Rail Fares

– in the Scottish Parliament at 12:47 pm on 6 June 2024.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat 12:47, 6 June 2024

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-13270, in the name of Mark Ruskell, on permanently ending peak rail fares on ScotRail. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. Members who wish to participate should press their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes what it considers to be the success of the pilot scheme to remove peak rail fares, which has been in place since 2 October 2023 and has been further extended to the end of September 2024; believes that this has been an important tool in encouraging public transport use during the cost of living crisis, including for commuters in the Mid Scotland and Fife region; notes the belief that shifting commuters to low-carbon public transport is essential to drive down climate change emissions from the transport sector and contribute to the target of reducing car kilometres by 20% by 2030; further notes the support of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, and the rail unions RMT, ASLEF, TSSA and Unite, for the removal of peak time rail fares; notes the call to abolish peak time fares in the rail unions’ joint report, A Vision for Scotland’s Railways, published in October 2021, and further notes the calls on the Scottish Government to permanently abolish peak time rail fares.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I thank members for signing the motion, and I thank those who have stayed to debate it.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

Please resume your seat Mr Ruskell.

I ask those leaving the public gallery to do so as quickly and quietly as possible.

Mr Ruskell, please resume.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

They may be running for their trains.

Last Wednesday, I was delighted to join passengers on the first train to Leven and Cameron Bridge since 1969. The Cabinet Secretary for Transport was with us, too. It was especially wonderful to join tenacious campaigners from the Levenmouth Rail Campaign. It is clear that those new stations will change lives.

Rail services are permanent and deliver far-reaching economic benefits, and investing in rail connects communities, offering a fixed, greener, cheaper transport option for as many people as possible. As a Green MSP, I have always been a strong advocate of investment in rail, new rail stations, decarbonisation and the reform of fare structures and pricing. I have repeatedly called for the nationalisation of ScotRail and the Caledonian sleeper, and, as the cabinet secretary knows, the Green group secured significant funding for rail as part of the Bute house agreement.

I think that we all agree that radically improving public transport is good for people, the economy and the planet. Back in 2021, I met the four rail unions outside Parliament for the launch of “A Vision for Scotland’s Railways”. We agreed on much in that report, and the removal of ScotRail’s peak-time fares was one of those ideas. We have been proud to fight for and win the removal of peak-time fares on ScotRail services for a trial six-month period, which started in October 2023. Alongside the four rail unions and tens of thousands of passengers who have felt the benefit of this transformative policy, we now call on the Scottish Government to make the change permanent.

Why do simpler and cheaper rail fares matter? Transport is responsible for about a third of our greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland. Road transport alone makes up about three quarters of those emissions, with a significant proportion coming from passenger car use. The Scottish Government says that it is still on track to achieve net zero by 2045. It also has the important target of reducing the number of car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030. Significant, transformative investment in public transport, including rail, is essential if we are to have any hope of encouraging people out of polluting private cars and reducing Scotland’s carbon emissions.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

Mark Ruskell talks about investment. Does he or anyone else know what the cost of the off-peak rail fare pilot is or is likely to be? That will be a factor in whether it can continue.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

John Mason makes a good point. There was an allocation in this year’s budget, but it is, of course, a changing picture. It depends on how many people get back on to the railways and whether we can see a modal shift.

We know that modal shift takes time. That is an important point in this debate, because it is about changing habits that have formed over a lifetime—a lifetime in which Governments of all shades have prioritised investment in roads and cars over investment in public transport.

Radical interventions in public transport fares clearly make a difference. Nearly 750,000 young people in Scotland now have access to free bus travel, and more than 137 million of those journeys have been made in just over two years. The national entitlement card for bus travel goes further by offering young people 50 per cent off train fares. We are already creating a generation whose first choice is public transport.

Some green shoots of progress are already emerging from the interim evaluation of the off-peak-all-day pilot, which was published earlier this week. Although the picture is yet to fully emerge, the data shows us that 53 per cent of new rail passengers in the pilot period had previously chosen to travel by car. It shows us that a third of existing rail users made at least one additional rail journey that they would ordinarily have made by another travel mode, with two thirds of those journeys normally made by car. If we want to achieve long-term modal shift, we need to give people the security of knowing that peak-time rail fares are gone for good. Only then can commuters start to plan their work and travel options around fixed rail services that are cost competitive with running a private car.

Modal shift is an important objective for the off-peak all-day pilot, but it is not the only reason why securing cheaper and simpler fares matters. Budgets are still tight for many people across Scotland. Although inflation might have levelled out, the cost of living crisis has a long tail, with prices remaining high in many sectors. I hope that John Mason acknowledges that, although the pilot has been important in driving modal shift, it has also been important as a cost of living measure. High rail fares, particularly at peak times, coupled with a complicated pricing structure threaten to make rail an unattractive option in the future. We cannot stand still on this. Rail must continue to grow its passenger demographic, not shrink it.

For those who commute to work at peak times, the cost pressure is even more stark, as I will outline. Before the pilot, someone travelling at peak times between Edinburgh and Glasgow paid £28.90, and someone travelling between Glasgow and Stirling paid £16.10. With the removal of peak-time fares, those prices have been slashed—by half in the case of the Edinburgh to Glasgow route.

Cheaper rail fares will make train travel more attractive to commuters and leisure travellers, and there are early indications from the pilot evaluation that that is having an effect. During the pilot, 78 per cent of new rail passengers chose to get the train because of the pilot. Put simply, they got on board ScotRail because the tickets were cheaper—it is that simple. It cannot be right that it is cheaper, easier and simpler to choose private cars over public transport, so reforming antiquated and unfair structures such as peak-time fares is an important part of the picture.

However, we also need to think bigger. Creating incentives to reduce fares is just one side of the price equation. We cannot secure sustainable funding for transformative green transport solutions through driving up rail passenger numbers alone. We need to be brave and bold, and measures such as congestion charging and workplace parking levies in the cities are needed to get a better balance between private car usage and the use of public transport. We know that the Scottish Government has done initial work on demand management, and I look forward to seeing the final 20 per cent reduction plan. However, we also need councils with strong leadership that can stand with the Scottish Government and drive through measures that will transform our cities for good. We also desperately need to see progress on integrated ticketing, which the Government has often promised but has not yet delivered, and which should go a huge way to improving the passenger experience and delivering more affordable fare packages.

ScotRail’s now being in public ownership is our chance to deliver on a people’s vision for ScotRail—one that makes rail affordable and accessible to as many people as possible and that encourages folks to get out of cars and on to our incredible rail services. Getting rid of peak-time fares is a very important step on that journey.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party 12:55, 6 June 2024

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing it. I will keep my contribution brief.

The removal of the peak rail fare has undoubtedly benefited people in many parts of Scotland, enabling them to travel by train more affordably. It has also had benefits for emissions reduction and action against climate change.

The removal of peak rail fares has also built on the Scottish National Party Government’s commitment to making public transport more accessible and reliable, and it has encouraged people to switch away from cars to cleaner, greener public transport. From expanding free bus travel to under 22s to putting money straight back into people’s pockets with reduced rail fares, the SNP is helping people where it matters. Every pound saved can help to mitigate the impact of the Tory-inflicted cost of living crisis.

Although the off-peak rail fare is welcome, it does not benefit many of my constituents across South Scotland. For example, at present, there are no ScotRail services from Lockerbie to either Glasgow or Edinburgh. The west coast main line is serviced by TransPennine Express and, on occasion, Avanti West Coast. There are no rail services from Stranraer to Ayr at all at the moment, and the replacement bus service takes substantially more time to get to Ayr than the rail service did.

The reason why the rail service has not been working for the past eight months is the derelict Ayr station hotel. Although that is not the responsibility of the Scottish Government but that of South Ayrshire Council, it is another example of how my constituents from Stranraer, Wigtownshire and East Ayrshire are not benefiting from the removal of the peak rail fare offer that the Scottish Government introduced.

Another example of how South Scotland is disadvantaged in relation to the peak rail fare cut is the Scottish Government’s recent investment of £20 million in Reston railway station, which I visited just last week. It is an amazing, welcome, fantastic and accessible asset for people living in Reston and the surrounding areas of the Scottish Borders. However, there are no ScotRail services on the line; the station is serviced by TransPennine Express, Avanti West Coast, the London North Eastern Railway and Lumo, and none of those operators offers non-peak rail fares at any time of day, which means that people across the south are missing out.

The parts of Dumfries and Galloway that see the benefit are those on the Gretna to Glasgow line, but many constituents choose not to use the service, because it is much quicker to take the TransPennine Express from Lockerbie to Edinburgh, which takes 58 minutes as opposed to the two hours that it takes to travel from Dumfries to Glasgow.

I have lobbied successive transport ministers for improvements to the line, such as the reduction of journey times and electrification. The second strategic transport projects review—STPR2—made recommendations for the line to be improved. I have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport to request an update on the intended timescales.

I welcome the extension of the peak rail fare cut. However, I ask the cabinet secretary to consider the issues that I have raised about how many communities across South Scotland might not benefit from that excellent pilot scheme. I ask whether she could explore whether transport officials and ScotRail could look to enter reciprocal commercial agreements with other operators, which would mean that constituents on the Scottish stations that do not have ScotRail services could also benefit from non-peak fares at all times during the pilot scheme period.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative 12:59, 6 June 2024

I congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing the debate. I was very happy to sign his motion, because I agree with every word of it.

The removal of peak fares on our trains has been a positive thing. I would like it to be permanent because, for a long time, my view has been that we need a simple fare structure and lower fares. By “a simple fare structure”, I really mean what we currently have on our trains. It was off-putting to have a structure that had people pay different prices at different times of the day.

Irrespective of the interim evaluation, which I think gave a mixed picture, we should keep what we have now because it is the right thing to do. If we reverted to the previous system, there is a danger that it would discourage people from using the trains, and that would be a negative thing.

John Mason—who I see is not in the chamber at the moment—asked earlier for a cost. There is a cost given in the interim evaluation of £40 million. We need to see that as an investment rather than a burden on the public purse. Getting fares lower is an investment.

Mark Ruskell covered quite a lot of ground. He mentioned smart and integrated ticketing, which I would like to see. I am frustrated that the board that the Scottish Government set up to look at that has been given three years to produce recommendations. We need to move a lot quicker than that. The technology is being used elsewhere in Europe and the world, and we could move quicker on it. I have spoken to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport about that—three years is far too long. We need to get on with it. It is all about making public transport, including trains and buses, easier to use.

The cabinet secretary has announced that there will be a pilot of a flat fare system for bus travel. I would like the start of that to be announced very quickly. I accept that we are in an election period, but I think that the cabinet secretary needs to decide where the pilot is going to be. That change could be transformative. I have called for a £2 fare cap across Scotland, and although the cabinet secretary is going for a slightly different system, they amount to the same thing—putting a limit on what bus travel should cost. That is the way that we need to go.

Mark Ruskell also mentioned the Government’s ambition to cut car miles by 20 per cent. We have yet to see a plan for that, so I urge the cabinet secretary to get on with that. We need to know what the Government thinks should be done to get people—

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I see that Mr Ruskell wants to make an intervention, and I am happy to take it.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I am enjoying hearing Graham Simpson’s not just acceptance but enthusiasm for green policies, but I am interested in what his views are on demand management. We can keep offering the carrots of reduced fares, flat fares and free travel, but there is a point at which we have to rebalance the cost of private car usage with public transport. Would he support demand management in, for example, the city of Edinburgh, if the council and local taxpayers wished to introduce it? That could lead to transformative investment in public transport in that city, as it could in many other cities, while at the same time rebalancing the cost, which, as he knows, is vastly skewed towards private car usage and away from public transport at the moment.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I will close by answering that point. My view is that I am more of a carrots man than a sticks man.

The kind of proposal that Mark Ruskell has come up with would be hugely controversial, which is possibly why the cabinet secretary has not said what she plans to do. However, she needs to set out her plans and have discussions across the Parliament and perhaps in advance of announcing those things, because I accept that this is not easy.

Once again, I congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing the debate and for allowing us a chance to air a number of issues.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour 1:05, 6 June 2024

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate and to Mark Ruskell for lodging the motion. As an MSP and Scottish Labour’s transport spokesperson, I have been consistent in my support for scrapping peak rail fares. I welcome the bold steps that the Scottish Government has taken and I continue to support the work that it is doing, while also calling for the changes to be made permanent.

I am pleased that Mark Ruskell’s motion mentions rail unions. The rail unions have often been overlooked when discussions of the scheme have taken place, so it is important to remember that it was the rail unions that first proposed and campaigned for the ambitious action and that their members’ efforts to deliver the staffing that is required have made the pilot scheme such a success. As such, I pay tribute to all those in the trade union movement who have made the case for this policy change on behalf of the people of Scotland.

The rail unions understand, as I do, that peak fares are only a tax on workers who are doing exactly what their Government is asking them to do in leaving the car at home and travelling in a more sustainable way. As we know, rail fares have increased at a far greater rate than the cost of travelling by car, so it is no wonder that we are still struggling to get people to make the jump from their cars to public transport, particularly as people across the country are still struggling with a cost of living crisis. I welcome the work that the Government has done on peak fares.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I thank Alex Rowley for his mention of the unions. I met the four unions again on Monday. They told me that, from the perspective of workers, the scheme has been really successful. Because it simplifies the sale of tickets, it has become very easy for workers who sell tickets on our railways to explain the fact that there is a single fare throughout the day. They no longer have to have difficult conversations about why a rail fare has suddenly jumped by 50 per cent. We have had great feedback from our incredible workers on the railways through our rail unions.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I will give you the time back, Mr Rowley.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

As well as speaking to rail unions, from speaking to rail workers when using the trains, and from speaking to passengers, it is clear that the policy is positive and welcome. It is an example of policy that makes rail more affordable and accessible, which is why we must make the change permanent without delay.

As someone who firmly believes that we must inspire a greater modal shift in transport, I often despair at the punitive approach that is taken to transport policy. Rather than making public transport more attractive, I fear that we often focus too much on making driving more unattractive, often without ensuring that the appropriate alternatives are in place. When we talk about workplace parking levies, road charging and proposals to reduce road budgets even further, despite having the worst road conditions in living memory, I believe that we are taking the wrong approach. If people across the country had the option of a public transport system that was affordable, available and accessible, we would not need to figure out new ways to charge people for driving, because the desire to do so simply would not be there.

That is why I have raised the need to ensure that bus services remain affordable for those who do not benefit from the concessionary schemes, which I support, and why I believe that local authorities must be provided with the resources to explore local solutions to operating bus services in their areas. It is also why I support bringing a permanent end to peak rail fares.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green 1:09, 6 June 2024

As other members have done, I thank Mark Ruskell for giving us the opportunity to debate the policy today. I am proud that the Scottish Greens were able to secure the funding to deliver on the removal of peak rail fares—a policy that rail unions and climate campaigners across Scotland and the United Kingdom have long advocated for. It is the perfect example of a policy that acts in the interests of people and the planet.

As other members have said, workers do not have a choice over when they commute; students do not have a choice over when their lectures or tutorials are; and people who are attending medical appointments do not have that flexibility. The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen was absolutely right to call peak rail fares

“a de facto tax on workers”.

Compared with bus travel, rail travel skews towards those on higher incomes but, post-pandemic, working from home skews massively towards the most privileged people and those on the highest incomes in our society. It is the lowest-income users of our railways who are the least likely to have flexibility over when they travel. They are the ones who were penalised the most by the previous peak rail fare system.

The policy to remove peak fares has meant huge savings to my constituents. I am fortunate in the west of Scotland to have an extensive rail network compared with other parts of the country. Many of my constituents commute into Glasgow city centre to work, and I will run through some of the savings for them as a result of the policy. If they live in Paisley and commute to Glasgow, at the moment, they are saving £8.50 a week or £34 a month; in Lenzie, it is £9 a week or £36 a month; in Clydebank, it is £9.50 a week or £38 a month; in Dumbarton, it is £12.50 a week or £50 a month; in Greenock, it is £18 a week or £72 a month; in Helensburgh, it is £19 a week or £76 a month; and in Largs, it is £27 a week and £108 a month.

A few moments ago, I mentioned Bearsden and Milngavie at First Minister’s question time in relation to safety concerns on roads in the local area. The area also faces serious issues with air pollution because of significant traffic volumes on the roads. Both issues are of major concern, particularly because Drymen Road and Duntocher Road, which I mentioned, have three primary schools, a high school and an early years centre along them. It is a public health issue, particularly for our children and young people.

At the moment, a commuter from Milngavie who is travelling to Glasgow city centre is saving £8.50 a week or £34 a month as a result of the Scottish Greens securing funding for the policy in this year’s budget. A number of people from Bearsden and Milngavie commute to Edinburgh, and they are saving £274 every month. Anecdotally, as a local commuter, I have noticed busier peak-time services on the Milngavie line.

Removing peak fares is only one part of the equation. I have long campaigned for improvements on that line, which was the worst-performing line in Scotland. At one point shortly after I was elected, only one in four trains on the Milngavie line arrived or departed on time. The Scottish Greens were proud to secure £5 million of improvements to that line a few years ago, and we have seen performance improvements.

However, the timetable has still not been fully restored to the pre-pandemic level. Before 2020, we had four trains an hour throughout the day. That is seen as the tipping point of frequency for rail services to be truly attractive. However, at the moment, outside of peak time, we still have only half-hourly services. I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for meeting me about that last year. I urge ScotRail to make clear what its criteria would be for returning to four trains an hour all day.

The final piece of the puzzle on the Milngavie line, like so many others in Scotland, is infrastructure. That line had two tracks up until 1990, but one was removed, and the single track creates major capacity issues. There has long been a local consensus on the need for a new Allander station between Hillfoot and Milngavie to service the now larger local population. However, we cannot add a station to a single-track line without decreasing services, which nobody wants to do.

Issues on the Milngavie line have a knock-on impact across the central belt, so investment here is not just a benefit to those who live locally. Improving that line and increasing the frequency of services are part of the first stage of the Clyde metro project, but we cannot realise that ambition without bringing back the second track.

I am concerned by the lack of detail from Transport Scotland on its intentions for the Milngavie line. Adding the second track would not be expensive, because the existing track was not centred when the other one was removed, so relaying it is a relatively cheap process, with just one bridge upgrade required.

I am proud that the Scottish Greens secured the removal of peak rail fares and the funding required for that in the budget. I repeat other members’ thanks to rail unions and climate campaigners; this is a perfect example of how transforming public transport in this country is in the interests of people and planet. I hope that we can make the removal of peak rail fares permanent and see it as an example of the transformative policies that are required across the network.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour 1:15, 6 June 2024

I remind members of my voluntary register of trade union interests, and I thank Mark Ruskell for bringing this important debate to the chamber.

Let me start with some basic facts. This year, the Scottish Government has abandoned its 2030 climate change targets—that is a fact. This year, the Scottish Government’s budget for trunk roads is up by 25 per cent, to over £1 billion. It is up by 25 per cent—that is a fact. This year, the Scottish Government’s budget for rail services has been cut by 10 per cent and is now below £1 billion. It has been slashed by 10 per cent—that is a fact. And, this year, the Scottish Government has put rail fares on ScotRail up by nearly twice the rate of inflation, by 8.7 per cent—that is a fact. Peak fares pilots or not, price-sensitive travellers, including some of the poorest passengers, will have stopped using public transport.

Just two weeks ago, the new First Minister, in his first major speech, told us all of his commitment to transparency and openness, highlighting

“the importance of Parliament in scrutinising our record and our plans.”—[Official Report, 22 May 2024; c 24.]

But when it comes to Transport Scotland’s evaluation of this policy, which was presented to Parliament two days ago, I have to say that it is completely lacking in crucial detail and lacking in critical evidence, meaning that Parliament can scrutinise neither the record nor the plan.

So, six months into the trial, we do not know whether there has been an increase in rail travel at peak times, in particular, or, if so, whether it has varied by region. We do not know the impact that the pilot has had on rail travel for passengers who already travel off peak. We do not know to what extent it has got people out of their cars and on to public transport. We do not know because there were 50 million train journeys over the period that was covered by the Transport Scotland report and yet there were fewer than 1,500 responses to the Transport Scotland survey. So, we do not know.

What we do know is that, because of the 8.7 per cent rise in ScotRail fares on 1 April this year, if peak fares were reintroduced to our railways, ticket prices would skyrocket. It would mean that a day return between Dundee and Edinburgh would go up by 22 per cent during peak times. From Ardrossan harbour to Glasgow, the fare would go up by 38 per cent, and, on Scotland’s flagship service between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the price of a day return ticket would shoot up by as much as 48.4 per cent—a near 50 per cent rise overnight. That would, in my view, be reckless, but it would also be heartless, and it would be completely unnecessary.

Back in March, in Parliament, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport spoke of

“medium to longer-term rail fares reform”,

of

“our ambitions on net zero”,

of the need for

“more radical and bold initiatives”,

and of public transport as

“a key enabler for growth and opportunity”.—[Official Report, 28 March 2024; c 54-55, 95.]

These are all reasons why the off-peak fares trial needs to be made permanent and why there can be no going back.

Finally, there is something else. The “Fair Fares Review” report concluded this year that

“Rail fares are extremely complex with a range of products (sometimes as many as ten fare types for one journey depending on where and when the journey is being made).”

It reasoned:

“Passenger research has shown that confusion over buying the right ticket type is acting as a barrier to encouraging modal shift from car to rail.”

That is why the integration of ticketing, which has been promised for the past 12 years but is still awaited, must be introduced. It is why the staff on our trains and in our railway stations must stay. It is why the scrapping of peak fares on our railways must stay, and it is why our ticket offices must stay open as well.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Richard Leonard quite rightly referred to his entry in the register of members’ interests, which made me realise that I had not done so. I should put on the record that my voluntary entry in the register of members’ interests includes a financial donation from the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, which was made before the last Scottish Parliament election.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

Thank you, Mr Greer. That is now on the record. I invite Fiona Hyslop to respond to the debate.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 1:20, 6 June 2024

I thank Mark Ruskell for lodging the motion and all members for their contributions. I, too, recognise the role of trade unions in calling for this policy, as did Alex Rowley and others.

Our public transport system is a key enabler of growth and opportunity, providing the vital links between where people live, learn, earn and socialise. Access to affordable and reliable public transport services helps people and communities to unlock opportunities to connect to jobs, education, retail, public services, leisure, recreation, friends and family networks. Our national transport strategy vision is for a sustainable, inclusive, safe and accessible system that helps to deliver a healthier, fairer and more prosperous Scotland. As a key public service, our public transport system also plays a vital role in supporting our economy, reducing poverty and meeting our ambitious emissions reduction targets.

I say to Emma Harper that there are frustrating UK-wide timetabling issues that currently prevent Scottish services in some areas, as she set out, and we do raise that issue with the UK Government.

The return of rail services to Leven and Cameron Bridge this week is a demonstration of the Government’s commitment to investing in improving public services as a means of growing the economy and tackling the climate emergency by encouraging people to shift towards more sustainable modes of travel, such as rail. Seeing the faces of members of the community in Leven and Cameron Bridge when celebrating the reopening of that line over the past week has been fantastic. That is part of a wider investment of more than £116 million that the Scottish Government has made in sustainable transport in the Levenmouth area to connect the surrounding communities to the new stations, and it will help to transform the lives of families and young people in the area for the better.

On 16 May, the SNP Scottish Government extended the ScotRail peak fares removal pilot. It is a bold initiative that was possible only due to the Government bringing ScotRail into public sector control. As part of the fair fares review, the pathfinder pilot was established and has received £40 million in Government funding. The pilot aims to simplify complex fares and ticketing options and to assess the price sensitivity of car commuters in order that we can encourage them to shift to rail. Simplifying ticket prices is a key factor in helping people to shift to public transport and to rail in particular—I agree with Graham Simpson and Mark Ruskell on that.

The cross-party interest in the pilot shows our collective desire for progress. I have heard directly from people about the positive benefits of removing peak fares. People are saving, on average, 34 per cent on return tickets, which can significantly relieve household budgets during the current cost of living crisis. To counter Richard Leonard’s perhaps glass-half-empty analysis, I will give some examples. People travelling between Cowdenbeath and Edinburgh save £6.70 per day, which equates to saving £1,536 annually if they are commuting five days a week. Those travelling from Montrose to Aberdeen save £5.90 per day, which is £1,356 per year if they are commuting five days a week.

Transport Scotland published its interim report on the peak fares pilot on Tuesday 4 June, and I encourage members to read it. It is preliminary research that needs to be set against a background of increasing passenger numbers prior to the pilot. However, the data so far show that, although the initial impact of the pilot was promising, with a 4 per cent increase in rail demand, any impact appears to have faded since the new year and demand is now close to what it was before the pilot started.

There is some emerging evidence of behaviour change, including shifting of travel from off-peak to peak times and modal shift from car to rail. Results suggest that around one third of existing rail users have made at least one rail journey that was previously made using another mode. Two thirds of those journeys were a switch from car. Of the new passengers who switched to rail, 53 per cent had previously used the car and a third had switched from bus. The final report will, of course, have a much higher response rate, which is what Richard Leonard was asking for.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, however much information the assessment, or a final report, can currently give us, it will be an assessment only of the effect of the temporary nature of the pilot? If we want people to make changes to their travel patterns, they need to have confidence that those prices will not be increased again, which would throw them back into confusion or cost them more money. If we want to see the benefit of the impact that this change can make, permanence will give people that confidence.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

Cabinet secretary, I can give you the time back.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Patrick Harvie makes a reasonable point. As he knows, it was after the Bute house agreement ended that I took the decision, along with colleagues, to extend the pilot even further. The point about permanence and the temporary nature of the pilot will need to be analysed as part of any future decision making.

To date, there has been only a small increase in demand and the vast majority of passengers are existing rail users. By extending the pilot for a further three months to a full year overall, we can better understand its impact in encouraging people to opt for rail and understand its benefits.

This autumn and winter were the most severe since 2015-16, with 11 named storms, so we could consider seasonality issues. We operate in a challenging financial climate and need to secure value for money for the people of Scotland. We have to understand the best way to encourage the use of public transport, which is not just about rail—we have to think about bus, too—and we have to set that £40 million in the wider context.

I reiterate that our commitment to achieving net zero by 2045 is unwavering, and the pilot allows us to look at the effectiveness of such measures. I assure members that Transport Scotland will undertake a final, more robust evaluation, before the pilot ends.

I have heard the calls to continue the policy from members across the Parliament, the rail trade unions and environmental groups. If we can improve on the initial success, I would like to see us provide a solid foundation to demonstrate the success of removing peak fares as a means of encouraging modal shift. I emphasise that we need a significant increase in passenger numbers for the pilot to succeed, and I have asked the rail unions to help in that call. As the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, I must consider the wider context of the cost of £40 million against potential alternatives.

I urge all members to continue to support the policy and, more importantly, to join the rail unions and others in encouraging more work colleagues, family, friends and neighbours to switch to rail for more journeys. The cross-party support that we hear about and have seen in the debate is an important and potential bridge to ensuring that we all work together to improve public transport usage. I encourage everyone to spread the word and use the train if they want the removal of peak fares to continue.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—