Only a couple of weeks ago we highlighted a First Class fare aboard a gratuity-free CrossCountry '170' that was 292% higher than its Standard Class equivalent. Only this week, we learned that two people wishing to purchase a Travelcard for unlimited travel in the whole of London plus train travel to/from Peterborough at weekends can save money buy purchasing a group ticket for 3! There are occasions where asking for a station beyond that to which you're travelling provides a cheaper ticket: take Skegness-Nottingham. The first train ex Skegness arrives Nottingham at 0923 - within the morning peak, costing £31 (Anytime Return) - yet asking for Derby, where a connecting train will deliver you by 1004 (i.e. outside the morning peak) will cost £18.90 (Off-peak Day Return).
I remember being told during my A Level Politics lessons that Britain's constitution is not like that of our cousins across The Pond. Ours does not fit into a nicely ring-bound file that can be purchased from specialist shops. Ours has been carefully developed over centuries and accordingly it's scattered all over the place. This is virtually identical to the manner in which our national rail ticketing policy has been allowed to grow exponentially over the years.
Tickets denote that travel is via "Any permitted route", yet we're not told what these are (though we had a go last year). Tickets also claim that travellers should "See Restrictions" - what restrictions? Where? Nobody knows.
It's a myriad of obfuscation. If more seasoned transport journos are to be believed, there's a huge void of knowlegde presenting itself within the industry as stalwarts from BR days - people who could roll off the tip of their tongues what the restrictions were and which routes were permitted - retire/are made redundant. Timely, then, that Passenger Focus has stepped in.
Or is it? They did it all before a couple of years ago, when they rightly claimed the number of ticket names - NOT, importantly, types, was growing out of control. They forced the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) to concede, and they ostensibly produced three main ticket types: Advance, Off-peak, Anytime. There was, however, nothing to stop individual train operating companies from introducing their own ticket names for specific ticket types they felt not covered by the main three.
Some have argued that reducing the number of names was superficial, since the number of ticket types remained high and that it is this root cause that needs addressing.
One of the headline figures quoted by Passenger Focus, who has recently undertaken a large study into the problems passengers face when purchasing tickets, is that "around seven in 10 are satisfied with purchasing tickets". This means around third are not. Yes, a third. One in three. While this is something of a minority, it's certainly not latent enought to weild a virtual back-slap.
We were both pleased to see that Railway Eye agreed, too: "Out in the real world, for any business to have an activity which left 30% of customers dissatisfied would see a rapid change in the management responsible. Especially since this is the operation which delivers cash flow."
There are some cracking fares out there for those willing to book in advance. Walk-on fares remain very high indeed, though. Passenger Focus seems to be concentrating its energies on having any restrictions that apply to individual ticket types being made clear before a passenger using a self-service machine commits to purchase. They've suggested a member of staff being present where there are a large number of self-service machines - similar to self-service checkouts in Asda - but this involves paying a wage and the employee would need to be Über-knowledgeable: can't have the machine knowing more than ticket clerk, after all; this would not send out the best image!
Perhaps, then, Passenger Focus - for real substance - ought to consider what a growing number of people within the industry have been warming to for the past 18 months or so: Singles Tickets. Spear-headed by fares expert Barry Doe (for it is he!), mixing and matching single fares has been the staple diet for those purchasing well in advance. Why not do it for on-the-day purchases?
Take a return journey from Leeds to London. If the passenger wishes to arrive in London before 9am he/she needs to accept that this is a journey falling within what is regarded as a peak period. The on-the-day (Anytime) ticket costs £223 for all trains departing Leeds before 0803. Thereafter, the Off-peak Return can be purchase, costing £142. However, if the traveller wishes to return at, say, 2100, he/she does not receive any reduction on their £223 ticket, despite only 50% of it being during a designated peak period. Mixing and matching singles would ensure only the southbound ticket price would be extortionate - not the northbound one.
The reason why nothing will happen, save perhaps a few superficial tinkers, is that TOCs are paranoid at losing revenue. As it is, most are claiming millions from the DfT under their respective 'cap and collar' agreements (a revenue share is made when profits fall below agreed minimum and, likewise, excessive profits above an agreed maximum are shared with the DfT). The prospect of the unknown is just too dangerous for TOCs right now.
We wish Passenger Focus well, though you can bet ATOC will fight its corner with much vigour!