The price of more than a million train tickets will be cut by up to half in April and May as the government seeks to ease cost of living pressures – but commuters will not benefit as only off-peak and advanced tickets are included in the sale.
Dubbed the Great British Rail Sale, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that from today, the price of selected train tickets will be slashed by up to 50% with many others having “very substantial reductions”.
Describing the move as “just one small part of tackling the cost of living“, Mr Shapps said the sale will offer people “the opportunity to visit friends and family” and to use the rail network perhaps for the first time since the COVID pandemic began.
The government hopes the sale, said to be the first of its kind, will help households facing rising bills afford trips across the UK and boost domestic tourism.
The discounted tickets will go on sale from Tuesday 19 April, with passengers eligible to travel for less on off-peak and advanced fares between 25 April and 27 May.
They will be sold on a first come, first served basis.
‘Very substantial discounts’
“No one is saying this will solve everything, but every little bit helps,” the transport secretary said.
“And this is something where, for example, a London to Edinburgh ticket could be as low as £22 – exactly half price in that case – Manchester to Newcastle for £10.30.
“These are very substantial discounts.
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“As I say, it has never happened before because we didn’t have a single railway to do it with and Great British Rail is the reason we’ve been able to do that – and I think it is going to be widely welcomed by people who want to travel – I know I’ll be taking advantage of it during the month ahead.”
Other journey savings expected include a single from York to Leeds being reduced to £2.80 from £5.60, London to Cardiff being cut from £47 to £25 and Portsmouth Harbour to Penzance going down to £22 from £45.70.
‘Small comfort’ to passengers
Officials said offering half-price rail tickets was “one of the ways” the government was helping to support families with the cost of living, having previously announced measures to defer energy costs and offer council tax discounts for some households.
But some have criticised the Great British Rail Sale for not helping commuters who are facing increasing travel costs.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said the discounts this spring will be “small comfort to passengers” after years of “soaring fares”.
“A decade of brutal Tory fare hikes have priced people off our railways,” she said.
“This temporary respite will be small comfort to passengers who had thousands taken out of their pockets from soaring fares since 2010.
“And the decision to end the sale just before half-term will mean many families face the same punishing costs over the holidays.”
Acknowledging that the sale does not include peak fares, Mr Shapps maintained that “it does cover quite a large number of tickets” and that he believes the scheme will be “widely welcomed by a large number of people”.
Shapps: ‘I don’t rule out doing other things in future’
The transport secretary also did not rule out taking further action to reduce fares in the future.
“We have been working on other schemes, for example, during the ending of COVID I launched a flexible season ticket – over 200,000 of those have been sold,” he said.
“That is great for those who travel perhaps two or three days a week and it means that they are better off, those are for more regular commuters.
“But this Great British Rail Sale, as I say, over a million tickets. They go on sale, it is a first come first served basis, and I think it will perhaps inspire people to get back on our railways as well as help with the cost of living.”
He continued: “I think everyone understands the principle of the sale. It is offered for a limited period of time. We are obviously very keen to see how it goes and I don’t rule out doing other things in the future.”
Mr Shapps added that ministers “will always look at things that we can do to try and ease the cost of living”.
Jacqueline Starr, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “We want everyone to be able to benefit from travelling by train because it’s more than just a journey, it’s a way to connect everyone to the people, places and things they love.
“As part of the Great British Rail Sale customers will enjoy over one million discounted tickets, so they can explore some of the fantastic locations that are accessible by rail.”
‘Seems like a small gesture’
Rail passengers in Swindon reacted to the sale with mixed feelings.
“Anything to encourage people to not drive, especially when they don’t need to, is a good thing. But we shall see – it seems like a small gesture, basically,” one rail user told Sky News.
A fellow traveller said the sale would not benefit him at all because he travels at peak times for work.
“I travel to Warrington from Gloucester or from Worcester pretty much every day, obviously you have got to go at peak times to get to work on time,” he said.
“Off-peak, great for weekends I suppose, but the train costs for commuters are going up all the time.”
Another passenger added: “It is good all round, isn’t it, because if it encourages people to go away then it helps businesses that are in other places and stuff like that.
“So I think it is a good thing, although I can see why some people might not necessarily feel that it is an important thing.”
The Department for Transport said reforms to the rail sector through the Williams-Shapps plan for rail will mean that network-wide sales of tickets should be able to take place more easily in the future.