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‘No strong evidence’ peak fare pilot effective – interim analysis

The pilot was launched last year (Jane Barlow/PA)
The pilot was launched last year (Jane Barlow/PA)

There is currently “no strong evidence” a Scottish Government pilot scrapping peak rail fares has been effective, an initial analysis has suggested, as the Transport Secretary urged more people to take the train.

The policy was announced last year and due to expire in the spring, but has since been extended to the end of September, meaning rail passengers can travel for the same price regardless of the time of day.

An analysis by Transport Scotland showed a bounce in the first three months of the pilot, but the response since the turn of the year – up to May 13 – was “muted”.

Fiona Hyslop
The Transport Secretary appeared before the committee on Tuesday (Jane Barlow/PA)

The publication of the analysis was announced by Transport Secretary Fiona Hyslop during an appearance at the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee at Holyrood, where she urged more people to use the trains because the Scottish Government was keen to extend the pilot.

In the first three months of the pilot, demand increased by 3.95%, but between the beginning of the policy and May 13, demand had dropped by 3.29%.

However, due to the pandemic, the analysis noted ScotRail passenger numbers were on the rise and it was “challenging to extrapolate the impact of the pilot”.

“Whilst the initial impact of the Pilot has been found to be somewhat positive, the impact on rail journeys since the start 2024 is significantly less pronounced and there is currently no strong evidence of its effectiveness in achieving mode shift, other than helping with cost-of-living issues for existing users,” the document said.

“Analytical work is progressing, and a final evaluation will be produced in time for a decision to be made on whether the trial should be made permanent.”

The analysis also showed those regularly using rail services were saving money as a result.

In a survey, 38% of existing rail users – which made up around one third of the 1,476 respondents – said they had paid less, with those who usually buy tickets which can be used at peak or off-peak times saving on average £10 per week.

The initial budget for the policy was £40 million, which the analysis said has not been exceeded, but the current spend was not outlined.

Ms Hyslop has urged more people to get on the trains to ensure the pilot results in the policy being made permanent.

“In order to prove that this is to be a success, we really need more people to choose rail,” she told the committee.

“I’ve encouraged everybody who has benefited from those reduced fares to encourage more of their work colleagues, their neighbours, their friends to use it.

“We are supportive of the policy, we would like to see it extended, but I think taking a very objective view of the figures that we have to date, I don’t think it’s as convincing as I would have liked it to have been.

“But we have to face the reality of where we are.”