The Built Environment Committee has called on the Government to set out its strategy for rail fare reform, asking for a “coherent vision for fares” which should, in turn, allow for the proposals set out in the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail to be successfully implemented through a stage-by-stage approach.

By letter dated 5 November 2021, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Chair of the House of Lords Built Environment Committee, set out a number of objectives and policy goals for the Government to consider prior to the mobilisation of Great British Railways (GBR). The letter follows three oral evidence sessions held by the Committee across 13 July, 7 and 15 September 2021.

The key objectives for Government set out in the letter include:

Availability of contactless payment technology and increased digitisation 

  • ensure that contactless payment options are made available at all stations across the national rail network before the mobilisation of GBR in 2023;
  • provide wifi, phone and data connectivity improvements to allow for remote working whilst travelling;
  • introduce technology to integrate contactless payments with other forms of ticketing for longer journeys ensuring that consumers do not need multiple tickets for a single journey;
  • prioritise ticket digitisation and infrastructure upgrades at the remaining ticket gates across the network; and
  • ensure fares displays on ticket vending machines are easy to understand.

Simpler rail fare structure

  • develop a vision for a simpler fare structure and start to implement it before GBR mobilises (potentially by introducing three simplified fares categories - anytime, off-peak and advance); and
  • improve consistency as to when the ‘off-peak’ window starts and ends across the network.

Adapting approach to ticket types

  • consider whether different approaches to ticketing reform are needed (single-leg pricing may be the preferred option for shorter journeys and in commuter areas, whilst dynamic pricing for advance fares may help spread demand and increase non-peak revenues for longer journeys);
  • consider how to address issues of split-ticketing; and
  • improve flexiseason tickets to attract more customers (with any improvements to be implemented before the end of the year to allow for forward-planning by consumers).

Promoting competition 

  • ensure that there are a number of ticketing retailers to help encourage innovation and that all retailers operate on fair commercial terms (to be agreed before the mobilisation of GBR in 2023); and
  • clarify the interaction on fares between GBR and open access operators (again, to be agreed before GBR’s mobilisation).

Announcement on fare rises 

  • announce the regulated rail fare increases as soon as possible, allowing consumers to plan ahead for 2022; and
  • clarify when RPI is to be replaced with CPI as the basis for calculating fare increases.

The Government has been given one month to respond. Having a clear and effective strategy for rail fares reform will be critical to attracting passengers back to rail and achieving the Government's net zero targets.