Introduce ‘economy class’ rail travel to reduce need for investment, new report argues

New report argues for standing only economy class rail carriages

Rail commuters should be given more choice regarding the quality of service and the cost of fares. An additional high-density, standing-only, ‘economy class’ section should be introduced on peak-time commuter trains.

A new report, Transport Infrastructure: Adding Value, suggests that tickets for the new ‘economy class’ carriages would likely be around 20% lower than the standard class fare. A discount of this amount would place the price of ‘economy class’ about mid-way between standard-class rail fares and commuter-coach fares.

Initially it is envisaged that three carriages per train could be converted to ‘economy class’ and these would probably be best located at the front of the trains as they entered the main termini, though the precise details would depend on market conditions. The interior layout of this high-density section could be modelled on the new rolling stock used for the London Overground service, except with the lateral seating replaced by lockable flip seats that would only be available for use on off-peak services. The 'economy class' concept could be tested in a pilot scheme on a suitable commuter line, before being rolled out more widely if the trial proved successful.

Capacity would be increased at low cost as a standard-length train would be able to carry more passengers without recourse to high levels of taxpayer-funded investment in expensive new infrastructure. The introduction of this new class of rail travel could significantly reduce the need for such investment.

Segmentation of the transport market and the introduction of new pricing options provide an opportunity to add smaller and less expensive tranches of capacity while achieving equal if not higher levels of overall benefit.

This approach should be applied across the transport sector. The public sector should learn from the continual experimentation of the private sector and address the quality issue by exploring the different preferences that travellers have for different attributes of the transport service. Consequently, it should offer travellers a choice of different price-quality bundles, in the manner of the de-regulated aviation sector.

Commenting on the report, Head of Transport at the Institute of Economic Affairs, Dr Richard Wellings, said:

‘For too long the government has squandered taxpayers’ money on the wrong transport projects and failed to deliver value for commuters.

'Instead of spending huge sums on loss-making new schemes, policymakers should focus on making far better use of existing infrastructure. Giving people more choice and encouraging more competition could save the taxpayer considerable amounts of money and at the same time offer lower-cost travel options to commuters.’

Notes to editors

To arrange an interview about the report please contact Ruth Porter, Communications Director, rporter@iea.org.uk or 077 5171 7881.

The full report, Transport Infrastructure: Adding Value, by David Starkie, can be downloaded here.

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