Grant Shapps was widely mocked today for starring in a bizarre video to promote a train ticket sale that today saw prices on routes across Britain slashed by as much as half for services in April and May.
The Transport Secretary was filmed in an old-fashioned infomercial style in which he wore a khaki top, grey hoodie, sunglasses and held a crab as he promoted Edinburgh, Cornwall, the Lake District and London.
The clip also showed him wearing a North Face jacket and jeans as he boarded an LNER train at King’s Cross station, saying: ‘We’ve had two years of living life virtually. It is time to get real and visit our beautiful country.’
It’s the latest in a line of recent jocular videos featuring Mr Shapps that have been released in recent months by the Department for Transport, including one Wild West-style video in March about electric car chargers which came with the tagline that the UK has the ‘fastest chargers in the West’.
Another in February saw him joined on a train station platform by railway enthusiast and former politician Michael Portillo in a skit to launch a search for the headquarters of the new Great British Railways.
And a third saw him filmed with TikTok personality Tommy Sargent, known for his train announcements, who joined him to make a video about how the Government wants to end unnecessary notices during journeys.
The latest unusual video about the tickets sale was released this morning, but it came as critics said the ‘Great British Rail Sale’ – which has seen more than one million train tickets reduced in price – would not help commuters or families travelling for half-term holidays.
Only 1 per cent of all journeys taken are likely to be affected by the sale, with the Campaign for Better Transport saying that the initiative was only a ‘first step’ and called for an ‘end to massive annual fare rises’.
Labour pointed out that the sale would end just before the May half-term holidays and therefore many families would not benefit, while Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘This headline grabbing gimmick won’t help commuters at all … Working people need affordable rail travel every day.’
And Twitter users made fun of the video Mr Shapps used to launch the scheme, with one saying he looked like ‘he’s about to spend 20 minutes failing to land a kickflip before asking if you want to come get high and listen to Green Day’. Another added: ‘Why is he wearing a hoodie?’. And a third said: ‘I genuinely thought this was some kind of parody account. It’s like one of those dreadful videos they make on The Apprentice.’
The tickets sale, said to be the first of its kind due to all rail operators taking part, has brought some Manchester to Newcastle journeys down to just over £10. Seats on some London to Edinburgh services fell from £44 to £22.
Other savings included a single from York to Leeds reduced to £2.80 from £5.60, London to Cardiff being cut from £47 to £25 and Portsmouth Harbour to Penzance going down to £22 from £45.70.
Tickets were released on selected advance fares from 10am this morning, with passengers able to purchase them from the National Rail website, and the best savings are likely to be found on inter-city travel at quiet times.
The Government continues to face a battle to get people back on trains – with rail use last month only averaging 75 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, while car usage has now nearly completely recovered at 93 per cent.
Ministers are also trying to address cost of living pressures, with Mr Shapps saying he hopes the move will help households – contending with rising bills and soaring inflation – to afford trips across the UK and boost tourism.
Grant Shapps has starred in a bizarre video to promote the new train ticket sale – which sees him presented with a crab
The Transport Secretary promoted Edinburgh, Cornwall, the Lake District and London during the video
Mr Shapps suggested Edinburgh as a destination people could visit to make the most of the half-price ticket sale
Hailing the end of pandemic travel restrictions, Mr Shapps said: ‘We’ve had two years of living life virtually. It is time to get real and visit our beautiful country.’
He added: ‘There’s no better time to visit friends, family or just explore our great country, so book your tickets today.’
Which lines will half-price tickets be available on?
Half-price tickets are now available from these operators. The offer is available on selected Advance tickets from participating retailers. Where a participating company doesn’t offer Advance tickets, Off-Peak tickets may be offered as an alternative:
- London North Eastern Railway
- Avanti West Coast
- Greater Anglia
- South Western Railway
- Great Western Railway
- London Northwestern Railway
- East Midlands Railway
- West Midlands Railway
- Great Northern
- TransPennine Express
- Grand Central
- Hull Trains
There will also be separate sales launched today by:
- Transport for Wales
The offer does not include travel on these networks:
- London Overground
- London Underground
- TfL Rail
- Gatwick Express
- Heathrow Express
- Stansted Express
Passengers will be eligible to travel for less on off-peak fares between April 25 and May 27.
Officials said offering half-price rail tickets was ‘one of the ways’ the Government was helping to support struggling families.
As for refunds, ‘Great British Rail Sale’ tickets are valid only on the date and train shown on the ticket and seat reservation and are non-refundable.
Passengers can however change the time or date of travel before departure of the first reserved train – and any difference in fare and an administration fee will be payable prior to travel.
In addition, if the customer’s ticket retailer is participating in the ‘Book with Confidence’ scheme, then they can amend when they travel fee free up until 6pm the day before they travel.
The move comes as Boris Johnson returns from the Easter break promising a renewed focus on combating the cost of living crisis.
Inflation has reached 7 per cent – a 30-year high – while ministers have been warned that average energy bills could rise to as much as £5,000 a year if the war in Ukraine continues to disrupt gas supplies.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has already announced measures to defer energy costs and offer some council tax discounts, but critics say more help is needed.
Yesterday it emerged that more than one million parents fear they will have to visit a food bank in the next three months as supermarket prices soar.
Jacqueline Starr, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: ‘We want everyone to be able to benefit from travelling by train because it’s more than just a journey; it’s a way to connect everyone to the people, places and things they love.
‘As part of the Great British Rail Sale customers will enjoy over one million discounted tickets, so they can explore some of the fantastic locations that are accessible by rail.’
The Department for Transport said reforms to the rail sector through the so-called Williams-Shapps plan for rail will mean that network-wide sales of tickets should be able to take place more easily in the future.
And Norman Baker, from the Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘Trains are a great way to travel – good for the economy, good for social mobility and good for the environment – but passenger numbers have to date not fully recovered to their pre-Covid levels.
‘This is an excellent way to win back those passengers and remind them that our trains are safe, clean and for a short period at least much cheaper too.
‘We have been pushing for action to get people back on trains so are delighted the government has responded positively.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured today) said more than one million train tickets would be reduced this spring
Rail passengers are eligible to travel for less on off-peak fares on services across Britain between April 25 and May 27
The sale, said to be the first of its kind due to all rail operators taking part, has brought some Manchester to Newcastle journeys down to a little over £10. Meanwhile seats on some London to Edinburgh services were slashed from £44 to £22
‘I hope the take-up of this offer will attract people onto trains and actually end up generating extra money for the government.
‘It can show the Treasury that the way to increase income is to cut fares, not keep ratcheting them up and driving people off the railway. This initiative, though very welcome, is but a first step.’
In addition to today’s announcement, the organisation is calling for an ‘end to massive annual fare rises’; a ‘wholesale rejigging of fares and ticketing to respond to new travelling patterns’; ‘much better use of public money by Network Rail (and subsequently Great British Railways) to get more improvements for the same money’; ‘far fewer engineering works at times people want to travel’ and ‘better timetables to eliminate padding and poor connections’.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said the discounts this spring will be ‘small comfort to passengers’ after years of ‘soaring fares’.
‘A decade of brutal Tory fare hikes have priced people off our railways,’ she said.
‘This temporary respite will be small comfort to passengers who had thousands taken out of their pockets from soaring fares since 2010.
‘And the decision to end the sale just before half-term will mean many families face the same punishing costs over the holidays.
‘Working people are facing the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades, and the Conservatives have chosen to hike up taxes and reject a windfall tax on the soaring profits of oil and gas giants.
‘Labour would help working people – with a fully-funded plan to cut up to £600 off of household bills.’