Rick's Rants - do the railways need to be so complicated?
The UK already has the most expensive trains in Europe but rail passengers face fare hikes of up to 10% after Christmas. What are they getting for all that money? Rick Wakeman thinks it’s not enough.
Published 23 October 2013:
Price rises have been outstripping inflation for over a decade and in January 2014 they’re going up again by another 4.1%.
A season ticket between Woking and London – a journey of just over 30 miles will cost a passenger almost £2900.
It goes without saying that passengers are all on the lookout for the cheapest fares. But railway companies don’t make it easy because tickets cost different amounts depending on how they are purchased.
Passengers will find that buying tickets on the web rather than at the station will often provide the better deal.
We found that a ticket from London to Birmingham purchased via the machine at a station can cost £48. But the same ticket purchased using the Internet on a smartphone can provide an option to get to the same destination for £21 less.
And even if a passenger already decided that the web was the best way, they still need to be careful. For example if they used their laptop to book on trainline.com instead of their phone, it will cost them fifty pence more.
Rick Wakeman thinks the current pricing structure routinely leaves passengers baffled.
He explained that ‘If I want to go to Liverpool, why is it cheaper for me to buy a ticket from London Euston to Milton Keynes and then another from Milton Keynes to Liverpool Lime Street, than it is for me to buy a direct ticket from London to Liverpool? When I’d be travelling on exactly the same train at the exact same time?’
And he seems to be on to something as the confusion doesn’t end there.
If a passenger wants to travel from London Victoria to Gatwick Airport they have two options - the Southern service or Gatwick Express.
Both options use the same line and are run by the same company. The Express option is more expensive because it’s supposed to be faster.
But Watchdog has found that at certain times for an extra £7.70 on the Gatwick Express a passenger only ends up getting there a minute faster.
And being a loyal customer doesn’t seem to make a difference in terms of the service a passenger can expect.
Andrew Myer discovered this.
He says his regular train operator First Capital Connect had been overcharging him hundreds of pounds a year.
Andrew explained: ‘I live in St Albans, I travel into central London and I found out that a season ticket from Watford North, which is a longer journey but can be used via St Albans, is £700 cheaper than simply buying a season ticket from St Albans into London.’
Yet First Capital Connect never suggested to Andrew that this was possible. He decided to sue them for the loss and thankfully received his money back.
But such loopholes may not be known by the majority of passengers.
To work out what tickets are valid on which routes, ticket inspectors use the national routeing guide which is available online. However it’s not straightforward as it has a separate twenty pages of instructions on how to use it.
Rick thinks it’s a wonder anyone gets anywhere at all. And his frustration with the train service also extends to delays and how operators deal with them.
According to Passenger Focus as many as one in five of all trains in the UK don’t arrive on time. But if you’re delayed by more than half an hour most train operators will refund half the cost of the ticket. These refunds however are in the form of vouchers and can only be used in stations and not online - so that’s a purchase of more train tickets and without a deal.
And if a passenger ever changed their plans and found that they were no longer in need of a purchased ticket, they can expect to be charged a fee to process the refund.
All but two of the UK’s railways will charge a passenger £10.
What do the railway companies have to say about all these confusions.
A SPOKESPERSON FOR THE ASSOCIATION OF TRAIN OPERATING COMPANIES (ATOC) SAYS:
Administration fees for refunds were used by British Rail. At privatisation, the government agreed that the maximum fee should be £10, as set down in the National Rail Conditions of Carriage. Fees are not charged when refunds are required because train company disruption means a ticket could not be used.
A SPOKESPERSON FOR FIRST CAPITAL CONNECT SAYS:
Mr Myers uncovered an historic routing guide anomaly that dated back to the days of British Rail and he was wrongly told to buy an extension to his ticket – for which he was refunded and compensated in court.
The unearthing of this unconventional route (which involves a 6 mile, 14 minute detour north east in the wrong direction - followed by a 20 minute walk across St Albans) and different ticket purchase by one customer doesn’t change or affect the overall fare structure.
No-one has been overcharged from St Albans City station; commuters do correctly buy tickets from this local station for a journey from there - and are therefore paying the correct fare for their journey.
A SPOKESPERSON FOR GATWICK EXPRESS/SOUTHERN SAYS:
The Gatwick Express is a non-stop service, so once passengers are on, the next stop is their destination – meaning they can’t get off at the wrong station. Also, for those who may not speak English, on-board announcements on Gatwick Express services are made in five languages.
The £17.70 Gatwick Express single ticket is not only good value for the service provided, but it is also fully flexible in that it can be used on any service for that journey on the day shown on the ticket.
The £10.00 Southern ticket is an Advance single ticket, which can only be used on the train stated on the ticket. i.e. if you miss that train, you will need to buy another ticket.
Refund admin charge
The £10 fee that applies to refunds is necessary to cover the costs of administering the transaction. However, if a ticket is bought online at southernrailway.com, providing it is not collected from a ticket machine at the station, there is no charge for refunding the ticket. We are the only UK train operator to offer this.
A SPOKESPERSON FOR TRAINLINE.COM SAYS:
Customers who buy tickets on thetrainline.com website or over the phone are charged a booking fee of £1.50 per transaction, regardless of how many tickets or multiple journeys they buy. The booking fee is the same for customers who book through the website or call to book over the phone.
There is a booking fee on the mobile app of £1 per transaction as many people use their mobiles to book shorter journeys and we wanted to make sure the fee was relative to the length and price of their journey.