The Last Word


Making rail fares simpler

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 17

David Sidebottom, passenger director at Transport Focus, explains how a number of initiatives over the next 12 months aim to make rail fares simpler.

By the end of 2017, we hope passengers will see fairer and simpler fares.  Two recent initiatives should help achieve this. 

One initiative was a response to our four-year campaign to change the processes and protections surrounding ‘ticketless’ travel and penalty fares. This all began as we were receiving a high proportion of complaints from passengers who had experienced harsh treatment through penalty fares from the TOCs. This treatment was for a simple, honest mistake or for something that was not their fault. 

In one case, a passenger bought a reduced-fare ticket with a railcard but left the railcard at home. Despite paying the difference in fare, he was sent a letter warning of criminal prosecution. He sent proof of a valid railcard but a further threat of criminal prosecution resulted unless he paid £229. 

Passengers can receive different approaches from train companies. In one case, a young man bought a ticket on a train. And although his new railcard was in the post, the guard gave him the benefit of the doubt and sold him the discounted ticket. But on arrival at the station he was issued with a penalty fare. 

Of course, train companies must act against fare-evading passengers. But when we analysed the complaints we received, we realised that the rules and regulations around ticketless travel assumed guilt with an ultimate criminal sanction and an appeals system that must be seen to be fair and even-handed. 

The government decided to look into the issues raised in our reports ‘Ticket to Ride’ in 2012 and its update in 2015. It has now announced some changes. Importantly, they will require appeals bodies to be independent of train companies, introducing a new third-stage independent appeals panel to make the system fairer. They are also making the payment of administration fees for appeals fairer. 

The government has also committed to work with the industry to ensure that staff and passengers understand the penalty fares regime better so avoiding inappropriate threats of criminal sanctions. This should give passengers greater confidence that they can get the appropriate hearing. 

Action plan to tackle complex ticketing system 

Another problem for passengers, identified by years of our research, has been the complexity and confusing nature of the fares and ticketing system. The problems have now been widely recognised. The government, the Rail Delivery Group, the ORR, Which? and ourselves have worked together to produce an action plan to tackle some of the worst problems. It looks at such aspects of ticketing including how passengers choose their ticket, what they buy, and where and how they buy them. 

So what will this mean? In the past, the system has been full of jargon, so passenger bug bears such as ‘any permitted route’ on tickets will stop. Ticket vending machines will now have to give passengers clear choices and be explicit about cheaper options. Passengers will be alerted if they could get a cheaper ticket by changing the time of travel. There will also be a notice if the stock of advance tickets is running low. 

The industry will be testing changes to fare structures in the summer and the group will be considering the changes and reporting on progress over the coming year. There is still more to do to make tickets and fares more passenger friendly. But these measures are a step along the way. So let’s hope passengers will see a simpler, fairer and less confusing ticketing system as we approach 2018.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email


Jerry Alderson   09/02/2017 at 18:24

RTM: "Ticket vending machines will now have to give passengers clear choices and be explicit about cheaper options." There are occasions when a day ranger will be cheaper than a day return - typically longer journeys. However, the TVM does not normally sell day rangers so it would not be able to state that it is cheaper. A lot of work is needed to fix the anomalies.

David   21/03/2017 at 14:33

'Any Permitted route' means nothing to a passenger. eg:- If I buy a return ticket from London (Waterloo), to Exeter, can I return via the shorter route to London (Paddington)? And vice versa? No one on the railway seems to be able to answer this one!

Matthew Albery   11/02/2018 at 13:49

Comments on the price of the tickets would be a lot easier if the revenue from the fare box was retained by the operator providing the service used. Much as the civil list operates; fare box revenue is retained by the government who provide an operators grant to the TOC. Talk about putting the factory in charge of the customer! Of course it should not be ignored that by operating the fare system in this way dispute resolution process is provided by a political rather than a fiscal actor.

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