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Commuters caught in May's train chaos should receive a discount on next year's travel, MPs say

Commuters travelling on the worst affected routes during May's timetable chaos should receive a discount on next year's travel, a group of MPs has said.

The Transport Committee has today called for a series of reforms, including a discount for Thameslink, Great Northern, Northern and TransPennine Express season ticket holders, and a move towards 'one-click' automated compensation to save passengers from having to enter their details every time they claim. 

The cross-party committee – which holds the Department for Transport to account – analysed the effects of the timetable change on 20 May. 

The alterations caused weeks of delays and cancellations across Great Northern, Northern, Thameslink and TransPennine Express routes – and the committee has made a series of suggestions for the rail industry to improve passenger trust and avoid future failures. 

See our Train Delays guide for more info on getting compensation for rail disruption.

What does the report recommend? 

The report sets out a series of recommendations for the rail industry, Department for Transport and the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road: 

  • There must be a move towards automatic compensation. The report says the Government should set a measurable target for rolling out 'one-click' compensation across commuter rail routes, and set up pilot schemes for automated compensation on Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Northern and TransPennine Express routes by the end of 2019. 
     
  • Rail fare increases should be frozen for passengers affected by the disruption. The report says that Thameslink, Great Northern, Northern and TransPennine Express commuters shouldn't see their fares rise by up to 3.2% in January, and calls on the industry and Government to "consider all options" to keep price increases to a minimum – including offering passengers renewing a 2018 season ticket on one of these lines a discount equivalent to any price increase. 

  • Disabled passengers must be given more help when things go wrong. The report says that contingency plans must be put in place to assist disabled passengers in the event that a timetable change doesn't go to plan. 

  • Passengers must be consulted for future timetable changes. The report says that any future timetable processes must allow enough time for full public consultations about the changes, and that passengers must continue to be consulted about the effects of May's timetable chaos. 

What does the committee say? 

MP Lilian Greenwood, the committee's chair, said: "It is extraordinary, and totally unacceptable, that no one took charge of the situation and acted to avert the May timetabling crisis.

"Instead of experiencing the benefits of much-needed investment in our railways, around one in five passengers experienced intensely inconvenient and costly disruption to their daily lives. There was extraordinary complacency about protecting the interests of passengers, who were very badly let down.

"The complex system by which we operate our rail services failed to cope with the scale of change planned for May 2018. The Secretary of State has announced a year-long independent rail review, to be conducted by Keith Williams [a former British Airways chief exec]. While the need for fundamental reform is beyond doubt, passengers cannot wait until 2020 for key lessons to be learned and reforms implemented.

"Friday's announcement of fare rises averaging 3.1% in 2019, which came after we had agreed our report, adds insult to passengers' injury.

"We recommend that 2018 season ticket holders most affected by the timetabling crisis receive a discount on their 2019 season tickets equivalent to the increase announced on 30 November."

What does the Government say? 

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: "We have already worked with the industry to deliver special compensation schemes on Northern, TransPennine Express and GTR, which provides the equivalent of up to 8% of the cost of an annual season ticket for those most severely impacted.

"The disruption following the May timetable change demonstrated that significant change is required in the rail industry. That is why we launched the Williams review to consider all parts of the industry in order to put passengers first, with reforms to begin from 2020."

Robert Nisbet, regional director at the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the railways, said: "We are learning the lessons from the unacceptable disruption in May and this report will be an important contribution. The industry has set up a dedicated timetable assurance team whose job is to assess future timetables and ensure they are introduced more smoothly, starting with Sunday [the next timetable change happens on Sunday 9 December].

"While we are truly sorry for what happened this summer, our ambition remains to deliver thousands of new trains and extra services, improving journeys for customers and helping grow the economy."