The government has been accused of taking travel into the past 50 years after the Department for Transport (DfT) admitted that it will allow new rail franchises to introduce third-class rail fares. The department says that any new class on trains won’t be reducing travel standards. It could involve a middle-tier class that falls between first-class and standard, which would charge passengers more – like Premium Economy airline tickets. However, there’s been some confusion as to what this will mean – higher or lower prices for passengers.
This comes as Former Financial Services Secretary Lord Myners questioned the House of Lords if new rail franchises will be allowed to introduce a third-class. John Richard Attlee, 3rd Earl Attlee – who responds on behalf of the government to transport questions – responded that it will be permissible. He explained that the current franchising system allows bidders to propose a third passenger class, pending the proposal complies with the settlement and ticketing agreement, as well as the franchise agreement.
Lord Myners believes this will shock many people. He was surprised as well, because the response suggests that there could be an upper-class added to the front of a train or a cattle-class carriage added to the rear.
After the discussion, Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union general secretary Bob Crow jumped to criticise the matter. He says that they knew the government was turning back the clock on employment, legal rights and benefits. However, now they are leaving the option open for time to be driven back over 50 years, when there was third-class travel. Passengers could be forgiven for believing they are travelling third-class already on some de-staffed and overcrowded services, as train operators are sucking them dry. While Chancellor George Osborne rides in first-class without a fare, his government is giving the go ahead for third-class travel to be brought back.
Consumer rights watchdog Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith adds that getting a seat on a train can be tough for some passengers as the railways continue to have an issue with overcrowding. Across the country they are being told that just 69% of passengers are satisfied with the availability of seats or standing space. Introducing another travel class could add more complexity to the system, which will raise the risk of some consumers feeling squeezed out of seats. The network needs significant long-term investment soon to provide more frequent, longer trains to ease crowding.
However, the DfT insists it won’t be looking to lower standards or introduce standing room only for lower fare prices. In fact, it says a third-class ticket may only be introduced at higher prices.
A spokesman says that Lord Attlee is talking about the possibility of a third-class that’s similar to the business class on Eurostar services or premium economy seats on flights. He’s not referring to changing current travel standards. The spokesman claims the RMT union is confusing the two on purpose to frighten rail passengers. It’s misleading and untrue to say that the government wants to introduce this. The minimum level of service is standard-class. The government is only interested in train operators’ proposals which will maintain or improve existing standards.