Monday 25 February 2019 4:23 am

DEBATE: Would scrapping peak and off-peak rail fares lead to a better train ticketing system?

Follow Ben Glover

Would scrapping peak and off-peak rail fares lead to a better train ticketing system?

Ben Glover, researcher at Demos, says YES.

Rail travel offers lots to moan about, but little is more frustrating than the irrationality of ticket prices.

Why can a single ticket cost the same as a return? Why can trains leaving minutes apart vary wildly in price?

These quirks and complexities undermine our trust in the system. Abolishing the enormous cliff edge between peak and off-peak fares would be a significant first step towards simpler, saner rail travel.

Along with reducing the overcrowding of trains just outside peak times, it could also aid the rollout of “tap in, tap out”.

When Londoners have enjoyed an Oyster card for over 15 years, it is staggering that passengers beyond the M25 must often travel with paper tickets.

Our railways need reform, and this demands more than fare changes. But abolishing peak and off-peak is a good place to start. For that, the industry should be commended for its proposal.

Emma Revell, communications officer at the Centre for Policy Studies, says NO.

Scrapping peak and off-peak fares would do nothing to tackle high demand and reduce overcrowding, while also penalising passengers, often the less affluent, who travel at less busy periods by increasing their ticket prices.

Of course, with eight out of 10 passengers wanting the current ticketing system to be overhauled, there is clearly a need to consider the opportunities for reform.

The train operators themselves have proposed smoothing out the system so that peak prices look more like a hill than a mountain –and you don’t get massive overcrowding as people pile onto the first off-peak trains in order to save money.

There is also scope for more dynamic pricing, as used by airlines, with tickets on empty trains costing less than tickets on trains with less availability, rather than just soaring in price on the day of departure.

However, scrapping the idea of using prices and the market to regulate demand seems illogical. Without any peak system, this could increase the risk of dangerous overcrowding, breakdown and delays.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.