fares all the more difficult – but an overhaul is what is needed. That is why I welcome efforts by the rail industry, alongside independent watchdog Transport Focus, to grasp the nettle and tackle this issue head on.

Since becoming Transport Spokesperson, one issue has become clear – the customer must be at the centre of our plans for the railway, now and in the future. As Liberal Democrats, we understand that individuals need to be empowered to make the best choices for themselves. Customers are at the heart of our strategy on rail, as set out in our manifesto.

Worryingly, the latest figures from an independent KPMG report reveal that we couldn’t be further from this objective. They show that only one in three rail customers was very confident that they had bought the best value ticket for their last journey. Fewer than one in three customers is very satisfied with their experience of buying a ticket.

Passengers must have an easier ticketing system that they can have confidence in.

Fares have failed to keep pace with how people work and travel today. There are now more people taking up apprenticeships, with 2.5 million placements created under the previous Coalition between 2010-2015, more students going to university (2.32 million), more people in part-time employment (8.6 million), and more people who are self-employed (4.8 million), than there were 23 years ago when our current fares system was put in place.

The way we live our lives has changed fundamentally since the mid-1990s, but the tickets people buy everyday have not. Far fewer people now need a season ticket, whether weekly, monthly or annually that covers the full seven days of the week. Last year in fact, the number of journeys taken using a season ticket fell to 691 million, while the number of total journeys has continued to grow. Customers are turning away from traditional ticket types but are not being given adequate alternatives that suit them.

Digital ticketing and smartphones present real potential for a better customer experience – enabling customers to buy tickets where and when it suits them. Integrated and smart ticketing could significantly simplify journeys and make ticket choices easier. We need to harness these capabilities and move on from the inflexible fares structure and regulation that currently stand in the way.

A modern economy, with modern working patterns and lifestyles needs to be supported by a modern fares and ticketing system, and a 21st Century railway.

But let’s not forget one critical fact.

This consultation asks for our say on what the fares system should look like, but the industry proposals that emerge from this process will only help fix one half of this overly complex system.

The Government is responsible for regulated fares and it must stand ready to act on the recommendations of this consultation. To deliver change that puts the customer first and ensures the whole system is fit for the future.

I will be holding the Government and industry to account – to ensure they see through the change that is necessary. Because passengers deserve a ticketing and fares system built for this century, not the last.

* 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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28 Comments

  • The party needs to grasp the nettle of the railways. TInkering about with the ticketing system is insufficient.

    If the party is, to quote Sir Vincent, fizzing with new ideas it should take account of the latest national opinion poll which shows 60% support re-nationalisation, 25% are against., and 15% are don’t knows.

  • nvelope2003 4th Jun '18 - 9:26am

    52% voted to leave the EU and 48% to remain in an actual poll not an opinion poll – are you happy with that too ? Views expressed in polls are often related to other issues which people are not being asked about rather than what is actually being asked. There is a lot of discontent at present.
    The problems with the railways are mostly connected with Network Rail who are responsible for timetables, signalling etc. You cannot renationalise something which is already nationalised although most people are not aware of this.
    A more useful approach might be to hand control of the railways to regional authorities like the GLA, although the London Overground is actually run by a private company and maintained by Network rail but the GLA has the good sense not to advertise that fact.

  • David Becket 4th Jun '18 - 10:23am

    Network Rail is at least an improvement on its predecessor Rail Track, so maybe it is the system that is wrong. Do not believe it is all Network Rail’s fault because Grayling (the government minister with the most disasters) claims so. Network Rail do not employ or train the drivers.
    A solution is not obvious, if the track in in the hands of an operator will a rival operator get a fair deal, doubtful.
    British Rail was not renowned for efficiency. At the very least we should ensure that every franchise can be bid for by a publicly owned company, and the relationship between operators and Network Rail needs review.

  • There was little wrong with British Rail that sensible investment couldn’t fix! As a commuter for 20 years, unlike many who just read about its ‘history’, I actually experienced it.
    As with everything else that was ‘privatised’ most improvements have come about by the incredible leap forward in technology and the problems from franchises which have monopolies on customers and timetable/ticketing systems designed by avaricious clowns……Turn up, buy a ticket, get on a train; what is difficult about that?

    A publicly owned ‘national’ network is the only sensible answer..

  • nvelope2003 4th Jun '18 - 12:24pm

    Although I like trains maybe we have to let them go the way of the stage coach. Everywhere they are a big problem because they cost so much to operate and people are reluctant to pay the sort of fares needed so huge amounts of public money have to be spent which could be used for something more valuable. Although some trains are crowded at peak times, for most of the day they run with more empty seats than passengers whereas roads seem to be busy all day which shows there is a problem. The fare structure is intended to get people to use those empty seats not make overcrowding worse but this has not really worked, probably because people want to go from door to door in the comfort of their own cars. Buses are often more useful for local journeys.
    There needs to be a complete review of what we want from railways before any more money is spent on them because the present problems show that what is provided is not working.

  • nvelope2003 4th Jun '18 - 1:31pm

    Network Rail is not responsible for all the problems but an organisation that gives a train operator one week’s notice of the closure of a main line for scheduled electrification work has some questions to answer. It has also failed to produce timetables 12 weeks before scheduled timetable changes as it is required to do.
    What is the reason for driver shortages ? It can hardly be the pay. Maybe people do not want the sort of hours they have to work or maybe the existing staff are obstructing recruitment to preserve overtime benefits This is not unknown in this sort of circumstance.
    An allegedly overcrowded train shown on TV had whole carriages with only one or two people in them.

  • I actually think there is quite a lot of misunderstanding on ticketing in the article which is disappointing given it is by our transport spokesman.

    Firstly it has always been the case that season tickets effectively if you like give you the weekends for free. The national rail website gives you the cost based on 2 trips per 5 days. And for clarity it is (virtually) impossible to buy 5 returns – nut normally even outside peak hours or as advance tickets but certainly inside peak for less than a 7-day season ticket.

    Secondly we clearly won’t go back to the days of the 80s and 90s when I had basically one option to travel that wasn’t by car. Turn up at the train station and pay my money. Today I can research on the internet travelling by different modes – coach, air. I can buy advance train tickets for specific trains. I can find rail routes that are cheaper. I can go in some instances by different train operators. I can go at different times etc. etc. All this information for consumers is massively good. But all this choice does mean I am less confident that I have got the best deal. And it happens in all sectors. I can pop in to my Tesco express and get a bag of spaghetti in fancy packaging for £1 or pop around the corner to the bigger Tesco and buy a bag of value pasta hidden on the bottom shelf for 30p – actually pretty much exactly the same product. My choice.

    There will be a number of problems however we organise railways. One is the subsidy. And I was amazed at the difference in rail subsidies 17.4 billion euros in Germany – 4.4 billion here and the five biggest European economies subsidise rail more than us. And it is right to subsidise rail for taking cars off our roads. The second problem is the massive spike in journeys – half of all journeys are made into London during the peak hours.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_subsidies

  • I think this is the fares consultation: https://www.britainrunsonrail.co.uk/fares.html
    not found a major news organisation that links to the consultation in their article announcing the consultation.

    What is interesting, is that this is an industry lead consultation, not a government lead consultation – probably because this would raise questions about what has the government done with respect to the recommendations made in the consultation published in 2012 on rail fares and ticketing…

  • Not much significant new thinking in this column. It seems that the party is stuck in the groove of privatised franchising.

    To say, “the customer should be at the centre of our plans” is admirable as far as it goes – but it begs the question of why when after GNER failed the publicly owned East Coast succeeded in paying over over a billion pounds back to the Treasury. Now Virgin and Stagecoach have fouled it up again.

    There needs to be a fresh approach to management with a drive for more employee participation (an old Liberal notion from the Grimond days). As a frequent East Coast passenger I can vouch for the high staff morale before Virgin Stagecoach came in. As for Northern – what a shambles – Mayor Burnham is right to demand that franchise should be taken back now.

    Splitting track from train operation is clearly not working. The Liberal Democrats need a fizzing policy not just tinkering with ticketing. Given the privatisation of the postal service (against party policy by Sir Vincent) I have little confidence we’re going to get any though.

    The jaundiced Daily Mail view of blaming the unions just doesn’t wish anymore.

  • @ Michael 1 agree with your insights.

  • nvelope2003 4th Jun ’18 – 12:24pm………………..Although I like trains maybe we have to let them go the way of the stage coach. Everywhere they are a big problem because they cost so much to operate and people are reluctant to pay the sort of fares needed so huge amounts of public money have to be spent which could be used for something more valuable. Although some trains are crowded at peak times, for most of the day they run with more empty seats than passengers whereas roads seem to be busy all day which shows there is a problem……………………

    As the 2011 census showed over half a million people a day commuted to Greater London (Four times as many commute from one local authority to another within Greater London) what is your answer to such a mass movement of people other than rail?

    In an ideal world most office jobs could be done from home but as that shows absolutely no way of happening we have to deal with what we have.

  • Rohan Wilson 4th Jun '18 - 4:49pm

    “Once in a lifetime opportunity…”? your headline is over-optimistic.

    Searching just now for the consultation I couldn’t find it, even through the Rail Delivery Group’s home page. But I did discover that a similar sounding consultation happened and its conclusions published in 2012!!

    The old one is at
    https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/rail-fares-and-ticketing-review

    Ah, now I have today’s consultation, at
    https://www.britainrunsonrail.co.uk/fares
    I hope it has more effect than the 2012 version.

  • Peter Davies 5th Jun '18 - 7:07am

    In London, we already have a model that could be used across the country. Fares are set by and go to the authority (TFL in London). Private companies operate several services. They are paid to provide specific services and if they don’t they are answerable to TFL and Sadiq Kahn is answerable to us. Mostly it works pretty well.

    As to what fare structure that authority should impose, I would suggest we replace season tickets with a discount scheme for regular users. Each journey has a price (including heavy off-peak discounting) but you get money back on your card if you make multiple journeys in a day, week or quarter.

  • You can’t win this battle by tinkering with the rail system in isolation. As others have pointed out there is massive peak demand at rush hour, and then half empty trains the rest of the time. To deliver the service rail customers want at peak time would require massive investment in infrastructure, rolling stock and staff that would be idle for most of the rest of the day. Yet people also want lower fares, so rail customers themselves won’t and can’t pay for this.

    Should everyone pay, including people like me who rarely use trains because they aren’t an option for my commute to work?

    Does the radical solution involve promoting the societal changes that reduce or eliminate rush hour entirely e.g. flexible hours, tele-commuting, encouraging companies and the civil service to disperse away from London?

  • Peter Davies 5th Jun '18 - 7:46am

    One of the reasons why I suggested abolishing season tickets is that it reinforces existing ideas of a normal working week. If you have a season ticket then a work-from home day or travelling off-peak gives you no saving on your fares.

  • Peter Davies 5th Jun ’18 – 7:46am…………..One of the reasons why I suggested abolishing season tickets is that it reinforces existing ideas of a normal working week. If you have a season ticket then a work-from home day or travelling off-peak gives you no saving on your fares………….

    What about your saving on wasted time and, if you can travel off-peak, gaining comfort?

  • Peter Davies 5th Jun '18 - 8:09am

    @Expats all good things but when negotiating terms with bosses, a hard cash value is key.

  • nvelope2003 5th Jun '18 - 10:19am

    Expats: British Rail was given huge amounts of money in the 1950s but they wasted it on building steam locomotives, when everyone else was going for diesel and electrification, and marshalling yards which were never used so the Government cut back the money to just paying for electrification and diesel trains. The Conservatives also started subsidising commuter fares as many of them voted Conservative then, and so overcrowding began to grow. No one is going to relocate if they get relatively cheap train fares even if they have to stand but it has not stopped people using cars.

    Looking at the table of rail subsidies it seems that the most successful railways are those with the least or no subsidies such as Japan and US rail freight – possibly because those railways provide what people and freight forwarders actually need, not what some ill informed government thinks they need or are afraid to change.

    The Chairman of Network Rail, Sir Peter Hendy, in a statement on Radio 4 last night, said the chaos was their fault as were the issues I mentioned earlier. I do not claim to be an expert on Northern rail but the failure of the latest East Coast franchise was because Virgin/Stagecoach over paid for the franchise and had nothing to do with the operation which continues to be good. When my local railway was operated by Stagecoach they provided the best service the line had had for decades. Now it is not so good but the fault is not entirely with the new operator.

  • I think the railways – like tuition fees(!) needs to be looked at in a slightly larger context. Fundamentally, the government is paying the operating companies to run the trains. They have arrived at a model which attempts to reduce the amounts paid by giving incentives to the operating companies to both fill seats and maximize ticketing revenues. Hence why we effectively have a ticketing system that is a cross between an airline ticketing system and a price comparison website; but fundamentally the basis of the model is that the user should pay, the only question being how much.

    Digging into this model, we can see that for the operators (and government), it isn’t really in their interest to make it easy for service users to do split ticketing, as it means losing a “nice little earner”.

    Hence I think much can be achieved by simply aligning interests through relatively small changes to the funding model. The question is whether having systems that truely offer the best deal (eg. split ticketing without the hassle), rather than the deals that effectively give the ticketing website operator the best commission will result in an increase in users (ignoring capacity issues) and thus revenues.

    @Peter Davies “In London, we already have a model that could be used across the country. “
    Given some of the plans to increase the geographic coverage of TfL (eg. part of the Midland-mainline upgrade will be to effectively move the end of the commuter network from Bedford to Corby), I suspect we will be getting the TfL model across much of the SE. However, there are two key components to the TfL model: firstly much more structured and rigid fares, secondly no real timetable(*), the expectation being that users simply turn up and wait for the next train as services are so frequent – this works well when trains are running every few minutes, but falls apart when trains are 20+ minutes apart…

    (*) Yes I know there is a service schedule, which gets used by various phone apps and websites, but I doubt the typical user knows what the schedule is ie. I time my departure from a client’s London office, not on the time of the next bus/tube, but on the departure times of trains out of a London terminus, in the knowledge that if the tube is running normally my trip across town will be within 45min. (if it is longer I will be getting the next train out of London).

  • nvelope2003 5th Jun ’18 – 10:19am………………………Expats: British Rail was given huge amounts of money in the 1950s but they wasted it on building steam locomotives, when everyone else was going for diesel and electrification, and marshalling yards which were never used so the Government cut back the money to just paying for electrification and diesel trains………

    Considering that the ‘rush to diesel/electric’ started in 1955 that is hardly accurate. The ‘rush’ was not a success as failures of diesels was commonplace and ‘steam’ bailed them out…Those marshalling yards were built for the integration of rail/road started in 1947 which the 1953 Tory government decided wasn’t in line with its “private good/public bad”.
    In 1956 the government blocked rail charge increases and,at the same time, reduced government subsidies.
    In 1960 the ‘dodgy’ Mr. Marples (he of road building interests) decided that the money spent on rail should be spent on roads; the rest is history.

  • Innocent Bystander 5th Jun '18 - 2:49pm

    I have always believed that the break up of the great nationalised industries was to overcome the power of the unions. Maybe rightly so as I remember revising for my university finals by candlelight because the miners (or the power workers, or both) were on strike. But those days are gone.
    It was sold as “increased competition” which is a ludicrous claim. There are only GWR trains on our local line, only Thames Water provides me with water. How on earth is that competition from my perspective?
    The privatisation of energy is even more infamous. The generators have simply sat on their hands and declined to replace the baseload they inherited at the outset, Why? So they can blackmail the govt into handing over breathtaking amounts of taxpayers money or they won’t build replacement power stations. It is disgusting beyond belief that our ministers have handed us and our grandchildren over to economic criminals.
    My policy would be for the govt to set up a body like the Olympic delivery organisation. Then run a strict competitive tender for a set of baseload stations. Build and pay for them and contract other companies to run them but they will always belong to the nation and the “Big Six” blackmailers will have to find other victims.
    BTW I am not a socialist but a pragmatist.

  • nvelope2003 5th Jun '18 - 9:28pm

    David Raw: The problem with the 3 franchises was that they were mislead into offering higher premiums than was justified by the profits of the East Coast route which has 2 successful private operators already. Virgin was promised an upgrade but this did not happen. The Treasury thus received more money than they would have received in the public sector as long as the franchises lasted. All this information is available in the railway press.
    Expats: BR was nationalised on 1st January 1948 and the last steam engine was built in 1960 (Evening Star) They were not allowed to buy diesels from experienced foreign manufacturers because the UK was bankrupt so they bought bad quality ones here which were mostly failures.
    The marshalling yards I am talking about are those where wagons were formed into trains not the stations where BRS were supposed to tranship loads from road trucks.
    By the 1950s most freight apart from coal etc was going onto road transport, often provided by small family operators, because it was cheaper and more reliable.
    I expect that you are right about Ernest Marples but rail freight fell in most countries except the US where it is in private ownership.

  • Richard Easter 6th Jun '18 - 9:57am

    We actually have the worst possible system. Civil servants – who are not rail experts in many cases specifying pretty much everything required in a franchise – much of which is riddled with cost cutting (hard, high backed cram them all in seats), ridiculous 5 car units replacing old BR intercity trains, anti union dogma (scrap all guards and platform dispatchers and use agency staff and outsource everything), and just plain bullying and abuse “drivers are muppets that need to be smashed” (the words of Peter Wilkinson DFT official). This is in many cases franchised often to a foreign government rail operator – thus meaning the taxpayer / farepayer is either subsidising networks abroad or the national debt of other nations or a bus operator. These franchises employ in many cases previous BR managers who are tasked with implementing this rubbish. In many cases they fail to do so because it just doesn’t work, but then this franchised operator then becomes the human shield for the DFT.

    Had BR still existed then we wouldn’t have had the WCML farce – Intercity 250 was already on the cards as far back as 1993. Equally the replacement for the 125s was almost certainly going to be a like for like train. Equally if the engineers in the private companies had some say, we might have ended up with something better than the IEP white elephant specced by the civil servants – GNER and First Great Western wanted to work together to build a new Intercity 125 replacement, having seen how awful the Cross Country voyagers were. They were told in no uncertain terms that they were franchise operators and had no right to do this. The result being the sub par IEP train some 15 years later.

    Finally train leasing is an abject con similar to Scientology. An absolute sham of a system.

  • Mick Taylor 6th Jun '18 - 11:57am

    Now of course getting the ticketing right will not be the total solution to the rail problem. There are far too many in our party who believe the Tory inspired myths about British Rail and who actually believe that privately run rail is better than BR. Nonsense of course as those of us who were brought up with BR as the sole provider know. For me only re-nationalisation with commuter and employee involvement will provide a railway run for the benefit of those who use it, rather than for the shareholders who currently benefit.
    However, let’s consider ticketing.
    I have recently purchased tickets to travel from Todmorden in West Yorkshire to Falmouth in Cornwall. The best advanced fares I could get for the two of us, including senior railcard discount of 1/3 was £259. An off peak return was over £300 for the two of us. So I visited one of the ticket splitting companies. I found that we could travel for £185 for the two of us and I could have saved a further £4 by travelling home much later. We will travel on just 3 trains, the same as if we had purchased an advanced ticket option, but because of ticket splitting we end up with 48 tickets and seat reservations. Often we change tickets en route without even changing seats but sometimes we have to move to different seats on the same train.
    As you can see the saving is considerable, almost £85 or 33% on the cost of an advanced fare. The savings on on-the-day tickets is over 65%.
    This is a farce. It should be possible to buy the advanced ticket for the same low fare as by splitting the tickets and it should not be beyond the whit of the IT programmers who run the ticketing sites to achieve this. After all, the split ticket sites already do it!
    So while we wait for a long term solution to provision of rail services, all I want is a much simpler ticketing system that gives the customer value for money and doesn’t charge a premium for a straightforward advanced ticket. I am confident that the rail companies would get more passengers if this was so.

  • Peter Hirst 6th Jun '18 - 5:11pm

    What we need is a coordinated public transport policy that respects and facilitates model shifts during a journey including bicycles, trains, buses, trams and walking.

  • nvelope2003 9th Jun '18 - 10:43am

    Mick Taylor etc: The franchise system was working well enough until Grayling and his ill informed civil servants started to interfere as they had tried to do before with the franchising process which was skewed to try to get unrealistic premiums from potential operators who then failed to make enough to pay them. But the Treasury got a few millions for a year or two.

    If you speak to anyone in almost any business people they generally say foreigners are better at many things so it is not surprising that they are now running our railways as they are now running many other businesses in Britain. Our education system has proved to be a disaster for the economy.
    The railways were built and operated by private companies until 31st December 1947. Since the state took control of them they have not been run properly because the best interests of the Government do not coincide with those of the potential railway users. When I was born we still had private companies running them so I have lived through the whole of the BR era and it was not a story of glorious success. There were many good things but the loss of almost all freight traffic except coal and aggregates was a disaster.
    The obvious conclusion is that whatever the faults of private operators the state has no idea how to run the railways and their attempts to do so through their proxy the nationalised Network Rail have now created a complete mess which may last for months. The new timetable starting in December 2018 when even bigger changes are planned will be awaited with trepidation.

    How anyone can demand the nationalisation of the parts of the system not entirely controlled by the state is beyond comprehension. Most are doing a good job and the ones that are not are precisely the ones where the Government has intervened to pursue its union bashing agenda. Funny how strikes seem to cease when businesses are no longer state controlled – Royal Mail, most of the railways etc. Yes there should be customer and employees involvement in running business but this will not be a panacea.

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