Peak fares are to be abolished for the winter by ScotRail, with the operator hoping to “encourage people to ditch the car and travel by train”.
From 2 October 2023 until the end of March next year, the price of a rush-hour day return trip between Edinburgh and Glasgow will almost halve, falling by 48 per cent from £28.90 to £14.90.
The publicly owned train operator is offering peak-time commuters the savings to “make public transport more accessible and affordable”.
But there are concerns about overcrowding, especially as some travellers who currently arrange their journeys to avoid the peaks will have no incentive to do so.
Ministers at Holyrood have provided £15m for the experiment. Commuter numbers have slumped by 30 per cent since the Covid pandemic.
Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway, said: “This is a hugely exciting opportunity for Scotland’s Railway to encourage more people across the country to choose rail travel instead of using the car. Everyone at ScotRail is working hard to make sure that this six-month trial will be a success, and we will be monitoring our services and stations daily to see where we have any significant increases in customer journeys.
“We know that cost and simplicity is a critical factor for people when they choose how to travel, and we are looking forward to delivering this fantastic fare reduction for our customers.”
At present most ScotRail trains that leave at or before 9.15am on weekdays are classed as peak, with sharply higher fares.
Peak pricing also applies to many evening departures from the main stations in Glasgow and Edinburgh after 4.42pm and before 6.11pm, as well as a slightly later pair of evening trains between Edinburgh Waverley and Glasgow Queen Street and the 6.30pm departure from the Scottish capital to Aberdeen.
ScotRail told passengers: “We recognise that the rail fare structure can seem complicated and often a barrier for customers, and this trial will make rail fares simpler, and often cheaper.
“We anticipate the trial will encourage more people to use ScotRail services, with cheaper fares early in the day attracting more people to consider travelling by rail.”
To counter concerns of overcrowding on peak services, especially to, from and between Edinburgh and Glasgow, ScotRail said: “We will have every available carriage out on the network.
“For the start of the trial we will have seven- or eight-carriage services operating during traditional peak hours on the Edinburgh-Glasgow via Falkirk High route, and additional carriages between Airdrie and Balloch, and on the Argyle Line.
“We do not have any more diesel trains to increase capacity on the routes where they operate, for example between Glasgow/Edinburgh and Aberdeen/Dundee/Inverness.”
Advance tickets for specific trains will not be affected by the experiment. In addition, on many journeys in rural Scotland the “walk-up” fare remains constant all day.
Example of savings on return journeys
- Inverurie-Aberdeen: peak £11.10, off-peak £8.90, saving 20 per cent
- Perth-Dundee: peak £14.40, off-peak £9.90, saving 31 per cent
- Inverness-Elgin: peak £22.00, off-peak £14.40, saving 35 per cent
- Glasgow-Stirling: peak £16.10, off-peak £9.60, saving 40 per cent
- Edinburgh-Glasgow: peak £28.90, off-peak £14.90, saving 48 per cent