IT’S rare to be genuinely excited about a new government policy coming into effect but that’s exactly how I felt yesterday during my morning commute as I bought my train ticket from Glasgow to Edinburgh for almost half the price I paid for the same journey last week.

It was the first day of the Scottish Government’s six-month trial of abolishing peak-time rail fares across all ScotRail services. It’s something trade unions and campaign groups have been calling for for a very long time and with Greens in government it’s finally happening.

It’s a great example of government reaping the newly unlocked possibilities arising from the public ownership of ScotRail and bringing about tangible positive change for commuters.

Peak-time fares are anti-worker, anti-student and unambiguously classist.

The concept of charging a higher fare at peak commuting times disincentivises cleaner, greener public transport for those privileged enough to own a car and forces those without a car into coughing up significantly more money to get to their place of work or study.

The pinch of this additional cost has been felt even more sharply in the midst of the cost of living crisis, while the looming threat of the climate crisis makes it more important than ever that people are taking greener options such as public transport.

Abolishing peak-time fares plays an important role in tackling both of these crises. Encouraging people out of their cars and onto trains is key to our move towards net zero, and can even be a more pleasurable and more efficient experience – especially on long-distance and intercity routes.

It’s clear that ScotRail anticipates a big boost in passenger numbers as a result of this change.

According to its website, it will be putting “every available carriage out on the network” to ensure maximum capacity.

If the trial goes well – which I feel confident it will – I would certainly hope that this will lead to increased investment in Scotland’s railways to open up even more capacity, make journeys even more comfortable and give Scots in areas currently without good rail links the opportunity to travel by train.

The Scottish Government has also been working on its Fair Fares Review, taking a more cohesive look at the cost and availability of public transport across Scotland.

This review is expected to be published before the end of the year and, like many others, I eagerly anticipate its findings and recommendations.

Abolishing peak-time fares is excellent but a lot more still needs to be done to make public transport as affordable and accessible as possible.

Scotland is clearly lagging behind other comparable European countries when it comes to our public transport network. While much of this is a result of being held back by historic Britain-wide

decisions, with our railways renationalised and power sitting firmly in the hands of the Scottish Government, there can be no more excuses not to take relatively simple steps to radically transform that network.

While other countries have simple, integrated and easy-to-use ticketing schemes, ticketing in Scotland couldn’t be much further from this.

Even if we ignore the frankly scandalous lack of ticket integration between different modes of transport, tickets for even just the railway are needlessly complicated, with it often cheaper to buy separate tickets for different parts of a journey.

An example – a return from Paisley to Edinburgh would cost you £21.90 if bought as a single return ticket. But buying separate returns from Paisley to Glasgow and Glasgow to Edinburgh comes to just £18.90 – a saving of nearly 14%.

Make it make sense!

This nonsense is largely a remnant of how fares were historically set during the 20th century under British Rail.

When it was abolished and private train operating companies took over our railways, government became responsible for regulating most standard fares, with the Scottish Government (via Transport Scotland) taking on this responsibility for ScotRail.

This gave the Scottish Government some control over fares during the era of privatisation, setting annual price caps for blanket fare increases, but the fare structure itself has remained largely unchanged in the past couple of decades.

This makes the abolition of peak-time fares one of the biggest shake-ups of the structure in a very long time and adopts a simple, common-sense principle – the cost of taking the train should be the same no matter what time of day you’re travelling.

Unfortunately – and again, thanks to historic GB-wide decision-making – there’s a relatively sizeable group of people for whom this still won’t be the case.

The 16-25 Railcard scheme is run by National Rail and provides discount cards for trains across Great Britain for young people and full-time students. While it offers a third off most fares, there is an upfront fee of £30, which can be a big barrier.

Additionally – and crucially in the context of peak fare abolition – it also comes with a minimum fare of £12 before 10am.

This means that for countless students and young professionals, the cost of taking the train to commute will be up to 50% more before 10am than after.

The same restrictions also apply to the 26-30 Railcard and the Veterans Railcard, while the Senior Railcard can’t be used at all during traditional peak times.

This means that many of those in society who are struggling the most will still face time-based restrictions that the majority of other passengers simply won’t. Because the railcard scheme is GB-wide, the Scottish Government has no power to lift these restrictions – but it could bypass them entirely.

Through their Young Scot National Entitlement Card, 16 to 18-year-olds and full-time volunteers aged up to 25 can benefit from a third off all rail fares and because the scheme is specific to Scotland, the £12 minimum fare before 10am has been removed as part of the peak fare abolition.

If the Scottish Government is serious about removing peak-time restrictions for all – and I believe it is – it should extend this scheme to all 16 to 25-year- olds, mitigating the restrictions of the GB-wide scheme.

Despite the significant work still to be done, the removal of peak-time fares is a genuinely excellent scheme that I am confident will have positive impacts for workers, students, the climate and the economy.

The trial is due to run until the end of March 2024 but if successful, will almost certainly be made permanent – I’m very much looking forward to seeing that happen.