Welsh Lib Dems call for free train travel as cost of living crisis bites

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have called on the Welsh government to take a leaf out of Spain’s book on public transport. The party is calling for the Welsh Labour government to consider introducing a scheme similar to the one introduced this month in Spain which will see free train journeys for commuter and medium-distance trains between 1 September and 31 December.

The Spanish policy aims to cushion the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on citizens, particularly those who rely on using public transport to get to work. The policy will also see a 30% discount on all other forms of public transport, including metros, buses and trams.

With inflation set to hit as high as 12% in the UK, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are asking the Welsh Government to consider implementing free rail tickets on Transport for Wales services for a limited period.

Besides helping working families cope with the cost-of-living crisis, the Welsh Lib Dems argue it could help reduce pollution and congestion and encourage some people to make the longer-term switch to public transport, especially given high fuel prices

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS said:

With the cost-of-living crisis surging, we need to be looking at innovative solutions to help keep costs down. For many people, getting to work is one of their biggest expenses, whether they are driving with high fuel prices, or using expensive train passes already.

This scheme coming into effect in Spain is an example of one way in which workers can have some sort of cushion against rapidly rising prices.

We know that lower income families are more reliant on public transport in Wales, we also know that lower income families are bearing the brunt of this cost-of-living crisis.

The policy would also be extremely green and would hopefully go a long way into encouraging people to move to public transport permanently.

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12 Comments

  • James Fowler 4th Aug '22 - 11:01pm

    All sorts of unintended consequences come out of this, not just the benefits outlined. Nevertheless, a very interesting idea. Probably needs a little bit more targeting.

  • Jenny Barnes 5th Aug '22 - 8:47am

    And free bus travel !

  • Steve Trevetahan 5th Aug '22 - 12:45pm

    Free train travel has its merits but it is an incomplete suggestion. Train travel inevitably has costs so who pays, how, when and how much?

  • Peter Hirst 5th Aug '22 - 1:54pm

    Seems like an excellent idea though not if you’re travelling first class, perhaps Welsh Railways do not have such a thing. You’d still need a ticket for survey purposes. Total free public transport say up to 50 miles is something FPC might look at.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Aug '22 - 6:00pm

    @Peter Hirst’s idea is probably unworkable, as what’s to stop passengers from travelling on combinations of free short-distance tickets?
    The Spanish system is for free travel only on slower trains. The UK rail ticketing system doesn’t usually distinguish by *type* of train the way many mainland European countries do. For instance, Germany recently introduced a very cheap rail pass that allows unlimited travel on all regional trains, but is not valid on IC, ICE or their equivalents. In theory, a passenger can travel from one end of the country to the other using the pass by taking a series of connecting slow trains.
    If we are to limit validity of free train tickets, it would need to be by train type, or otherwise by time of travel. Trouble is that UK TOCs nowadays aren’t always systematic about what type of rolling stock they use for each train service, and some parts of the UK rail network (though not anywhere in Wales) are served only by faster trains.
    Specifically concerning Wales, some journeys necessarily require travel through England. The Abergavenny–Shrewsbury–Crewe–Chester corridor would have to be included, including for journeys wholly in England on that line. And through fares in and out of Wales woulde need to be adjusted to make sure people travelling in and out of the country are not ripped off.

  • Re the Abergavenny–Shrewsbury–Crewe line. The TfW capacity checker shows every train, any time/day as ‘few to no seats’. From experience, it’s ‘standing room only’ for large stretches in both directions. I don’t get why no one joins the dots and puts an extra carriage on (and no, no first class on that line). Exeter to Bristol a few weeks back was the same. Rather than free travel, maybe ‘not being rammed like sardines’ is something we should be championing!

  • @Alex Macfie
    >@Peter Hirst’s idea is probably unworkable, as what’s to stop passengers from travelling on combinations of free short-distance tickets?
    I suspect turning a blind eye to this, hopefully small scale abuse, is okay if the main objective is to get people to use public transport.

    >The Spanish system is for free travel only on slower trains. The UK rail ticketing system doesn’t usually distinguish by *type* of train the way many mainland European countries do.
    The UK system does allow for limitations based on operator. So you could only enable the tickets on the commuter/stopping operator services only.

    The distance limit is harder. However, restricting qualifying tickets to ticket types normally associated with commuting (eg. Session and daily peak returns) this would naturally limit opportunities for abuse. It would also probably mean that irregular commuters, like myself would miss out, whereas lower paid workers who have to commute 3+ days a week would qualify.

    An obvious question is how to make travel free (to the user) in a way that doesn’t cause problems, ie. people travel for leisure because it is free. An approach could be to use the existing re-imbursement procedures, so people still pay for tickets, but have to claim the refund; then use the functional richness available of the refund system to implement the rules.
    An additional incentive, could be to include free bike parking/transport to further encourage the leaving of the car at home.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Aug '22 - 6:13pm

    @Roland: On the British railway network traveling on a combination of individually valid tickets that cover the whole journey is explicitly permitted, provided the train stops at the station where one switches tickets. Also it can be cheaper to travel on multiple tickets than on one through-ticket. And because ticket sellers are obliged to act impartially, if you ask for a particular combination of tickets they have to sell it to you. So there is a whole micro-industry around “split ticketing” to find the cheapest possible way of making a train journey. Whether you call this “abuse” iof the system is a subjective matter. Train operators would probably want to describe any way of using tickets other than how they intended as “abuse”. But it is perfectly legitimate in the eyes of the law — it’s fare avoidance as opposed to fare evasion. The fact that some or all of the tickets in a split might be free doesn’t change the principle. In any case, any attempt to prevent split-ticketing on the rail network (other than eliminating the anomalies that make it possible) would be deeply unpopular among the travelling public.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Aug '22 - 6:13pm

    “The UK system does allow for limitations based on operator. So you could only enable the tickets on the commuter/stopping operator services only.”

    Except that these are often the same operator. Almost all trains terminating at Paddington, Waterloo and Liverpool St stations are run by the same respective operator. English operators run both high-speed and regional trains into Wales, with no easy way of distinguishing them. As I noted in my earlier post operators aren’t always consistent with matching rolling stock type to services. And what do you do about journeys that are only possible on ‘fast’ trains (e.g. Swindon to Bristol / Bath)?

  • @Alex Macfie -Ah! So your “as what’s to stop passengers from travelling on combinations of free short-distance tickets?” was just nitpicking for no real reason.
    I forget that the way trains operate out of Euston, St.Pancreas and Kings Cross differs to Paddington. However, as I noted the setting of constraints around ticket types would largely cover your objections concerning long distance commuting (eg. Swindon-Bristol and Northampton-Birmingham), with much of the detail being covered by the refund system, which can ultimately revert to a human to evaluate. Given the intent is to help those on lower earnings with some concession to the “squeezed middle” I would want to know more about the demographics of the long-distance commuters, as we really should be discouraging those who could work-from-home travelling and those who earn good salaries and thus able to afford the increased cost of the session tickets don’t really need the (full value) handout.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Aug '22 - 7:00am

    Roland: Nitpicking? Not really, just pointing out the unenforceability of a distance-based restriction for free train travel,
    The refund-based model is interesting, ,similar to the dellay-repay scheme. But it would be on a much wider scale (potentially applying to all trains, not jjust those that are delayed), so would be bureaucratic and perhaps rather paternalistic (judging whether someone “deserves” a refund). Also the people the free travel scheme is supposed to help are precisely the ones who are least able to pay for the ticket for which they might or might not get a refund. The main beneficiaries would be those who have reasonable cashflow and know how to claim, i.e. the middle class.

  • @Alex – I think we are more in agreement than our comments would indicate.
    My remark about turning a blind eye, was more about strong or weak enforcement of a distance restriction. My take was, if the individual split tickets satisfied the distance restriction then does it really matter if the entire journey doesn’t.

    I was making use of information, albeit a few year old now, in thinking about how you might rapidly implement the scheme in a way that doesn’t result in excessive abuse, for example people travelling to London to go sightseeing/shopping because the trains are free. Also is it of any real value for irregular commuters getting a free annual season ticket? I hit on using the refund system because of the richness of functionality it contains and that the processing doesn’t have to be done in real-time, hence it has the potential to handle greater complexity. Also it provides an audit trail, so we will know how much the scheme will have cost.

    Well the one group that may not satisfy the criteria is the one that makes extensive use of cheap ticketing for their commutes, which can workout cheaper than buying a season ticket.

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