With National Rail's 'Great British Rail Sale' coming to an end tonight, Paul Tuohy of the Campaign for Better Transport writes that while the sale may only be short term, he hopes that it will show the Government that, in the long term, fare increases are not the only method of raising income.

The impact of the pandemic on rail travel was seismic. Passenger numbers fell to their lowest level in 170 years. Government messaging – combined with changes in working patterns – meant that even when restrictions were lifted, many passengers didn't return.

This is deeply concerning, because rail is the greenest major mode of transport. Travelling by rail produces less than a quarter the greenhouse gas per passenger mile than driving. We need a thriving rail network if we are to tackle the twin crises of climate change and air pollution and avoid a future of ever-rising traffic.

We have been urging the Government to actively encourage people back on board public transport with a national campaign and incentive scheme. So we welcomed the Great British Rail Sale as a major campaign success.

The Government-backed sale is the first of its kind: it spans the network, with all train companies taking part, and offers 1.5 million tickets at half the normal price. There are some genuine bargains to be had – our supporters have told us about buying tickets from Nottingham to Durham for £4.80, and from Lewes to London return for £3.50. In one week, ticket sales reached 850,000, proving that this is an exceptionally positive way to get people excited about rail travel and win back passengers.

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But a serious measure to ease the cost-of-living crisis it is not. It has been criticised for not covering all routes, and for its short duration: discounts only apply for travel up to 27 May, so it's no good for families travelling during half-term. And with its focus on off-peak leisure travel, it does little to help commuters, arguably the group the Government should be most focused on bringing back to rail.

If fares are linked to RPI next year, the cost of season tickets could rocket by 10 per cent. If the Government truly wants rail travel to thrive, it must put an end to its eye-watering annual fare rises. And it must reform fares and ticketing across the board to respond to new travelling patterns, including a much better offer for part-time commuters.

We also want to see better timetables so that journeys are faster and smoother, far fewer engineering works at times people want to travel, and much better use of public money by Network Rail (and subsequently Great British Railways) to get more improvements for the same cost.

But in the meantime, we hope that the Great British Rail Sale can show the Government that cheaper fares can mean more passengers and more income, and convince the Treasury that the way to increase income from fares is to make them cheaper, not keep ratcheting them up and driving people off the railway.

Let's show the Government that when rail travel is more affordable, more people will choose it. If you've been putting off a trip due to the cost, or just want to get out and about by rail again, now's your chance to grab a bargain and support the long-term future of the railways. Book your tickets through the Great British Rail Sale website before midnight tonight.

It may only be a temporary incentive, and it's certainly not perfect, but we say the Great British Rail Sale is a great start that could pave the way for more long-term changes to fares and ticketing.

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