Latest Rail News


Time to embrace Scandinavian approach to transport, says UTG

Devolved bodies in the UK have a lot to learn from transport authorities across Scandinavia when it comes to ticket pricing, suburban rail services and electrification, a new report has argued.

In its latest publication, the Urban Transport Group (UTG) looked at three Scandinavian countries – Sweden, Denmark and Norway – to assess what lessons can be learned from how they exercise devolved powers to transform public transport for the better.

One of the headline findings in terms of rail was the large investment in Metro and suburban services as a key part of Copenhagen’s plan to be the first city in the world to be CO2-free by 2025.

Along the same vein, UTG found that rail services are generally electrified across all three countries. This is in sharp contrast to the current trend in the UK, which has seen transport secretary Chris Grayling mothball several electrification projects  – including his own personal pet project, East West Rail.

Service frequency was also markedly different compared to city regions in Great Britain outside of London, particularly in the off peak, evenings and Sundays.

“Services also tend to be less concentrated on the highest revenue-generating routes with a higher minimum level of service provided in lower density areas and at times of low demand,” the report added.

Tram and bus services in cities with population of over 100,000 ran in five to 10-minute frequencies on main routes during rush hour, for example, reducing to 8-12 minutes daytime off-peak and Saturdays and 15-30 minutes at other times.

Regional and commuter rail services operate 3-6 trains per hour during peak times on main corridors and 2-3 on secondary lines. This fell to 2-3 trains per hour on main corridors during off-peak times and 1-2 on secondary lines.

But perhaps the most striking difference was in terms of fares, which are all zonal and multi-modal in Scandinavia. Monthly season tickets (valid on bus, rail and Metro and tram services), for example, cost around £50 in a city of 100,000 people, rising to £70 in cities of 300,000 residents and reaching a peak of £120-170 in major regions of 1-2 million people.

In comparison, a monthly season ticket valid on bus and rail services in West Yorkshire costs £154.40, while a ticket valid only on First Bus services in Leeds already costs almost £60.

Despite this, the report recognised that fares for frequent users in Scandinavian cities are at a similar level to those in UTG cities and regions in comparison to incomes. But season tickets in those countries often cover a wider geographical area and are all multi-modal and permit interchange.

Changes in fares in Scandinavian cities over the past decade have also been comparable to changes in motoring costs.

The ability to provide multi-modal tickets at lower prices than city regions in the UK is due to the fact that rail services in Scandinavia are delivered “at costs comparable to or sometimes lower than in Britain” – a factor over which UTG regions “have to date had very little direct control”.

Powers needed to adopt Scandi approach

Overall, key characteristics of public transport in the three countries include high-frequency services with high-quality vehicles; smart and simple multi-modal ticketing with “excellent value for money”; high levels of public transport use; ambitious plans to reduce carbon and toxic emissions through zero-emission fleets; and transport strategies that align with wider national and sub-national goals for economic development.

There is also significant focus on innovation, including in relation to vehicle technologies, smart ticketing and customer service. For example, between 28% and 38% of tickets sold in the Olso/Akershus urban area are by mobile phone.

“Scandinavian countries have taken this approach because there is a political and public consensus that public transport is a public service. A public service that has a key role to play in tacking road congestion, reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution,” said the UTG.

“A public service that also spreads the benefits of economic growth and promotes social cohesion through ensuring better connectivity within and between communities – including linking peripheral areas with the main towns and cities that are driving the wider economy.”

Tobyn Hughes, chair of the organisation and managing director of Nexus, added that Scandinavia’s relentless focus on making city regions sustainable and promoting active travel means they are “moving quickly towards new smart ways of paying for access to transport, phasing out diesel buses to improve air quality, and investing heavily in more and better tram, train and bus services”.

“They are able to do this because by and large they have the powers they need to plan and develop their local transport networks,” explained Hughes. “The UK has embraced all things Scandi in recent years – from Scandi Noir to IKEA – perhaps it’s also time we embraced their approach to transport too.”

(Top image c. fotoVoyager)


Lutz   31/08/2017 at 13:31

Before itemising the necessary legislation changes, tell us how much this would cost the UK tax-payer, and how the Scandinavian countries are financing their services. Any proposal that does not look at the financing is half-job at best.

Noam   01/09/2017 at 14:36

It isn't just that PT is seen as a public service in these countries, it's seen as a good thing. In this country however, simple measures to improve the modal share, such as bus priority or parking restraint, are met with forceful lobbying from special interest groups who generally win the day.

Add your comment

Rail industry Focus

View all News


The challenge of completing Crossrail

05/07/2019The challenge of completing Crossrail

With a new plan now in place to deliver Crossrail, Hedley Ayres, National Audit Office manager, major projects and programmes, takes a look at ho... more >
Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

04/07/2019Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

The move to decarbonise the rail network involves shifting to cleaner modes of traction by 2050. David Clarke, technical director at the Railway ... more >

'the sleepers' blog

On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

29/06/2020On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

Following an independent audit, Sulzer’s Nottingham Service Centre has been accepted as part of the rail industry supplier approval scheme (RISAS). The accreditation reinforces the high-quality standards that are maintained by Sulzer’s... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >


Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on Radio 4's BBC’s flagship news programme that he would not rule out his organisation issuing future r... more >
Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

08/05/2019Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

In answering the pressing questions of how current and future generations of managers can provide solutions to high-profile infrastructure projects across the UK, Pearson Business School, part of... more >