If you’ve gone to the expense of buying a train ticket to a far away destination, you’d think you could get off a stop early. But rail companies are playing a petty game of punishing travellers with complicated terms.
Even professors are getting it wrong with train tickets. Professor Martin Evans was made to pay £155 by East Coast for getting off his train… one stop early.
Yes, early. Rather than getting off at Durham (the station he had an advance ticket to) he got off at Darlington, one stop earlier and nearer his home.
To add insult to injury, he’s reported as saying he was made to feel like a ‘wrongdoer’ – which isn’t a nice perk for travelling first class.
The rules of getting off early
The conditions of advance tickets do state that you have to make the journey printed on your ticket without breaking that trip or changing destination. Nevertheless, these conditions aren’t on the ticket itself, so you’ll have to make a pro-active effort to read them.
Is it just me scratching my head at the idea of being charged more for actually travelling less? Even leaving that aside, how can the £155 that Professor Evans was made to pay be justified when he couldn’t have caused any such loss to East Coast?
I’m guessing the answer is that it’s meant to act as a deterrent. The rail network’s argument is that if you want to catch any old train and break your journey, you’ll have to pay for it with a walk-up ticket. And by ‘walk-up ticket’ I mean the normal (usually expensive) ticket you buy when you don’t want to be tied down to a particular train.
Trains don’t live up to their potential
But here’s the rub. People’s lives aren’t run to strict timetables that never change. Meetings overrun, a swift half isn’t so swift. That’s life. This is something cars, motorbikes and bicycles are brilliant at coping with – when you’re ready, they’re ready.
Planes aren’t so good at this. With all the check-in and security palaver, you know you’ll have to arrive well before take-off. And since flight frequency isn’t that great, you definitely won’t want to miss your flight.
But trains could offer a compelling halfway-house alternative. There isn’t any traffic, and you can turn up whenever you’re ready.
Oh, wait, they do offer this. But only when you buy a walk-up ticket that costs so much more than an advance ticket that many us simply can’t afford them. Not only that, but peak-times are now longer and regulated fares are also on the way up. Whatever way you look at it, the kind of railway where you can just turn up and go is in retreat.
I know, there are more passengers than there used to be and there’s a limited rail network to put them on – but this all seems a bit petty to me.
Should the rail companies go the way of Ryanair – with cheap advance fares if you commit ahead of time and chunky penalties for even the slightest of changes? Or should they try to tempt you with more flexible offers?