Third-class service?

18 December 2012

Passenger Focus is a consumer organistion. Consumers benefit most where there is keen choice and competition – often hard to achieve on the railways where space is limited. So, do passengers want the choice of more classes of travel? In theory if people want to pay more for more that is great as long as other passengers do not suffer.

The slightly unfortunately worded reply to Lord Myners recent question in the House of Lords sparked a predicatble response: ‘To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether invitations to bid for new rail franchises permit the introduction of a third passenger class.’ Earl Attlee replied: ‘The current franchising system allows bidders to propose the introduction of a third passenger class as long as these proposals comply with the ticketing and settlement agreement and franchise agreement.’

I think what they meant was ‘extra’ classes, not a third-class service! Some operators have tried this already – GNER, National Express East Coast and others had a business-class-type ticket – partly to give open expensive ticket holders a sense they were getting something extra for their money. All experiments failed due to the difficulty of policing the arrangements and managing capacity – oddly the business carriage was often rammed full when the rest of the train was half empty! The system is complex enough. Also all management theory states you should avoid putting resources in silos – it reduces your flexibility and with passenger numbers rising the train companies need all the flexibility they can get. So maybe a better aim is to improve standard class to such a quality that you don’t need first class?

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