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Scotland’s fares concession extended again

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ScotRail EMU at speed through Edinburgh Park. Scotland’s Railway.

Peak-time fares remain suspended in Scotland. Commuters will be spared paying a premium for their work journeys for another three months. The Scottish government-funded “Off-Peak, All-Day” promotion has now been extended for a second time until 27 September 2024. The original six-month trial had already been extended to nine months and was due to end in late June.

Domestic passenger services in Scotland are under public control. The government in Edinburgh has decided to fund a further three-month experimental abandonment of ‘peak time’ fares. The premium is normally charged for travel at busy times of the day—usually the hours before and after the ‘nine to five’ working day. The experiment is aimed at encouraging a shift away from commuting by car.

Simple and cheaper

The trial, which is funded by the Scottish Government, was launched on 2 October 2023. The aim of the experiment is to make public transport more accessible and affordable. The government also has a vigorous policy of decarbonisation and modal shift and hopes to encourage commuters to ditch their cars and travel by train. Scotland’s commuter hot spots – particularly Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow – are served by commuter trains along major travel corridors. Glasgow, in particular, has the biggest provincial commuter rail network in Britain.

Commuters and leisure travellers alike are going wild at the news that ScotRail’s off-peak, all-day fares have been extended for another three months. Image: © ScotRail.

“We recognise the rail fare structure can seem complicated and often a barrier for customers”, said ScotRail. “This trial makes rail fares simpler and often cheaper. Customers can travel at any time of the day on Off-Peak tickets, enjoying huge savings. For example, train tickets for travel during traditional peak times between Edinburgh and Glasgow [50 miles – 80 km] have dropped from 31.40 to 16.20 pounds [36.70 to18.95 euro].”

Augmented formations

The trail fare is not as generous as, for example, the DB Deutschland Ticket, but Scotland does have a comparatively liberal approach to public transport concessions. Discounted domestic rail fares are already available to many groups, including subscribers to a national scheme for those over fifty years old. Local and regional bus travel is already free to residents under 22 and over 60. The Edinburgh—Glasgow corridor is well served by both rail and bus, but concerns over the concessions competing with each other have proved unfounded.

Older and younger passengers on ScotRail services can already take advantage of fare promotions Image: © ScotRail.

“We anticipate the trial will encourage more people to use ScotRail services”, say ScotRail. “Cheaper fares early in the day [should be] attracting more people to consider travelling by rail. We have every available carriage out on the network, with 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 [which connects central Glasgow with many communities in the West of Scotland].

Capacity constraints

The Covid pandemic has changed travel patterns in Scotland, particularly in the heavily populated Central Belt, an east-west axis anchored by Edinburgh and Glasgow. ScotRail has seen a significant spread of peak demand. The intense service, which saw up to fourteen trains an hour on four different electrified routes, has been spread out to provide more capacity over more of the day. However, it is not quite the same story elsewhere.

Off-piste with off-peak. ScotRail fare concessions all day will get you to the peaks of the West Highlands. Image: © ScotRail.

“We do not have any more diesel trains to increase capacity on the routes where they operate”, says ScotRail. That means the routes, such as those between Glasgow/Edinburgh and Aberdeen/Dundee/Inverness, may require passengers to plan their journey times. ScotRail has previously strengthened capacity on these long-distance routes with the introduction of repurposed high-speed diesel trains, cascaded from prestige services on the East Coast Main Line, the Midland Main Line, and the Great Western Main Line.

The operator has compiled a useful online review of the busiest trains on the Scottish network. Some examples include the 06:51 from Inverurie via Aberdeen, arriving at Montrose at 08:03, and the 06:08 from Glasgow Central, arriving at Carlisle at 08:36. The scheme includes ScotRail journeys at Carlisle, just over the border in England. Other operators provide services in Scotland, mainly cross-border into England, and these operators do not participate in the scheme.

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