Rail passengers 'shun confusing ticket machines'

image captionThe rail companies say most people use ticket machines without problems

Rail firms are being asked to simplify ticket machines after a study said passengers were being "defeated" by the "bewildering jargon" they faced.

Customer watchdog Passenger Focus said some travellers preferred to queue to speak to ticket office staff, despite ticket machines standing empty.

It said this meant waiting times at ticket offices often exceeded the five-minute guideline in peak hours.

The train firms said most people were happy to use ticket machines.

'Incomplete information'

Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said ticket machines were particularly daunting for passengers catching a train for the first time, or those "buying a different type of ticket from their normal ones".

"This stress adds unnecessary pressure to buying a ticket," he added.

"However, many passengers who buy a particular ticket often, or use a familiar ticket machine, may have less trouble."

Of the railway stations involved in the study it found that queues at ticket offices were worst in Guildford in Surrey, and Winchester and Basingstoke in Hampshire.

At these stations, a third of queues were longer than the industry standard.

"Ticket machines can present bewildering jargon, a barrage of information and choices, as well as incomplete information about ticket restrictions," added Mr Smith.

'Unrepresentative picture'

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies pointed out that Passenger Focus's own figures showed last month that - from a survey of more than 30,000 rail users - seven out of 10 were satisfied with ticket-buying facilities at stations.

"This suggests that most people use ticket machines with no problem whatsoever," he added.

"They are there to cut queue times and make the process easier and faster for passengers."

He added that Passenger Focus's latest research looked at queuing times at fewer than 1% of railway stations across Britain.

"This gives a selective and unrepresentative picture of how long people have to queue at stations," said the spokesman.

"Train companies are in the business of keeping their customers happy. They invest a huge amount of time and effort in improving the choice that people have at stations when it comes to buying tickets."

Passenger Focus said it was now working with the train companies "to radically simplify what should be the straightforward process of getting a ticket [from a machine]".

"Most important is clear information about when off-peak and super off-peak tickets are valid," added Mr Smith.

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