01 July 2008

"Wholly negative operator"

My newsagent "rushed" me my copy of Rail magazine yesterday and I immediately turned to The Fare Dealer column (pages 50/51 in the latest issue). This is Barry Doe's column and as I've said before, this section of the magazine makes its purchase wholly worthwhile. My knowledge of timetable and ticketing issues regarding all things rail in the UK is limited and I find it fascinating to learn of examples of just how higgledy-piggledy the UK rail network's pricing structure is.

His main article was a critique of the CrossCountry franchise. His main beef was that this franchise operator has chosen to place a time restriction on the use of Cheap Day Return (CDR) rail fares on many of its services. Specifically they cannot be used for travel between 1530-1815hrs. This is further complicated because in this privatised industry operators can only impose ticket restrictions on fares they set, not on those set by other operators or the DfT. This then applies to all services operated by any operator over these sections. Thus Mr Doe went onto illustrate a myriad of weird and wonderful examples of how this falls down. I'll give two examples below:
CrossCountry set fares between Cheltenham-Gloucester yet this is the domain of First Great Western. FGW are now forced to comply with CrossCountry's ban on CDRs on all of its services between the two localities despite the fact that they operate virtually all services between these points and that CrossCountry are the lesser operator. This situation is additionally illustrated between Manchester-Stoke on Trent where Virgin (main operator here) do not set the fare - CrossCountry do and so CDRs are not valid on any service between 1530-1815hrs between these two points.

The situation has got so perverse that it is often possible to purchase a ticket to a station beyond where you want to travel in order for it to fall in an area where CrossCountry do not set the fare, and then a CDR would be valid at any time in the afternoon for your return home.

Barry Doe's website is paid for by some of the biggest names in the UK transport scene and as such I'm pretty sure his views have some clout. Does this mean they are always right? Well that's for each individual to assess; he often starts some of his columns with an apology so perhaps he writes with passion-over-composure on occasions, but such forthright journalism is something I very much respect and try to emulate myself in many ways.

What did leave me with a little niggle was that within this article, in which he described CrossCountry as a "wholly negative operator", not once did he mention that the firm is 100% owned by Arriva(!!) which in itself is something that is kept very quiet as we featured in April.