The Anonymous Widower

Labour Pledges To Cut Rail Fares By A Third

The title of this post is the same as that of this article on the BBC.

This is the first two paragraphs.

Labour has announced plans to slash rail fares by 33% and simplify ticket prices for part-time workers if it wins the election on 12 December.

The party also wants to make train travel free for young people under the age of 16 and build a central online booking portal with no booking fees.~

In other reports on the Internet, the cost is given at £1.5 billion and it would be paid for from existing transport budgets. Really!

Labour’s plan would have two immediate effects.

  • More people would be using the trains and there would a need for much more investment to provide the extra capacity
  • But the train companies would be unprofitable and would hand the franchises back, as they would effectively be bankrupt.

The government would probably want that, but would Bombardier, CAF, Siemens et al continue to supply the new trains needed to British Rail at prices determined by the government?

This Labour proposal has echoes of Saddiq Khan’s fare freeze to get elected as London Mayor, which has caused  investment in London’s transport system to be delayed or cancelled.

December 2, 2019 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | ,


  1. To achieve carbon zero, we need to make using the train appreciably cheaper than using the car for the same trip. Government could and should achieve some of this by increasing fuel duty to the levels it should be as that disproportionately affects those that choose to travel longer distances by car (say Sudbury to London) and affects less the majority of trips of < 5km due to less fuel use.

    This is the other side of the equation, I recall when I saw the data that the profits of some TOCs was roughly the same as the subsidy given to them by DfT. So why not either use that to drop fare levels (and they are way too high in UK anyway) or reinvest in the services. If fares are dropped then those who can will modal switch to the train if the difference between driving costs and train fares is stark enough.
    Eventually you get enough new turnover to wipe out the cost of dropping fares anyway,

    Comment by Tim Regester | December 2, 2019 | Reply

    • It’s a multifactor problem and according to someone on the Overground who was being very frank about Northern, their problems are not what you think. I have my views and I’m writing a piece about them. But a lot won’t like what I say.

      Comment by AnonW | December 2, 2019 | Reply

  2. A few points on this
    1/ I have seen analysis (on seat61 website) which shows that in many cases, long distance train travel in the UK costs similar or less than Europe. It’s only “on the day” last minute walk up long distance travel which is consistently more costly. Different discussion for short distance commuting, of course, which I think is more expensive due to less subsidy.

    2/ Some TOC are switching to “single leg” pricing (LNER, soon), which will simplify pricing for less regular travellers (on all kinds of journeys)

    3/ Government could mandate that all operators offer more flexible ticketing for people who travel several days per week. This could be app/NFC card based, even better if you could “store” relevant railcards on the app/NFC card (as you can do with Oyster, e.g. over 60 discount/Gold card discount). Single leg pricing helps with this.

    4/ TfL is effectively encouraging people to not buy season tickets, with weekly capping (contactless, Oyster soon), and this works better for flexible travel. I foresee a day when TfL withdraws the longer duration seasons tickets (maybe as a sneaky fare rise, albeit with winners and losers), or longer duration zonal travel is only available as part of a longer duration Travelcard (combined with rail).

    Comment by MilesT | December 2, 2019 | Reply

    • I think a revolution will happen. I can envisage a time, when everybody uses the same app and they touch in at the start and finish of a journey.You might also have to touch in when you change trains. If like me you have a Freedom Pass this would be noted in the app. So if I went say to Gatwick from Dalston Junction, I would be charged the extra from the Zone 6 boundary to my bank account. You’d still be charged the walk-up ticket, which could be Anytime or Off Peak depending on the time, but you could always buy an Advance ticket and load it to the app.
      Having done some work years ago with the Met, they will love it, as it will mean criminals etc. will be able to be easily tracked nationwide. As most ticket barriers have CCTV, they can check identities. I was once told that criminals tend to use travelcards in the believe they are more difficult to track.

      Comment by AnonW | December 2, 2019 | Reply

      • Single flexible ticket travel is (or was) possible across the whole of the Netherlands, I believe, on the standardised paper strip ticket system used for local transport (has been existence for many years). You bought a “strip” of “n” slots, consult a map for the number of zones you would be going through, and would fold over Zones+1 slots and stamp it in the validator (on bus/tram or on platform). It didn’t make sense to travel this way for longer trips (would require more than one “strip” of tickets) but it was valid to do so.

        I think we are getting closer to the introduction of an all purpose contactless travel card/app. The citymapper London Zonal pass works quite like what you propose (in fact is is a Mastercard debit card with a distinct prefix set up to only allow authorisation by certain “merchants”, and citymapper calculate a bill on the back end that bills an amount for a weekly season ticket for your chosen zones, and they pay TfL for the actual travel, but re-bills supplements for out of zone travel to a linked payment card account). What citymapper does not do at the moment is record whether you have any railcard type entitlements, freedom pass etc. to affect the billing calculation. citymapper also don’t allow their pass to be used on other transport that accepts contactless (e.g. non-London buses), yet, but would not be hard to do so. It’s just the rail industry that is behind, with a fragmented contactless capability (mainly aimed at season ticket holders, maybe carnets/stored credit, but not railcards) and lacking fare structures which make this easier (single leg).

        The government need to tell ORR/ATOC to step in and sort this out, modelled on TfL like customer propositions, and also rationalise the railcards (I do enough off peak rail travel to need/benefit from 3 cards–Network, F&F, and GA Club 50, and did/could have the TT to make 4–madness; nobody should need more than 1 card; but start with rationalising to 2: “status” i.e. age/disability/employment and “frequent user” i.e. region/group travel)

        I predict that TfL will develop a similar all purpose contactless capability when they re-engineer Oyster to remove the current 4 bit-15 zone limitation, and will migrate freedom pass onto that also.

        Comment by MilesT | December 3, 2019

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