Ask people what they think of rail travel and chances are most will say it’s too expensive.
It’s certainly true that passengers are now the main “funders” of Britain’s railways as a result of almost a decade of UK government policy that has shifted the financial burden on to customers by increasing many fares above inflation.
To its credit, the Scottish Government has called a halt to this strategy, with off peak fares frozen until 2015, and peak fares pegged to RPI for the same period, provided the rate remains below 3.5 per cent.
But what can train companies do to add value for customers?
Tackling the complexities of Britain’s rail ticketing network has always been in the “too difficult” box – thanks to a patchwork of stitched-together systems – but ScotRail has made a start.
In May we removed more than 1,500 fare “anomalies”, reducing fares for 250,000 journeys and making it easier for customers to locate the cheapest fare without having to split their journey.
We’re also supporting Scotland’s economic prosperity. For example, the over-55s are snapping up £19 flat fare tickets to anywhere in Scotland at less busy times, giving a welcome boost to domestic tourism. And 1.6 million children travelled free last year.
Investing in technology is transforming rail travel and making things a bit simpler for people. We’re rolling out free wifi at 25 stations and on board almost 100 trains so people can get connected while travelling. And we’re at the forefront of smart ticketing solutions fit for the 21st century, extending a successful pilot scheme to other areas of Scotland.
Smartcards are convenient, easy to use and easy to replace if mislaid.
We never forget that stations are often at the heart of communities. We’re making improvements at over 50 stations across the country, including a major refurbishment of Gleneagles station before the Ryder Cup.
Last week we were awarded Scottish Public Transport Operator of the Year for the second consecutive year. We’re quietly proud of this achievement, but we need to be more than a transport operator. Our ambition is to forge stronger and lasting links between communities in Scotland.
• Steve Montgomery is managing director of ScotRail