Rail industry insiders are furious that a long-planned, small-scale trial of a 26-30 Railcard has been presented by the Chancellor as his initiative, and as a fait accompli.
Philip Hammond told Parliament: “I can announce a new railcard for those aged 26 to 30, giving 4.5 million more young people a third off their rail fares.”
As The Independent revealed last month, the Rail Delivery Group is planning a small-scale trial in the Greater Anglia area starting on 6 December. Initially 10,000 “digital railcards” will be on offer to eligible people living in the area.
Another 10,000 cards are due to be issued nationwide in the New Year. In total, the number of eligible people will outnumber the railcards available by 225 to one.
The one-year 26-30 Railcard will offer a 34 per cent discount, though between 4.30am and 10am from Monday to Friday, a £12 minimum fare will apply to all but advance tickets. The expected cost of £30 can be saved with one off-peak return trip between London and Preston.
With concerns about the possible impact on ticket revenue and overcrowding on commuter services, no final decision was to be made until the trial had been assessed. But the Chancellor has now committed the train operators to a rapid nationwide roll-out.
“Hammond has made a land grab for a rail industry initiative and pretended it was all his idea,” said one senior figure. “There could be unintended consequences, which is what the trial was designed to discover.”
Jacqueline Starr, managing director of customer experience at the Rail Delivery Group, said: “It’s good news that the Government has chosen to build on the trial of a 26-30 Railcard by Greater Anglia on behalf of the wider industry.
“A key commitment in our long-term plan to change and improve is to boost communities by enabling more people to travel by train and that’s why we developed this proposal.”
The aviation industry is angry that no reduction was made in Air Passenger Duty (APD), which is currently £13 for short-haul flights and, in April 2018, will increase from £75 to £78 for long-haul trips. These rates apply in economy class and are doubled for premium economy, business and first-class passengers. From April 2019, while economy APD remains the same, premium passengers will see a 10 per cent increase from £156 to £172.
Flybe called APD “a highly damaging tax which penalises domestic travellers”.
Glyn Jones, chief executive of Stobart Aviation, which owns Southend airport, said: “It should be removed from smaller airports which would encourage airlines to base more flights outside the larger airports.
“Smaller airports need a reasonable return on the significant capital that is invariably invested. It’s not difficult to see what the result of increasing costs and falling demand due to Brexit could have on these businesses.”
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