Trial of scrapping train return tickets extendedon February 7, 2023 at 12:31 am

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The transport secretary will explain how tickets can be simpler for passengers in a speech on Tuesday.

Woman train passengerImage source, Getty Images

A trial of scrapping return tickets in a bid to make fares simpler will be extended as part of a shake-up of the country’s railways.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper will confirm on Tuesday that publicly-owned LNER will extend its trial of selling single tickets only on its routes.

Under the trial, a single is always half the cost of a return. Currently, many singles are £1 less than a return.

The government said such reforms could provide “better value” for passengers.

It has not been revealed if there are plans to roll out the trial at LNER to the country’s other train operators.

As an example, LNER said when its trial first began in 2020 that the cost of a super off-peak ticket single from London to Edinburgh would be £73.70 rather than £146.40 or £147.40 for a super off-peak return.

Railway expert Mark Smith said the reforms created a “simple all-one-way fares structure designed for easy sale through today’s channels: Internet, ticket machines and contactless”.

He said the current ticket system “penalises” people making open-jaw or circular journeys rather than straightforward returns.

In a speech, Mr Harper will outline how a new organisation, Great British Railways (GBR), will work.

In 2021, the government announced plans for GBR to replace an “overcomplicated and fragmented” system as well as set timetables and prices, sell tickets in England and manage rail infrastructure.

There were fears the plans might not survive the recent changes in prime ministers, but Mr Harper is to explain how it will work with the private sector as “a guiding mind to co-ordinate the entire network”.

He will also announce plans to roll out pay-as-you-go ticketing across the South East, which will enable travellers to pay for journeys by tapping in and out with contactless cards or phones – similar to London’s Oyster system.

“The industry’s road to recovery after Covid has been tough, with reform badly needed to win back that lost passenger revenue while putting customers first,” Mr Harper said ahead of his speech.

The transport’s secretary’s announcements comes at a time when Britain’s railways are being disrupted by strike action.

Rail workers and train drivers have staged a series of walk outs in recent months over disputes involving pay and working practices.

Union bosses are calling for pay increases in line with the rising cost of living, but train companies have said any pay rises need to go alongside reforms, with the Covid pandemic leaving a hole in industry’s finances.

Louise Haigh, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, said regardless of the ticket people buy, “passengers are paying more for less under the Conservative’s broken rail system”.

“Thirteen years of failure has seen fares soar, more services than ever cancelled, while failing operators continue to be handed millions in taxpayers’ cash,” she added.

Regulated rail fares in England are set to rise by up to 5.9% from March.

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