ScotRail launches off-peak all-day fares trial
ScotRail, the operator of the vast majority of services in Scotland has launched a uniform fare structure regardless of the time of day, as a trial. That means rush hour travel costs have been slashed on many routes, including the prestige Glasgow – Edinburgh service, where travel at the busiest times drops in price by almost half. The trial, backed by the Scottish Government, is for six months with the stated aim of encouraging passengers back on to the railway.
It may be no Deutschlandticket, but train travel in Scotland just became a lot cheaper and lot more predictable for most people. From Monday (2 October) for a trial lasting until March next year, passengers will pay the same price for all journeys, regardless of the time of day. That wipes out the peak premium traditionally charged on rush hour services. However, some fares have risen, as some very competitive off-peak fares have been withdrawn. English based cross-border operators are not supported by the scheme, which means a handful of stations in Scotland, which are not served by ScotRail, will still be subject to peak-time premiums.
Super off-peak withdrawn
Customers can now travel all day on ScotRail services with off-peak fares as the train operator launched its six-month trial. It is a first of a kind in the UK. The trial is introducing cheaper and simpler fares, encouraging people to travel by rail instead of car, says ScotRail. There are significant savings to be made, primarily for office-hours commuters. Standard class fares on the flagship Edinburgh and Glasgow service – which prior to the pandemic boasted fourteen services by four routes every hour – has seen the peak time return face collapse from 28.90 pounds to just 14.90. The new fare is competitive with the express coach service between the cities, and the train journey is significantly quicker between the city centres.
Unlike the Deutschlandticket monthly subscription model, the Scottish scene retains individual fares for individual journeys, although a range of ‘rover’ tickets remain on sale. There are some routes where no off-peak fare exists because the same price is available at any time of the day, and as such, customers will not see any change in those areas – typically on journeys outside the heavily populated Central Belt. Some of the cheapest tickets available, marketed as “super off-peak”, will be withdrawn for the duration of the trial. That means some travellers will miss out and could increase. Examples include Perth to Dundee where the new “all-day” fare is 9.90 pounds, instead of the previous cheapest fare of 8.00 pounds.
Qualified welcome from the unions
Some figures put patronage of Scotland’s passenger railways at only seventy per cent of pre-pandemic levels. “Our unique pilot is making rail fares simpler and cheaper as we seek to encourage more people to use public transport”, said Fiona Hyslop MSP, the Minister for Transport in the Scottish Government (whose own Linlithgow to Edinburgh fare benefits from the scheme). “This approach reflects our Programme for Government commitment to encourage a shift towards sustainable transport. We recognise there is much to be done in encouraging people back to rail if we are to achieve our net zero targets. With simpler fares, which are valid all day, plus great savings to be made up and down the country, there’s never been a better time to choose the train.”
There was even a qualified welcome from the embittered trades unions. “The Scottish Government approach is in stark contrast to the UK Government that has done nothing to make railway more affordable and accessible”, said Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport) union. “The pilot needs to be accompanied by proper investment in Scotland’s rail workers, services and infrastructure and the reinstatement of super off peak fares that have been removed. Scottish ministers must rule out any cuts to ScotRail ticket offices, invest in services and reverse cuts to essential rail infrastructure maintenance”, he added. Currently there are no pans on the table for Scotland to follow England and propose closure of ticket offices.
“This is a fantastic day for rail travel in Scotland and a hugely exciting opportunity for Scotland’s Railway to get more people to use our trains”, said Alex Hynes, Scotland’s Railway Managing Director. “We know that cost and simplicity are critical factors for people when they choose how to travel, and we are looking forward to delivering this fantastic fare reduction for our customers.”