Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 226)



  220. Dead silence.
  (Mr Carroll) The main markets that those trains serve tend to be the leisure and commuting markets. If one designs a first class capability—and that is what we have done with our new class 180s—the level of capacity for the number of customers that you can carry reduces quite substantially and you are in danger of creating overcrowding on those very same trains. That is the decision that was made for the class 175. The class 180 does have a full first class capability with all the benefits that brings as far as space and catering provision, but it does serve a different market.

  221. Do you realise that you are discriminating against North Wales passengers by not providing such a service? North Wales is starting to flourish now with industrial estates and business people do wish to travel and work as they travel and you do not offer that.
  (Mr Carroll) I have travelled on a class 175 myself and I was significantly impressed with the on train travel environment. There are tables provided for some of the seats. There is in the airline type seats a flap down table. More and more customers, business customers particularly, are using laptop computers and there is plenty of space for that. I would disagree that we are discriminating against that particular flow of traffic.
  (Mr Ben Davies) We also have at seat audio entertainment on the three car units and that is at no extra cost. It is literally bring your own headphones and tune into whichever radio station you wish or whichever CD channel. It is a first class unit.

Albert Owen

  222. Unlike Adam, I do use the trains on non-Parliamentary business I do so with my family and I pay. You quoted a fare that has stayed stable for some years but one thing that I have noticed is, with family railcards, children at one time used to be £2 standard. You now pay a percentage of the fare. I put it to you that that is a big deterrent for getting families from cars onto trains. That is an area where there has been a huge increase for families, many of them on low incomes.
  (Mr Carroll) That is a valid point and we will continue to look at that. What we have tried to do—I am sure you have taken advantage of it as a regular customer—is have fairly eye catching and very advantageous offers. This was an offer from South Wales to London that we ran during the year. We had over 25,000 customers take advantage of this just from South Wales to London. It did cause us some challenges as far as overcrowding on certain trains but it did show that we are very keen to get that leisure customer back on the trains and off the road.

Dr Francis

  223. Many large, enlightened companies are now adopting policy statements on social responsibility. Are you developing such policies?
  (Mr Carroll) Yes. First has such a policy. It recognises its role in delivering those kinds of improvements. The network that we provide, both in terms of buses within cities and within the rural communities and the links with train and tram services, as well as our key priorities around safety, environmental and other social issues, has been driven towards that kind of statement and we can furnish a copy of that to the Committee.

Mr Williams

  224. You mentioned the Apex fare and that is a very warmly received service from our area but for people who live a long way from main lines they are still very confused by the huge number of different fares at different levels and they are often put off using the service because the fare that remains in their mind is often the biggest one. Is there anything you can do to simplify the system of fares and get that information out to people who might want to use the service?
  (Mr Carroll) Your point is very well made. The fare structure can seem complicated. We are starting a policy of highlighting the cheaper fares much more for the customer in trying to attract them onto the trains. We are looking next year at simplifying our fare structure into a much broader categorisation so that the proliferation of fares that you describe is simplified and we believe that would attract more customers. You are absolutely right.

Adam Price

  225. I also use the railways as a leisure traveller and on non-Parliamentary business, which I pay for. You mentioned leisure fares and that some of them had fallen in real terms. Could you tell me what has happened to first class fares, to second class, non-leisure fares and to the Virgin fares in the same categories as well?
  (Mr Carroll) I do not have a detailed comparison but I am quite happy to provide that to the Committee in terms of increases and changes to the first class and full standard fare and comparison with other trains companies.

  226. I would be correct in assuming though that those categories of fares generally have seen a rate of increase greater than the increase in inflation over the last 12 months?
  (Mr Carroll) You would be correct but the first class fare has generally been on the back of improved, on board service. We were the first to offer a full business type service, with quite an extensive range of complementary food and drink, newspapers etc. We have tried to add value into that first class offer. We are acutely aware that value for money is a big issue in terms of rail customers. The vast majority do have an alternative method of travel and, as a result, we are very careful in our ongoing pricing policy. If you look at recent years, with the general increase in prices, particularly on leisure fares, the prices have gone down.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

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