Scotland

Is ScotRail right about peak fares?

A ScotRail train alongside a platform as rail services continue to attract criticism in the wake of fare increases Image copyright Getty Images

A tweet from train operator ScotRail claiming they do not charge extra for peak fares has blown the minds of commuters but could they be right?

In response to a user who tweeted that the peak time price hike was "ridiculous", ScotRail posted a tweet which has since been widely shared.

The rail operator said: "Hi, we don't charge extra to travel at peak times, but we do offer a discount to travel at quieter times."

Cue a stunned reaction from Twitter users.

One asked if the ScotRail account was joking and another questioned whether they were taking drugs.

ScotRail replied that the charge at peak times was the "standard" fare and it was off-peak that was discounted "to encourage travel at quieter times of the day".

Customers were loath to accept the answer and accused them of playing with words.

Are they right?

ScotRail told BBC Scotland the practice of treating peak prices as the "standard" rate was used across the UK rail industry.

A spokesman said it would "seem odd" to do it any other way.

He said the off-peak "discount" was to try to fill spare capacity at times when the trains were less well used.

Robert Samson, from watchdog Transport Focus, said the peak and off-peak fares had been around since the days of British Rail and it was really not possible to say which was the standard fare.

But he said the "bottom line" was that peak travel was more expensive.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Are passengers charged extra to travel at peak time?

"A lot of people have no option but to travel at peak times," he said.

"If it is possible to travel off-peak then your journey can be more cost effective but many people are unable to do that and they are paying more."

Mr Samson said he hoped a review of rail fares and the advent of smart cards might bring welcome changes to the charging structure.

Image copyright Getty Images

ScotRail said the vast majority of its 2,400 daily journeys had their price regulated by the Scottish government body Transport Scotland.

However, that includes peak and off-peak fares and is mainly related to how much fares are allowed to rise.

It does not state that peak fares have to be higher.

The rail company argues that many trains are already full at peak time so it would not be a sensible move to reduce the prices.

Mr Samson, from the passenger watchdog, said he thought ScotRail's tweet on the subject had been an attempt to engage in "levity".

But he said they should not be joking about the very serious issue of people struggling to afford rail fares.

ScotRail told the BBC the wording of its tweet was not new and had been used before on multiple occasions without creating a Twitter storm.

The spokesman said he thought it was stating the obvious and had been surprised by the reaction.

"I guess that is the risk you take by engaging on Twitter," he said.

"But we'll continue to do that because it is important to keep responding."

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