A month after the Scottish Government took ScotRail back into public control, it would be unreasonable to expect the traveling public to notice major changes. A fares review to simplify (and perhaps lower) the welter of faes is promised, but will take most of the is year to complete.
One benefit passengers enjoy is the fact that almost all trains in scotland are ScotRal. They need not worry which train they board as long as it’s going where the ticket says. Unfortunately, there may soon be an Alice-in-Wonderland corner of Scotland where that doesn’t apply.
Currently, the East Coast Main Line from Edinburgh through Berwick and on to English destinations is the domain of long-distance trains, with the exception of an hourly ScotRail local service to North Berwick. Some trains stopping at Dunbar provid an erratic local service there.
Trains to Dinbar were once all GNER. But there has since been a proliferation of private companies running lomng-distance services, including Cross-Country, LNER, Transpennine and Lumo. The ad hoc arrangement needs to develop into a proper local service. The opening of a station at Reston this May and another at East Linton within a year wll not introduce that. Service is likely to be by long-distance operators and so be similar to Dunbar.
The long-term intention for ScotRail to run a joined-up local service connecting those stations with Dunbar and Berwick is not yet firm. Long-distance trains may not provide the frequency rail travellers need.
An example of such public transport mismatvh already exists at the English equivalent: Morpeth. After having an infrequent local service to Newcastle by Northern and the occasional GNER stop, persistent local lobbying secure more long-distance stops. This seemed like improvement, but local passengers have fallen foul of a major defect in privatisation: service fragmentation.
Long-distance train companies operate ticketing policies like airlines, while local public transport does not. A myriad of ticket types, schedules and fares is used to maximise revenue and wrong-foot competitors to steal their customers by varying “offers”. Just as nobody shows up at an airport without a booked ticket, nor try to hop on a competitor’s flight with that ticket.
Between London and Edinburgh, or even to half-way places like York. Such an “airline” system on long-distance trains permits planning ahead and creates barriers to customers moving to compettors. But passengers on local train services need it to operate like other public transport where tickets are bought on the day and no thought is given to which operator provides the transport: in London, Circle and District lines serve the same stations and Oyster is accepted on any bus.
This disprity is thrown into high relief at Morpeth. Because of a similar situation of a border section of the ECML, what applies there may soon apply to Reston.
The most common ticket sold at Morpeth is to Newcastle. But, as there are six different companies providing the service, not only is the advertised cheapest fare of £2.70 not available on most of them, whichever ticket you buy is not valid on the other five.
This means, for example, you buy a return on Transpennine , intending to return on their 12:06 from Newcastle. Should you miss it, the next five trains will not accept your ticket and charge you a £20 fixed penalty for travelling without a valid ticket. The next service you may use to avoid that is the 16:14—a wait of four hours for the next Transpennine service.
The local operator Northern will often accept you ticket. But it runs aged diesel 2-car Sprinters only every couple of hours because so many long-distance trains use up available “slots.” And, because of their “airline” style pre-booking, long distance companies typically penalise those who buy tickets on the day. As an example, several companies offer a £19.30 single Edinburgh-Newcastle. Buying it on the day will cost you £60 or more. Clearly, this discourages local travel, which typically does not book ahead.
The other disincentive is irregularity. Quite apart from long-distance trains often being delayed en route, timings at Morpeth are worse than Dunbar, being all over the shop. What makes local trains popular and become well-used is a frequent service at fixed minutes past each hour. None of that happens at Morpeth, nor is it likely to at Reston, until ScotRail provides a local service.
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