Luton Council has defended the cost to passengers of its new light rail shuttle service, amid claims it is the UK’s most expensive line.
The Dart (direct air-rail transit) will launch commercial services between Luton Airport and Luton Airport Parkway – its nearest mainline railway station – in the coming weeks.
One-way fares will cost £4.90 for the 1.3-mile trip.
At £3.77 per mile, it has been billed as Britain’s costliest train service, overtaking Heathrow Express which runs between Heathrow Airport and Paddington station.
The £290 million project to build the Dart was funded by Luton Rising, the body which owns the airport on behalf of Luton Council.
Speaking at the new Dart station built adjacent to Luton Airport Parkway, Luton Rising chief executive Graham Olver claimed the Dart is “like the Suez Canal”.
He went on: “It connects two important parts. Its value is in the connectivity.
“There’s a station here that’s future-proofed.
“We have a bridge. We have tunnelling. We have a station at the airport.
“Per mile of course it looks expensive, but its value is huge.”
Mr Olver told the PA news agency that Luton Rising is “effectively a social enterprise” making money to support council services and community projects.
It would not make sense for Dart journeys to be free in the long-term as that would mean they would be “subsidised by the people of Luton”, he said.
“Our job is to support and enhance the lives of the people of Luton,” he added.
The King rode the Dart on a visit to Luton in December.
Since last week, a limited number of passengers have been invited to use the service at no cost.
A full commercial operation is expected to begin by the end of March.
The bus service between the airport and railway station – which costs £2.40 one-way and £3.80 for a return – will then be withdrawn.
Mr Olver said: “(The Dart) is more expensive than the bus but it’s all really about value and convenience.
“Everyone that we’ve spoken to who’s travelled on it has been delighted that the quality of service is so much better.
“If you’re a savvy purchaser, coming from London a family of four can get a return ticket for less than £50.”
Construction delays and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and inflation have been blamed for the service opening two years behind schedule and around one-third over budget.