The end of the Saver and split ticketing?!
Today’s announcement by the Railway Delivery Group gives the fares structure a much needed shake-up. Moving to single-leg pricing, simplifying restrictions on routes and getting to grips with split ticketing are all things that we have called for.
However, the devil, as always, is in the detail. Take single-leg pricing for instance. One of the oddities of the current system is that for many longer distance off-peak fares the single is just £1 cheaper than the return. So if a return from X to Y was £50 the single would be £49. If you move to single-leg pricing then what is the new single fare?
Do you just halve the return fare – so it becomes £25? That way no passenger would pay more for a return but those just going one way would save £24 (the difference between £49 and £25). This is clearly best for passengers but means a reduction in revenue for the industry. So what, I hear you say – except that reductions in revenue invariably come back to hit passengers and government investment one way or another. Or do you increase the return fare, say to £60 and have the single at £30 – so there are winners and losers and the changes are revenue neutral?
That is why it is important to have the trials announced today. You can run economic models on what might happen when you radically alter information and pricing structures. But it is understanding how passengers behave in the real world that matters. Would, for instance, having a £25 single fare actually boost revenues by encouraging more people to travel? These are tremendously important decisions – not least as it will form the basis of fares regulation for years to come.
Transport Focus, as part of the Government/Transport Focus/rail industry Fares Action Plan, supports these trials. We cannot keep complaining about complexity and then not support a realistic trial to see what the future might look like. But we will be monitoring the detail, and the impact on passengers, very carefully.
Finally, it is good that the industry is finally looking at split ticketing. Something has to be done – for too long it has been the so called ‘elephant in the room’. The ability to quite legally chunk a journey up into separate parts which are cheaper overall, considerably in some cases, totally undermines any overall trust in the system.