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Written - Concessionary Fares Rail Pilot Scheme

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Ieuan Wyn Jones, Deputy First Minister and Minister for the Economy and Transport
I have taken the decision to continue the concessionary fares rail pilot scheme on the Heart of Wales and Conwy Valley lines for a further year, with some changes, and to extend the pilot scheme to cover the Cambrian Coast railway in the winter, and all year on the welsh section of the Wrexham – Bidston line.

Gwynedd passholders will be eligible for free travel between Machynlleth and Pwllhelli, with some restrictions on busy school trains, between October to April inclusive. The Wrexham – Bidston scheme will be available to Flintshire and Wrexham passholders from May 18th, but will not be available on the busy morning peak train into Wrexham.

My decision was made following consideration of an evaluation report submitted by the Wales Transport Research Centre at the University of Glamorgan and a report submitted by an ad hoc working group comprising representatives of the local authorities and community rail partnerships for the areas covered by the pilot scheme together with Arriva Trains Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government Rail Team.

Both those reports concluded that there had been a range of benefits from the pilot scheme, including extending the availability of free travel for bus pass holders, benefits to the local economy and social accessibility, some change to travel behaviour and reduction in car travel, and improved wellbeing.

However, the review found that additional carriages had to be provided on the Heart of Wales line to meet higher than anticipated summer demand. On a small number of occasions during the summer, despite the additional carriages, trains were reported as too full to board at points along the line. There was a trend of free long-distance tourism travel - in particular to Shrewsbury - whereas the original intention was to facilitate local journeys for social purposes. Pass holders seeking to travel for local social travel, and also paying customers, were prevented from undertaking their journeys.

The working group considered a number of options for restricting the scheme to reduce summer demand and overcrowding on the Heart of Wales line but could not conclude that any alteration - considered in depth - might have the effect of constraining demand to a point where the cost of additional carriages could be avoided and where avoiding overcrowding could be guaranteed.

The impact of the demand for free travel on limited train capacity was a key concern when the pilot was devised. Arriva Trains Wales already receives a large subsidy for its general operations.

I have agreed with Arriva Trains Wales that it would not be best value to continue to meet the high expense of providing additional carriages to provide free travel on the Heart of Wales line in summer when paying passengers are experiencing overcrowding elsewhere.

A long-standing summer priority has been to send carriages from busy urban commuting areas - where demand falls off significantly during the main school holiday - to west Wales and the Cambrian Coast in the summer. There is a fixed and limited resource in terms of train fleet and if I dedicated carriages to free travel on the Heart of Wales line in the summer, those other tourist areas would suffer overcrowding.

Accordingly, the Heart of Wales line pilot scheme will continue for a second pilot year only across the winter months – October to April.

The same thinking is behind my decision to operate the Cambrian Coast pilot scheme across the winter months – October to April.

There will be no seasonal restrictions on the Conwy Valley or Wrexham-Bidston lines which commence from 18th May.

Whilst I appreciate this will cause some disappointment for the Heart of Wales line, I must be realistic in delivering our One Wales commitment to extending concessionary travel by rail for Cerdyn Cymru pass holders.

I would stress that this second year remains a pilot scheme, which shall be subject to formal evaluation and that I am retaining the right to review and if necessary alter or curtail the scheme in the light of experience, particularly the level of demand. We shall monitor this closely in partnership with Arriva Trains Wales.