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Our not so golden tickets

This probably comes as no surprise, but it’s been revealed that 69% of all train users either partly or entirely fail to understand the different types of tickets available to them.

A recent study by the Department for Transport, published today but conducted in February, found that only 31% of train users actually understand what they’re buying or what options are out there.

With non-users – those who haven’t caught a train in the last 12 months – this dropped to just 11% fully understanding tickets. No wonder most of them stay away from railways because they find it easier to use a car.

And you can hardly blame passengers for this. In my many experiences buying train tickets, it’s fairly difficult to assess and fully understand all the possibilities available and which ones actually represent good deals.

Advance tickets and railcard don’t inherently make travel cheaper, for example, despite sounding like they would. The cheapest tickets aren’t always available several weeks before the journey, when advance tickets are released – especially not during periods of high demand.

Several tickets have time or fare restrictions, some are cheaper if bought to stations slightly further away from your destination, and many are muddled with incomprehensible discounts.

Of course, retailers have been compelled to provide clear and unambiguous ticketing information to passengers since March of this year, when the rail regulator launched a new code of practice to overhaul the often complicated experience of travelling (although not operators seem to have taken this on board). But nowadays about 42% of passengers shop online or through a mobile app instead.

Thankfully for passengers, myself included, smart ticketing systems are slowly starting to spread – with, for example, the West Midlands introducing a flexible mobile ticketing scheme in September, Govia Thameslink rolling out a streamlined system in October, Tyne and Wear bringing smartcards to the north east in November.


Pdeaves   18/12/2015 at 13:15

Smart tickets will not inherently make the system easier to understand. To a certain extent the user must trust that they are charged the correct fare for the journey made. 'Oh, it's cheaper after 0930? I didn't know, I just touched in when I entered the station'. At least a time restricted 'paper' ticket has some sort of warning, even if it isn't understood (or is deliberately misunderstood) by many.

Manchester Mike   21/12/2015 at 18:50

Privatisation, with the myriad of confusing franchise winners, rebrandings, alliances and failures, adds greatly to train confusion. With each franchise`s different fare rules & promotions, it gets a thousand times worse for us passengers. Of course these franchises don`t want clear & simple fare options - they financially benefit from making them very complex, so we often end up overpaying! The system is broken and stacked against the passenger.

Stuart B   21/12/2015 at 19:16

I totally agree with Manchester Mike. I know my opinion isn't widely shared, but I believe things were better in the British Rail days. There was much less confusion, and you knew who to go to with questions or problems.

Splinter   28/12/2015 at 12:25

Mike, here is an example. Recently I needed to travel from Clifton Down (Bristol) to Birmingham International, returning the same day. I purchased my Senior ticket several days in advance at Temple Meads, specifically asking for "the cheapest ticket" and was told the only ticket was an Advance Return £42. As I had previously made this journey for considerably less, I challenged this price, and was then offered two tickets. These were an Off Peak Day Return to Cheltenham (£5.95) and an Off Peak Return for the final leg to Birmingham International (£16.25) - total £22.20, almost half the price. When I reminded the ticket clerk that I had asked for the cheapest ticket, I was told "I cannot sell you these tickets unless you specifically ask for them" That Mr GWR is borderline fraudulent. I think I know which is the Golden Ticket.

Karl   24/02/2016 at 15:04

I had to go to York yesterday from Chesterfield. Asked for ticket, the guy sold me a ticket to Harrogate. Why? Chesterfield-York return is around £60; Chesterfield-Harrogate is £28, even though you can get to Harrogate via York.

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