Rail companies to test radical fare changes for clearer, simpler ticket choices
Radical changes to rail fares that would guarantee customers simpler fares and the best possible deal every time they travel are set to be trialled by train companies.
- Trials could lead to most radical overhaul of fares system for more than 30 years
- Best value through fares to remove need for ‘split ticketing’
- Action plan for more user-friendly ticket machines
- Easy process to get the right ticket online or at stations
Passengers on trains between London and Sheffield or Scotland will be among the first to benefit from an overhaul of rail fare regulations as part of the tests agreed between train companies and the government.
Extra measures to make ticket machines more user-friendly are set out in an action plan published by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) – which represents train companies and Network Rail. These will also give customers better information and make it simpler to find the right ticket at the right price.
Trials are due to start in May this year on selected routes of new pricing, simpler routes to give customers clearer choices, and the removal of unnecessary and unwanted fares from the system.
The trials to simplify the complex rail fares system will mean:
- A route will be overhauled to reflect what is actually on offer, ending the existing situation where changes to train services in many cases only allow fares to be added to the system rather than older, less relevant routes which customers do not use being removed from the fares system to make it clearer;
- A best value end-to-end ‘through fare’ will be offered for test journeys where customers change trains, by offering one price combining the cheapest fare for each leg of the journey. Current rules require operators to set and maintain a through price even where there are cheaper deals;
- Easier journey planning by showing customers the best price in each direction on selected routes, allowing customers to mix and match the best fare – like airline bookings.
This requires changes to regulated return fares dating back to the 1980s that can’t be sold easily online, giving customers much more clarity and simplicity.
A ten-point plan and design guidelines for ticket machines include getting rid of jargon, informing customers when a machine will start to sell cheaper off-peak tickets and making clear what types of tickets machines do and do not sell. All the improvements to ticket machines will be in place by the end of this year, several by the summer.
Jacqueline Starr, RDG Managing Director of Customer Experience, said:
“We know customers can find it hard to get the right ticket for their journey due to complex rules and regulations built up by governments over decades. There are more than 16million different train fares, many of which nobody buys. This also makes it more difficult to give passengers the right, simple options on ticket machines.
“Working with government, we’re determined to overhaul the system to cut out red-tape, jargon and complication to make it easier for customers to buy fares they can trust, including from ticket machines.”
The trials will be designed to establish the changes needed to regulation and processes so that train companies can offer customers simpler, easy to use fares. Decades-old government rules covering rail fares, originally intended to protect customers but introduced before the internet and online booking, have prevented train companies from being more flexible in offering tickets that customers want.
The changes will build upon improvements already being made to give customers better information – particularly for those buying online or from ticket machines - and more confidence that the tickets they are buying are right for their journeys, making it clear when and where they are valid.
Train companies have worked with the government and consumer groups to agree an action plan to help passengers choose the best deal on fares.
Notes to editors
The trials focus on three typical examples of the need to modernise rail fares regulations, where they create confusion and show too many different fares:
- Routeing changes will be tested between London and Sheffield where regulations date back to when the direct service was much less frequent and journeys often needed a change of train via a longer route. This means that tickets are required to be available which are not in step with actual options available now.
- Best-price through fares will be tested with CrossCountry Trains who are obliged currently by regulations to price through tickets for very long connecting journeys even where customers can beat that price by combining different types of ticket (so-called ‘split ticketing’). Train companies want to remove these expensive, obsolete through fares which in many cases nobody buys but are required by regulations which pre-date the internet and online booking.
- Single-leg pricing will be tested on the London-Glasgow and London-Edinburgh routes so that customers would always know the cheapest fare for their chosen journey, out and back. Despite train companies making online booking easier, finding the best price both ways is made harder because the regulated off-peak fare is a return fare, therefore customers are often left to calculate whether two single tickets are cheaper than a return.
Regulations were designed to protect customers’ interests but now actively create confusion on websites and ticket machines. Train companies want to work with the government to discuss how the system can be updated so that consumer protection underpins giving people fares they really need - not just those on sale since 1995.