Train passengers in England could lose access to onboard wifi as part of a cost-cutting plan by the UK government.
Currently, most UK train operators provide free wifi as a standard service to passengers, but this is under threat as the Department for Transport (DFT) seeks to reduces costs across the network. The Business Travel Association criticised the move to potentially remove wifi from trains.
DFT said that it was looking to “reform all aspects of the railway” in England and has told train operators they should axe onboard wifi if they cannot financially justify offering the service. DFT added that wifi was not a “priority” for rail passengers, particularly on shorter journeys.
“Our railways are currently not financially sustainable, and it is unfair to continue asking taxpayers to foot the bill, which is why reform of all aspects of the railways is essential,” said a spokesperson for the DFT.
“Passenger surveys consistently show that on-train wifi is low on their list of priorities, so it is only right we work with operators to review whether the current service delivers the best possible value for money.”
The DFT referred to a survey from passenger group Transport Focus which suggested that wifi was less important to train travellers in the UK than other factors such as better value fares, reliability, punctuality and personal security.
Onboard train wifi on UK trains was installed in the middle of the last decade, and the DFT now faces a decision on whether to replace or upgrade this equipment.
Anthony Smith, CEO of Transport Focus, said it would be “difficult to justify” removing wifi from trains as it was a service that passengers now “expected as standard” and helped to make rail travel more attractive.
Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association (BTA), implored the DFT to “cut costs elsewhere” rather than removing wifi from trains.
“When it comes to cutting costs, connectivity should never be compromised. Many of those who travel on trains daily, do so for business. They make lengthy trips multiple times a day, in which this time is utilised to sign contracts, review material, and stay connected to their work and business partners,” said Wratten.
“If travellers can’t reliably get their work done on trains, they’ll consider working from home and further damage the transport economy as a result. Instead of removing the wifi on trains, the BTA implores the Department for Transport to cut costs elsewhere.”