Rail travellers may be offered “incentives” to get back on trains once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, peers have been told.
Transport minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton said there were many things being considered by ministers to attract passengers back to the railways.
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Her comments at question time in the Lords came after Labour’s Lord Rosser suggested discount fares could help play a part.
Lord Rosser said the Government had provided money to enable people to get “cut-price meals” and help restaurants recover from the loss of business due to COVID-19 under the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
“Does the Government have any similar plans for enabling people to travel at half-price or a significant discount on our railways for a period of time as a means of encouraging people to travel by train again after the current lockdown,” he asked.
Lady Vere told him: “You must be reading our minds because there will be many things that we might want to consider doing once the course of the pandemic is clear and we are out the other side and there are no restrictions on people’s travel.
“It may be that we introduce certain incentives because we all know that travelling on public transport is the best way to travel.”
Liberal Democrat Lord Greaves said the minister was being “uncharacteristically coy”.
He said the railways were “extremely safe” but warned the “danger” was that once the pandemic ended, people did not go back to using trains.
Lady Vere said the Government was thinking hard about mechanisms, such as marketing campaigns or incentives, to bring people back to the railways.
But she said now was not the right time to bring them forward as people should be following the restrictions to keep the virus under control.
Labour’s Lord Snape, a former railwayman, warned an “inflation-plus” rise in rail fares next year would just force more people onto the roads, increasing congestion and pollution.
Lady Vere said ministers were currently considering plans for any increase in regulated rail fares, adding that taxpayers had provided a “huge amount of support” to train services during the pandemic.
Passengers must also contribute to maintaining and improving the service and any fare rise would fund “crucial investment”, she told peers.
Liberal Democrat Baroness Randerson asked if rumours of a 2.6% fares rise next year were true.
“Rail passengers in Britain already pay fares that are very much higher than in the rest of Europe and they shouldn’t be expected at this difficult time to carry an extra burden,” Lady Randerson said.
Lady Vere said she could not comment on rumours.Enjoy more of The Railway Magazine reading every month. Click here to subscribe.