ScotRail half price scheme reduced fares on less than 1% of tickets

Rail passengers were hit with the largest fare increase for a decade in January, but an offer on the newly-nationalised ScotRail service did little to reduce costs.

Flagship ScotRail half price ticket scheme reduced fares on less than 1% of journeys iStock

A Scottish Government scheme offering half-price ScotRail tickets applied for less than 1% of fares, according to new data.

The flagship programme, announced shortly after the nationalisation of the rail operator, was announced as part of a package to tackle the cost of living crisis by transport minister Jenny Gilruth in April.

Under the offer, tickets could be booked on certain journeys for around half the price of standard fares as long as outward travel was completed between May 9 and May 30 and a return by June 30.

However, a freedom of information request by Scottish Labour found just 0.88% of tickets purchased during that period were eligible for the discount – meaning more than a million trips remained at full price.

Opponents branded the scheme “farcical” but transport chiefs said the offer was simply the first of “many” to be introduced after the brand was nationalised earlier this year.

Rail passengers were hit with the largest fare increase in a decade when a 3.8% rise was imposed in January for both peak and off-peak travel.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the offer as a means of making rail travel attractive as an “alternative way to travel without a car”.

However, it quickly came under fire for its heavily restrictive terms and conditions, which barred it from being applied to peak-time and weekend trains and tickets bought at the station. 

Labour chief whip Rhoda Grant said: “This farcical scheme lays bare the gulf between SNP spin and reality.

“People desperately needed a lifeline during the cost of living crisis, but this pitiful response is the best the SNP could muster. 

“This was a pathetic attempt to chase a headline on the cheap – not a serious attempt to tackle rip-off fares and support our railways.”

She added: “This is a damning symbol of the SNP’s lack of ambition for our publicly-owned railways, which have fallen into chaos as a result of the SNP’s relentless incompetence.”  

Dutch firm Abellio was stripped of its contract to operate the franchise two years early in March 2022 after the Scottish Government exercised a break clause in the deal.

ScotRail became fully nationalised on April 1 – weeks before several rounds of industrial action brought the network to its knees.

Drivers’ union Aslef is still considering a revised pay offer from the Scottish Government after withdrawing overtime and rest day work in a dispute over an initial 2.2% increase branded “derisory”.

Transport Scotland said a fare review was “progressing,” adding they were “committed” to ensuring the rail network was affordable for passengers.

A spokesperson said: “As we stated at the time, this promotion was an early measure ScotRail were implementing to reduce the cost of rail travel on a promotional, short-term basis.

“As a result, around 8,000 journeys were made that would not have been made otherwise.

“This is one of many such offers that we can expect to see under a publicly owned and operated ScotRail. We are committed to ensuring that rail fares are affordable for passengers and taxpayers across Scotland and are progressing our Fair Fares review to ensure a sustainable and integrated approach to public transport fares.”

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