/ Travel & Leisure

Update: getting the rail industry to deliver a fairer ticketing system

Train tickets

Today we’ve co-hosted an event with the Rail Minister, Paul Maynard MP, to tackle the longstanding problem of how to improve the passenger experience and launch an action plan to simplify information on rail fares and ticketing.

Over the past five years we’ve consistently highlighted problems with the rail ticketing system. Rail passengers told us about their struggles with the multitude of ticket types and not being able to find the cheapest ticket.

The fact of the matter is, to get the best ticket for your journey you often need to have extensive knowledge of how to play the system.

Rail ticketing

It’s clear that this system requires simplification, so Which?, the Department for Transport, the rail industry and passenger groups, have produced, and agreed to, an action plan that aims to deliver sizeable changes within the next 12 months to improve the rail passenger experience.

Earlier this year, in our annual train satisfaction survey we found that 30% of passengers surveyed thought the most important thing for train companies to focus on was to improve clarity on the range of tickets available. And 16% wanted better ticket machines that are easier to use and have more comprehensive ticket choices.

Accessibility to ticketing information and choices has been a longstanding issue and we’ve been frustrated that the rail industry hasn’t been quick enough to tackle it.

This action plan includes an end to confusing technical jargon like ‘any permitted route’ on tickets and more upfront information in plain English about the tickets available.

To help rail passengers make the most out of their journeys, train companies have also agreed to publish information on when stocks of the best value ‘Advance’ tickets are running low. And you’ll now be told it’s possible to get a cheaper ticket by travelling at a different time.

To improve access to information and to help you make your train journeys more efficient, accessible and pleasurable, train companies have agreed to make data on timetables, fares and how busy trains are more available.

Delivering on the plan

After bringing all parties to the table to agree this action plan we now need to hold the industry to account and make sure that they all deliver these much needed changes.

Our work isn’t done here yet – if Which? sees a lack of progress to implement these changes then we’ll make this publicly known and ensure that the rail industry is held to account.

And this is where we need your help to secure the longer term changes that are sorely needed to improve satisfaction with train journeys and the service provided on our railways.

Update: 1 February 2017

Today’s news coverage has shown that progress is starting on improvements to the rail ticketing system, as train companies announce the start of trials to change the fares structure.

It’s well known that passengers struggle to use the existing complex ticketing system, so we’ve been pushing for the rail industry and government to take action to improve and simplify.

We brought the industry and government round the table last year, and back in December, together with the Department for Transport, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) and Transport Focus, we published a joint action plan to improve to the ticketing system.

The trials were splashed in today’s papers, committing to removing fares for long and connecting journeys where cheaper options exist and introduce single leg pricing for a selection of trial journeys.

But, this is just the first step. The rail industry must now deliver on this plan as passengers will expect big changes to make fares and ticketing system easier to understand. People must be able find the best ticket for their journey and cheaper fares must not be hidden.

Trials of today’s commitments are due to start in May. But we’ll still be keeping a keen eye on the train companies to see how and when they implement these much needed improvements.

We need passengers to stand with Which? and help us to hold the rail industry to account. Will you work with us and help us find out how well train companies are doing at delivering on this action plan?

Andrew says:
2 February 2017

Something needs to be done. I am planning a journey for 4 people with a network railcard from my local station, Blackheath, in South East London to Yarmouth, Isle of Wight. The cost for a return from Waterloo is £194 in total for all of us. If I buy it through from Blackheath, which is 6 miles from Waterloo, the total cost is £304. A off peak return fare from Blackheath to Waterloo by the way is £5 per person. The whole thing is such a rip off. You have to be so vigilant to avoid being fleeced.

Contrast this with Birmingham to London (similar distance?) last Friday on Chiltern, dep 0915 return 1510, £4.20 each way. Not even any split tickets!

Reading many of the comments on here it really does show how badly the train companies operate (or many of them) the ludicrously complex ways people have to negotiate the time tables and pricing structures to get a cheaper ticket, and the fact that after all that, and the buying of the ticket (usually quite expensive too) we face delays, dirty carriages and even have to stand up for pert or even whole of journeys. It is basically downright disgraceful that should a situation should be allowed to exist for over 20 years!

It’s not just about getting an easier way to buy tickets and ensure better access to cheaper tickets, but also we want trains with more carriages at peak times (or other busy periods) to reduce the risk of having to stand – which surely raises a health and safety issue? All I can say it is a good job for the rail companies that sear belts are not a legal requirement. We also need cheaper train tickets altogether. We are almost without exception the most expensive country in Europe, and probably far beyond, for train fares, and we generally provide much poorer services than many of our European neighbours. Privatisation in my view has failed, it only benefits the investors and owners who make healthy profits the British public are paying through the nose for, there is very little or no competition, and the fares are not competitive either – Example: I travel a few times a year from Derby to Northampton – whichever way I have tried (many times) booking in advance from 2 weeks to over 12 weeks, the return fare is exactly the same, and it doesn’t matter when I travel (95% I travel out of Peak hours) £34.90 – well now £35.50 because they went up last month. The route with two changes: Derby – Tamworth (Cross Country) Tamworth – Rugby (London Midland) Rugby – Northampton (London Midland). No matter who I book through, and whether return or two singles they are always the same price, very occasionally I can get singles for each leg a bit cheaper overall, but only by a couple of quid! And with that I run the risk of late trains or cancellations ruining my journey. I can get a Derby – London return for far cheaper!! The whole pricing system is a farce, the running structure is a farce and so too is privatised railways!

The present system is a complete nightmare, i have just done a price check for a Mid-week day return from my home town(Birchington, Kent) to London Victoria on South Eastern Rly and on National Express Coaches. Assuming i leave as soon as possible to 8 am, the cost any time on the coach is £10.90 return the first coach leaving at 8.13am and the journey time is 2h,35m,on the train the nearest to 8am is 8,12 am butthe fare is a Massive £45.80 with a journey time of 1h,41m but the next trains at 834am-9,12am and 9,34am and the price drops to £34,60 BUT if i catch the next one at10,12am the cost drops right down to £20,20 for a return, which is a crazy pricing system, But also what i cant understand is why on most journeys there is only a 10-20p differance between a single and a return.

To add a further comment. After two years without a car, I shall soon be buying a new one – and I can’t wait to get back on the road to travel anytime I want, where I want and be able to do so by simply putting some fuel in the tank, fill my boot with as much luggage as I want and just go! It is also far cheaper than any train journey. Even costing in insurance (no vehicle tax) and fuel it is far, far cheaper to run a car to all my visiting/holiday locations than going on all those train journeys in a year, and quite often quicker. Another rail passenger who tried it and decided it was a complete failure.

The problem of expensive rail fares and the difficulty of issuing a single ticket to cover a series of tickets for the journey (split tickets) should not be a problem for individual TOC’s as the ticket revenue goes to a central Clearing House where the monies are allocated to the company or companies covering the route. Surely the TOC’s could work out the cheapest fare possible for the journey themselves or, perhaps, they may be not too keen to reduce their investors profits in Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands…

It would be of great assistance if all areas of the country had the same standard for Peak and Off-Peak fares. I would suggest that Standard Fares covered the period 06:30 to 09:30 for when the journey begins and that the arrival time is ignored. As services are extremely busy between 16:00 and 18:30, journies commenced within this period could also be included as Peak Services to give employees who are fortunate to have 9-5 employment the ability to get home. Fares should be based on the cost of the journey based on mileage and a return ticket would therefore be based on double the Peak or Off Peak Fare. This would enable passengers travelling in to work to buy a reduced fare if they were travelling outside the Peak Period. The main problem with this is the honesty of the travellers buying a ticket before boarding the train. Every person who does NOT pay for a ticket to travel makes travel for their fellow honest travellers more expensive. Speaking as a retired Conductor/ Guard I have lost count of the number of threats, attempted assaults, being spat at etc I “enjoyed” when I found a passenger hiding in the toilet, pretending to be asleep or just plain trying to pretend they weren’t there when I tried to inspect their non existent ticket. So perhaps passengers could remember the train is not the ASDA bus and journeys are not free.
Apologies to the passengers who buy period tickets and get as upset as the Guard when passengers forget to buy a ticket to travel…

Have they worked out another way to fleece the rail traveller, it would not surprise me one tiny bit

lisa says:
2 February 2017

What about part time tickets on southern? what ever happened to introducing those? What if you don’t travel everyday?

My wife & I are pensioners and each time we have wanted to make a long distance journey the rail cost was so exorbitant and with no guarantee of having a seat either (!) so that we no longer use rail. We find coach travel is far superior for personalised service, comfortable seating (with a belt!) and very economical. We also live near the largest town in the country with no rail link. The 3 mile of track necessary to link to the national rail has been rotting away ever since it closed to all traffic in the early 1980’s as the town growth started to accelerate. Millions have been spent over the intervening 30+ years discussing reconnection, repeated surveys and engineering studies, clearing the line at great expense for those studies, designing a new station on the town outskirts and so on. Every promised reopening has been put back two or more years. Now – we are advised that the project is going on the back burner because the cost of that small link reopening has risen from a few millions to now over £55 million! This is typical Britain in the 21st Century – more worried about “rights” and political correctness, and selling off our essential infrastructures to profiteers than strategically important transport planning and other important issues, like proper care of the elderly and frail. Let us hope that Theresa May means all those high idealistic views she has been giving us – because someone somewhere needs to light the blue touch-paper!

PR window dressing trying to give the impression they are improving a totally failed system, which is now so dysfunctional it will take decades to raise it to the same standards of performance and cost as that enjoyed by our European neighbours.

A similar dispute in Scotland involving the same company and unions was solved several months ago. In Southern however the government granted the franchise on relatively soft terms on condition that the company greatly reduced the staffing costs. The government even pays the bills for passenger delays. Passengers on Southern should blame the government for having chosen their service – the largest franchise in the UK – as the proving ground for their determination to beat down the unions and to reduce staffing.

If ticketing is to be made as inexpensive as some split ticketing journies, the prices must be thoroughly checked from top to bottom, otherwise this crooked privatised industry will simply be blocking split tickets without the reduction id costs.

why should we the tax payers,be cash cows for private companys.and then allow them to rip us off.it is about time we took the railways back into public ownership,along with electic,gas,and water companys.RIP OFF BRITIAN.

Nearly all the faults in the present rail fares system can be laid at the door of the Department for Transport who have maintained the old British Rail structure and sectional prices and failed to deal with countless anomalies. There have been a few tweaks to the system around off-peak times and advance tickets but the ludicrous arrangement where buying several different tickets can make a substantial difference to the cost of a journey is absurd beyond belief. It is good that the Rail Delivery Group [curious name] is at last promising to do something about it. We shall have to wait and see whether they really have the nerve to pull the whole process to pieces and start again; the path to hell is paved with good intentions.

Maybe it is a myth, but I seem to remember rail travel cost a shilling a mile, except on cheap day returns and excursions. There were still anomalies; when I was at University and travelled home at the weekend before I acquired a Lambretta, it was cheaper to buy a cheap day return instead of a single for each journey home and return. Nowadays I suspect the hugely complex rail fare structure could not possibly have been created without computers. They are to blame for making simple tasks difficult.

Rail franchising is the biggest set back for our commuters. Govt. failed to deliver their promise to use more public transport and use less car. Higher fares, too many terms and condition, higher car parking charges. This is the main reason, leads many car drivers use their own car and use less public transport. We have also notice that many car station is not well maintained. This shows that they are working for massive profit.
We hope, our transport committee make some progress for affordable rail fares without and terms and condition. It is now time for the govt.to make rail passengers happy with affordable fares.

Today I tried to travel from Tilbury to Colchester for my father’s birthday; there were no trains from Stratford (London) to Romford; I was told there would be trains from Romford; there were none. Taking the bus to Shenfield where I was told there would be trains; there were none.At that point, after spending three hours in traffic jams, I gave up, and got a taxi home; a journey costing thirty pounds, but which only took 20 minutes.
It is not just spending over £23 on a fruitless journey, but the fact that I was continually lied to by Railway staff. I cannot believe the contempt with which the railway treats its customers.In any other country, they would all be in prison for fraud, false pretences, obtaining money by deceit, obtaining pecuniary advantage, etc.

We had a simple ticketing simple when the system was publicly owned. It was was a lot cheaper too. The service and reliability is certainly no better now than it was then, probably worse. The country voted for tax cuts and privatisation and we live with the result. Ditto NHS, Energy, Water, Bins etc.

I think your memory deceives you, Michael. The fares structure under British Rail in its final days was no better than it is now since the basics remain the same with the distorted pricings for journeys of similar distances. The actual fares have risen in real terms largely because the government has transferred more of the cost of the railways to the fare-paying passenger. The frequencies on most routes are far superior to the BR days, the average age of the carriages has reduced dramatically, there are more stations open now than then, and roughly the same amount of railway is carrying more than twice the number of passengers today.

Almost every decision of significance to passengers is taken by the Department for Transport. The average profit margin of the franchised operators is around 1.9%. Only three UK companies are now involved in running franchised rail services [Virgin, First Group, and Stagecoach]. Many of the other franchises are run by the German, French, Dutch and Italian state railways [DB, SNCF, Abellio, and Trenitalia]. Other foreign interests are from Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan.

You are right, Michael, these developments are consequences of electoral mandates. I think the franchising process has outlived any usefulness it might once have had and is now a serious burden.