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The end of the Saver and split ticketing?!

Today’s announcement by the Railway Delivery Group gives the fares structure a much needed shake-up. Moving to single-leg pricing, simplifying restrictions on routes and getting to grips with split ticketing are all things that we have called for.

However, the devil, as always, is in the detail. Take single-leg pricing for instance. One of the oddities of the current system is that for many longer distance off-peak fares the single is just £1 cheaper than the return. So if a return from X to Y was £50 the single would be £49. If you move to single-leg pricing then what is the new single fare?

Do you just halve the return fare – so it becomes £25? That way no passenger would pay more for a return but those just going one way would save £24 (the difference between £49 and £25). This is clearly best for passengers but means a reduction in revenue for the industry. So what, I hear you say – except that reductions in revenue invariably come back to hit passengers and government investment one way or another. Or do you increase the return fare, say to £60 and have the single at £30 – so there are winners and losers and the changes are revenue neutral?

That is why it is important to have the trials announced today. You can run economic models on what might happen when you radically alter information and pricing structures. But it is understanding how passengers behave in the real world that matters. Would, for instance, having a £25 single fare actually boost revenues by encouraging more people to travel? These are tremendously important decisions – not least as it will form the basis of fares regulation for years to come.

Transport Focus, as part of the Government/Transport Focus/rail industry Fares Action Plan, supports these trials. We cannot keep complaining about complexity and then not support a realistic trial to see what the future might look like. But we will be monitoring the detail, and the impact on passengers, very carefully.

Finally, it is good that the industry is finally looking at split ticketing. Something has to be done – for too long it has been the so called ‘elephant in the room’. The ability to quite legally chunk a journey up into separate parts which are cheaper overall, considerably in some cases, totally undermines any overall trust in the system.

Comments

  • The rail industry should do what other markets have done to help consumers find the cheapest prices, i.e set up a price comparison site. Why don’t you guys champion something like that on behalf of rail users, featuring train operators, retailers and split ticketing of course 🙂 One site where people can go and know they’ll find the best prices.

  • On the face of it this sounds wonderful, after all, which passengers do not want cheaper fares?

    I recall the £1 extra for a return ticket from the days of British Rail. It always seemed a bit strange to me. I think the fairest solution for passengers is to halve the cost of the single tickets. It will be a surprise if it adversely affects the TOC’s, after all, surely the majority of travellers always wish to return to their place of departure?

    People such as students for whom the return journey will be several months later will probably continue to pay much lower fares by booking months in advance.

    I disagree that split ticketing undermines trust in the railway fares system. However I can see the disadvantages, especially when requiring passengers to travel on specific timed trains can result in them having problems, for instance if one train is cancelled and this leads to missing a connection.

    There are various reasons why passengers split their tickets, one of these is that it allows them to take advantage of cheaper off-peak fares for the part of their journey that will be travelled in off-peak hours.

    I live in the London area and sometimes use split ticketing on journeys to destinations outside of London. I do this because it is often cheaper to use the Oyster pay-as-you-go e-purse for the portion of my journey that is in London than buy a through ticket.

    What I find to be a significant nuisance is having to alight from trains at boundary stations and use an Oyster card reader to touch-in or touch-out. eg: East Croydon. If a way to resolve this could be found that was also cheaper than using Oyster pay-as-you-go it would indeed be wonderful. I would also be able to travel on InterCity trains which are faster than local trains. I should add that this need to touch-in / touch-out at boundary stations does not apply to passengers with prepaid Travelcard season tickets, even if loaded on an Oyster card.

    What does undermine Inter-City railway fares and ticketing here in the UK is the notion that to get the lowest fare passengers are happy being tied to a specific timed train journey – when in fact they often find this to be a nuisance.

    Another odious feature of British train ticketing is that passengers are sometimes financially penalised for ending their journey at a station that is before the destination station shown on the ticket. Perhaps this is their local station and by alighting here it saves them 30 minutes from the entire journey? If the RDG really want to improve the ticketing experience for passengers then it should address this issue too. No other retailer punishes its customers if they buy a product but only use some of it.

    When I do not want to be tied to specific-timed trains I aim for day return, Saver and Super-Saver tickets as I appreciate their flexibility. It would be great if the ‘time of day’ restrictions were revised back to those which existed at the time of railway privatisation. Then I would chose them more, even if they were slightly dearer. I feel sure that other passengers would act similarly.

    re: the RDG’s fares shake-up, I think that the real motivator for them is not an altruistic desire to help confused passengers but rather they have realised that they need to start preparing for smart card ticketing here in the UK.

    The Dutch railways have already converted to smart card ticketing and as part of the changeover process they also simplified their fares system, including ending cheaper return tickets. Although passengers were promised that two single tickets would work out the same or less than the former return tickets there have been times when passengers felt their overall fares rose.

    The Dutch also started requiring *all* passengers to check-in and check-out for every journey – which means that passengers who split tickets sometimes need to have two smart cards (one for each fare), and at boundary stations alight from trains to use card readers. Even passengers with prepaid season tickets have been subjected to this requirement; this is an action that has not been welcomed by them!

    • Train operators have to honour split advances if a connection is missed because of a delay.

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