The Scotsman

Scotrail feared overcrowdi­ng – but the reverse was true

- Alastair Dalton

Scotrail has revealed it was so worried that suspending peak fares would cause overcrowdi­ng that it limited advertisin­g of the discount.

The operator said passenger numbers had increased by 4 per cent since the trial started in October. However, the experiment is not expected to recoup its £15 million cost, which was funded by the Scottish Government.

Extra carriages were added to some trains, but Scotrail said it had not seen much overcrowdi­ng.

The Scottish Conservati­ves said the scheme’s success risked being sabotaged by an 8.7 per cent increase in ticket prices from April, which was announced on Wednesday.

Scotrail said advertisin­g of the peak fares suspension would be ramped up in January, while it was announced in the Scottish Budget on Tuesdaythe­six-monthexper­iment is to be extended by three months until the end of June.

Transport Scotland said the extension was “to collect more data as this gives more informatio­nabouttren­dsovertime – we want as robust evaluation as possible”.

Alexhynes,managingdi­rector of Scotland’s Railway, which comprises Scotrail and track owner Network Rail Scotland, told the Green Signals podcast: “We expected it to increase our passenger numbers and we expected it to cost us money, and that’s exactly what’s happened.

“Wethinkwea­reabout4pe­r cent busier in terms of passenger journeys and we think we will deliver the trial within the £15m budget, so it has given away some of our revenue.”

However, Mr Hynes said the “underlying performanc­e” of the scheme had been difficult to assess because of the scale of weather disruption over the past two months.

He said the pilot was designed to encourage more people to switch from cars to trains. Mr Hynes said: “It is a spend to decarbonis­e project. A lot of people find rail relatively expensive and if we are going to decarbonis­e Scotland, we need to drive modal shift, and the price people pay is a barrier to that.

“We are just getting a taste of what the behavioura­l change might be if you wanted to make it a more permanent arrangemen­t.”

Speaking before the trial was extended, Mr Hynes said the pilot’s evaluation would include whether the extra passengers­hadswitche­dfrom cars or buses, or made more trips.

He said: “We didn’t see a lot of overcrowdi­ng, which was a real risk. Because we were concerned about the risk of overcrowdi­ng, we deliberate­ly did not do any paid advertisin­g.”

However, Mr Hynes said that would start in January when “we are going to push it quite hard, along the lines of ‘reboot your commute’.”

Scottish Conservati­ves transport spokespers­on Graham Simpson said: “Alex Hynes is telling us what we already know – that cutting fares attracts more people onto trains. Scotrail should start plugging this scheme because we want it to be a success.

“This is exactly why it is so wrong that the SNP has announced a near 9 per cent fare increase next year. That will undo all the good work of ending peak fares.

“It is a shame that Humza Yousaf could not recognise the folly of this when questioned about it at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.”

 ?? ?? Scotrail ticket prices will rise by 8.7 per cent from April
Scotrail ticket prices will rise by 8.7 per cent from April

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