Rail passengers at ticket machines

Technology will be key to rail fare reforms, warn Lords

Image credit: AlenaKravchenko | Dreamstime

A House of Lords committee has written to the Rail Minister saying that the Government needs to set out a strategy for rail fare reform before Great British Railways (GBR) is launched in 2023, so the new body in charge of the network is clear about its objectives and can successfully implement the new system.

In its letter to Chris Heaton-Harris, the Built Environment Committee notes that the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail published in May this year sets out steps to reduce the complexity of fares and improve ticketing technology. The writers state: “it is critical to the success of the proposals that the Government outlines a coherent vision for fares that can be implemented stage-by-stage."

In its specific recommendations on technology, the committee says that in order to implement any simplified fare structure, contactless payment options should be made available at all stations across the national network.

The Government should prioritise a move to digital forms of ticketing. This will require infrastructure upgrades at stations to enable smart cards, phones and QR codes to be scanned, which will have upfront costs, but there will be cost savings from lower use of paper tickets.

In addition, Wi-Fi, phone and data connectivity on the lines should be improved so that passengers can work remotely while they travel and buy tickets on-the-go.

On ticket types, there should be two different approaches, reflecting the needs of commuters and long-distance travellers. For the former, single-leg pricing and contactless payment “may generate more demand” - which has reduced dramatically since the start of the pandemic – while for longer journeys, airline-style dynamic pricing would offer lower fares for less popular journeys and so help spread demand.

Among other points made in the letter, there should be a diverse range of ticketing retailers who compete on fair commercial terms, and anomalies such as split ticketing, where it can be cheaper to buy separate tickets for different stages of a single journey, should be addressed.

Committee chair Baroness Neville-Rolfe commented: “To encourage passengers to return to the railways after the pandemic and meet the important commitments set at COP26... it will be essential to improve the consumer experience for rail passengers and simplify fares. The launch of Great British Railways in 2023 provides a unique opportunity to clarify fares and reduce confusion.

“Journeys should be supported with technology, such as contactless or QR codes, to reflect customer expectations in the modern world. Early wins for GBR could include reform of ticket types, digitalisation and improving the underwhelming new flexible season tickets currently on offer.”

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