Labour calls for contactless payment across rail network

A nationwide system of contactless or mobile payment should be introduced for rail travel, according to the Labour party, which has accused the industry of lacking ambition for reform.

Publication of an anticipated fares and ticketing review by the Rail Delivery Group, an industry body, has been delayed for more than four months. The shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald, will tell delegates at the Transport for the North conference in Sheffield on Monday that the lack of ambition and progress reflect a wider inability to tackle one of the rail industry’s most deep-rooted problems.

Labour argues that real reform would require integration of the railway from its existing model. McDonald will say: “It’s a reminder that an adversarial and uncooperative railway cannot possibly deliver simplicity, transparency or trust.”

Fares reform is regarded by many as a crucial element of rail reform. Last week, former British Airways CEO Keith Williams, who is conducting a review of the rail industry’s structures, said the industry would “drive passengers away” if it continues to operate as it does.

Williams’ comments came as the latest biannual national passenger survey found that satisfaction has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade. More than half of passengers said they did not think their ticket was worth the money they had paid.

Anthony Smith, the chief executive of Transport Focus, the independent watchdog that conducts the survey, said he believed the use of ticketing should go much further than it does: “There is an absolute necessity to reform the whole system so people think they get better value.”

He said smart ticketing would help, along with fares that reflect part-time working. “You’ve got to extend the contactless system you see in London to a greater area of the south-east and to other cities.

“In the longer run you’ve got to get that reform under way. It always gets parked as too difficult. Reliability is the main thing. We build our lives around these services and rely on that timetable: the relentless attention to day to day operation is what will drive satisfaction in the right direction.”

Network Rail’s funding settlement, which runs until April 2019, promised £38bn of investment in infrastructure, including line upgrades and new tracks. . However, many projects were jettisoned or delayed after overspending on Great Western electrification work. Meanwhile, the transformation of Thameslink and London Bridge meant years of upheaval for commuters, with the benefits yet to be entirely realised.

Smith said he welcomed moves to prioritise existing infrastructure in the upcoming rail budget: “There is a huge amount being spent again from 2019-24. Luckily, a lot of that is skewed to maintain the existing railway rather than being spent on the grand projects this time.”

Lilian Greenwood, chair of the transport select committee, agreed: “Far and away, the biggest thing is reliability and punctuality.”

However, she said passengers should have been protected from fare rises on franchises such as Northern and GTR, where last year’s summer timetable chaos was most acute. “And they could be getting one-click compensation when things go wrong,” she added.

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