According to the rail regulator, train ticket machines cause so much confusion that one-fifth of passengers who use them buy the wrong ticket. Are you one of them?
Earlier this week, I suddenly had to get a train from Edinburgh to Manchester. I rushed to the station to get my ticket and used the nearest ticket machine.
Edinburgh to Manchester: £67, it said. But only if I was going via Carlisle.
I desperately looked at the departure board. Was the next train going via Carlisle or not? I couldn’t see.
So, in my confusion, instead of using the ticket machine, I went to the nearest ticket office.
A friendly chap listened to my request and searched for details of the next train to Manchester and the cost of the ticket.
‘Hmm, £67?,’ he said. ‘Let’s see if we can do it for cheaper than that.’
Before I knew it, I’d bought tickets to Manchester for £41 – a saving of £26. But only because I’d been given a return ticket from Edinburgh to Preston, and then a single ticket from Preston to Manchester.
My experience perfectly illustrates the mess of our current ticketing system in the UK.
Being Head of Campaigns at Which?, I like to think of myself as a pretty savvy shopper, but even I’m bemused by the jargon, exclusions and confusing information when you try to get the cheapest train fare from a ticket machine.
While there’s been lots of news about split ticketing – where you buy multiple tickets to cover different parts of your journey and save money – little has been said about the fact that we have to go to the ticket office to get the best deal. Why can’t we simply find it on a ticket machine?
My experience is pretty common, as a new report from the rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) shows. It says that train ticket machines cause so much confusion that one fifth of those who use them buy the wrong ticket.
For some people that means getting a ticket that was more expensive than the one they needed. For others, it means underpaying and being hit with a fine or a very expensive upgrade on the train.
Making it simpler
We’ve been hearing these stories and conducting similar investigations for some time. And that’s why at the end of last year we secured an action plan with the government, the ORR and, most importantly, the train companies to sort out our ticketing system.
We’ve recently heard that train companies are starting to test and trial new ways of ensuring we get the right ticket. And we need the whole rail industry to get on with quickly making the changes needed to ensure people aren’t bamboozled by ticket machines in the way that I was.
We’ll be holding train companies to account and ensure that they actually deliver on the ticketing action plan.
You can help us to keep up the pressure on train companies by telling us your experiences.
So have you had an irritating train ticket experience? Or perhaps you got one over the system by using split ticketing? Let us know, so we can keep campaigning for change.