Railfuture is concerned about the complexity of fares, which are way beyond the abilities of the general public – and even some railway staff – to fully understand. This is a big problem as substantial savings can be made by knowing the ‘best’ ticket to buy. (Photo: Some of the tickets from Paul Hollinghurst’s railway journeys.)
Paul Hollinghurst, secretary of Railfuture’s East Anglia branch had a letter published in RAIL Magazine in June 2015 (issue 776). He wrote “Fares complexity is an important issue presenting an ugly and unnecessary barrier to rail travel. For every passenger happy with a bargain, there is another who has found the experience confusing and exploitative, backed up by a byzantine set of rules which even the staff don't understand. ”
Writing to RAIL in a personal capacity, although Railfuture would agree with many of his points, he said that whilst “the fares system could benefit from wholesale reform a number of more modest changes which would make a difference” and suggested the following:
1. Price singles at approximately half the price of a return allowing flexibility by mixing different ticket types for the outward and return.
2. Clearly display the Off-Peak and Anytime fares with equal emphasis alongside Advance fares. Train operating companies often pitch Advance fares just below Off-Peak tickets so they grab the full revenue from the fare, but the passenger is left with an inflexible ticket for little saving.
3. Allow Advance Purchase fares to be used short of their origin and destination to remove the unfairness of, for example, passengers being able to travel from Oban through Crainlarich to Glasgow for half the price of a Crainlarich to Glasgow passenger as only the former journey has Advance fares available.
4. Allow split tickets to be used via a station served by the train’s operator, even if the specific service doesn't stop there, to eliminate the timetable lottery over which services they can be used on.
5. Allow a passenger to see a full list of fares between any pair of stations; a passenger should be able to pick a fare and ask "which trains is this fare valid on'. At the moment the rail industry universally uses journey planners for its public websites where you only see a fare if it happens to be valid on one of the services in your search, it is only via 3rd party sites such as brfares.com or staff in booking offices who can see a full list.
Paul believes it would be difficult to argue that any of the above should require significant if any operator compensation as they simply increase fairness and simplicity in exchange for relatively minor revenue implications.
In a follow-up edition of RAIL magazine (issue 778), Barry Doe its fares expert (and also a Railfuture vice president) praised Paul’s “excellent” letter. He pointed out that (re: Paul’s point 1 above) First Great Western had experimented with selling singles at half the price of returns and found that they lost money, but when setting a single at 60% of the return they broke even.