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Rail review author calls for rail fares reform

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Keith Williams, co-author of the Williams-Shapps Plan For Rail white paper, has urged for fares reform – arguing there has never been a better time.

His comments were made at an event run by thinktank the Institute for Government and co-hosted by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG).

Williams explained that the timing for any change in fares and retail was ideal because of an upcoming spending review. He said there needed to be a demonstrable change in railways over the next few years.

Long-time arguments for reform made by those in the industry have included nationwide tap-in, tap-out systems and more flexible pricing on long-distance fares. The hope is changes would cater for a more flexible workforce, cut booking confusion, and make better use of space on trains.

Andy Bagnall, RDG.

At the event, Andy Bagnall, director general of the RDG – which has called for fares reform – echoed Williams’ views and warned that while the rail white paper made some promising commitments to review the system, it was thin on the detail about how it would be enacted. He said: “Now is the best opportunity in a generation to get fares reform right. In the white paper the aspirations are there, it wills the ends but not the means. Pay as you go, simplification of long-distance fares – are examples of what train operators have long been calling for. The Comprehensive Spending Review will be critically important to deliver this.”

Bagnall also addressed the anticipated culture of the Great British Railways (GBR). Bagnall said enabling the railway to become “the backbone of national renewal and connectivity as we come out of the pandemic means a rebalancing of private and public sectors and changed roles for operators.”

Bagnall said that GBR needed “diversity of thought and to draw on the expertise of different professional disciplines … the rail industry is very good at providing a pathway for social mobility but we could do better to attract more women and people from minority ethnic backgrounds into key roles.”

He said GBR needed to “look outwards, not inwards” and be a “guiding mind, not a controlling mind, and focussed on the passenger rather than the railway itself.”  

Warning of a crunch point around the forthcoming content of new passenger contracts, he continued: “If we don’t harness the private sector in the right way, we will not fulfil its aspirations to deliver for customers. The key to getting the best out of the private sector is the new Passenger Service Contracts. Train operators are going to need to have more meaningful input and influence for things like timetables and fares. They know their markets but will need the right incentives and flexibilities to respond to customers and changing demand patterns.  

“Getting the contract details right is vital to achieve the right outcomes for customers.”

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