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Fare capping could be introduced nationwide under radical proposals from rail firms

Weekly fare capping and a 'tap in, tap out' system similar to the one in London could be introduced across Britain, under radical proposals published by rail companies today.

Responses to a consultation launched last year show that eight out of 10 of people want the rail fares system overhauled, and nine out of 10 want smart or electronic tickets. 

The Rail Delivery Group – an organisation which represents train operators – says ticketing laws introduced in 1995 have been gradually tinkered with for the past two decades, meaning there are now about 55 million different fares to buy, so it's difficult for customers to know if they've got the best value fare.

But it's unclear how long the proposals could take to be realised, as trials and regulatory changes will have to take place before they do.

See our Cheap Trains guide for ways you can save now.

What are the main proposals?

A full list of proposals can be found in the Rail Delivery Group's document.

Some of the key proposals are:

  • Commuters natiowide would benefit from pay-as-you-go pricing, a 'tap in, tap out' system and weekly price capping, meaning those that buy weekly season tickets could save money when they travel fewer than five days a week or are able to travel off-peak.

  • A 'best fare guarantee' would assure customers that they would always be given the cheapest ticket wherever and whenever they buy it.

  • On long-distance and regional journeys, prices could be made to better reflect demand throughout the day, helping to fill empty seats – rather than there being a rigid 'peak' and 'off-peak' distinction.

  • More flexibility for return journeys, so customers wouldn't need to say what time of day their return journey will be when they buy an outward journey. Instead, they'll be able to mix and match different types of single tickets for their journey.

The industry's proposals will be designed to be 'neutral' in overall revenue terms with no change in average fares, and no increase for many passengers – though some individual fares could rise.

How did the proposals come about?

In June last year, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) – which represents Britain's rail companies – and Transport Focus – which acts as a watchdog for transport – launched a joint consultation called the 'Easier Fares Consultation'.

The consultation was the biggest consultation on fares ever, with nearly 20,000 Brits taking part. There was additional input from more than 60 umbrella organisations, which represent 300,000 organisations, such as local authorities, businesses and accessibility groups.

The RDG says that the proposals come as a result from what it heard in consultation responses. The responses showed:

  • 84% want to see the fares system reformed.
  • 88% want changes to how tickets are sold.
  • 68% think the cost of fares should reflect the time of day they are travelling.
  • 78% felt encouraging the filling up of unused seats should be prioritised.
  • 81% want to be able to buy tickets using online accounts.

What are the next steps?

The RDG says legislative changes would need to be made by the UK Government and devolved governments – the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Government. It says it has asked them to work with it on its proposals.

It also says that to inform changes to regulation a number of trials are being developed, which it hopes can run before the end of 2019.

These trials would include expanding 'pay-as-you-go' fares, which customers can currently get in London, onto commuter routes from outside of London into the capital.

What do rail firms say?

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the RDG, said: "The result of our nationwide consultation is clear – customers have different needs and want an easy-to-use range of rail fares to meet them. Our proposals can deliver exactly that – creating a system that better fits how people live and work today.

"Rail companies are already working together on plans for real world trials, so people can see what our proposals could mean for them. However, current regulation needs to be updated and we want to work with Government, who are key to making improvements a reality, to deliver the better fares system the public wants to see."

Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: "Passengers want to see root-and-branch reform to the outdated and outmoded fares and ticketing system. Trials will provide reassurance and allow passengers to understand the impact of the changes."

What to read next...

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