The interests of passengers should be at the heart of the delivery of the next rail franchise in Scotland, is the key message of a report published today (Monday 21 May) by the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee.
The Committee has drawn this conclusion in response to Transport Scotland’s consultation on the future of Scotland’s railways.
Committee Convener Maureen Watt MSP said:
'Underpinning all actions in relation to the future of Scotland’s railway service must be the passenger – who cares little about how the franchise is run, as long as it delivers value for money, punctuality, frequent services and most importantly, a seat.
'Throughout the evidence we heard of ideas and existing good practice that Transport Scotland could use to ensure that the efficiency savings recommended in the McNulty Report are realised. We have made our recommendations as the new passenger rail franchise is progressing and intend to monitor progress towards a more cost and user efficient service.”
The report covers the wide range of evidence heard by the Committee and specifically makes recommendations on:
- paving the way for progress towards meeting the efficiency targets recommended by the McNulty review and ensuring that Scotland’s railway delivers increased value for money;
- having longer franchise periods for a suggested period of 10 years, with an option to extend by a further three years, to help promote stability and enable long-term planning of rolling stock and resource requirements;
- updating current performance and quality measuring regimes to better reflect passengers’ interests and experiences, specifically in relation to train punctuality, station and train quality, accuracy of information and signage, and the availability of ticketing facilities. The Committee recommends that a train should be considered late if it is more than one minute late (rather than the current 5 and 10-minute thresholds) to better indicate the impact on passengers;
- promoting a more integrated approach to public transport, and addressing issues such as overcrowding;
- further simplification of fare and ticketing structures, possibly through an integrated system that allows travel on all modes of public transport; The Committee concludes fares could also be simplified through an integrated ticketing system, whereby one ticket could be bought for use across all methods of public transport, similar to the Oyster card used in London;
- an acceleration of the upgrading of station facilities to ensure that they are fully accessible for all passengers; and
- reviewing rolling stock needs for Scotland on a long-term basis and with a view to committing to regular upgrades and improvements, particularly on longer distance routes.
The current Scottish passenger rail franchise and Network Rail budget period will end in mid-2014. The passenger rail franchise is one of the biggest contracts let by Scottish Ministers, worth nearly £1.5bn over the course of the current spending review, and is managed by Transport Scotland. The seven year contract was awarded to FirstGroup plc, operating as First ScotRail Limited, in August 2004. A three-year extension was agreed in April 2008.
In advance of the new franchise period, Transport Scotland launched a consultation in November 2011, with the aim of collecting views from key stakeholders on the future development of Scotland’s rail industry. In addition to the passenger rail franchise, the Committee has also taken a limited quantity of evidence on the next High Level Output Specification (HLOS). The HLOS details the strategic outputs that the Scottish Government will require the rail operators to deliver in return for public subsidy.
This is the first time that the passenger rail franchise and the HLOS has been scrutinised by a committee of the Scottish Parliament.