Posted 8th June 2012 | 6 Comments
Baker critical of rail fares 'lottery'
A TRANSPORT MINISTER has criticised the 'lottery' of rail fare tariffs, even though ATOC has said it has tried to make the structure more straightforward.
A new survey has revealed that many passengers are puzzled about the rules for peak hour travel and the conditions of issue which govern the use of Advance tickets.
The report has been published by the Office of Rail Regulation, which is calling on train operators to provide better ticket information.
More than 1,600 passengers were questioned, and their responses revealed a 'varied understanding' of ticket restrictions and validities, including the meaning of such titles as ‘peak’, ‘off-peak’ and ‘Advance’. In particular, nearly three-quarters of all those interviewed were not confident about ‘off-peak’ times, which do vary from route to route.
More than of half of those who responded on line agreed that ‘it is a bit of a lottery as to whether you find the best price for a rail journey or not’. 45 per cent said that the fare system is too complicated for them to understand.
Two out of five online respondents said they had previously purchased tickets and later found they could have made the journey more cheaply, while
70 per cent of on-train interviewees did not realise that their deeply-discounted ‘Advance’ tickets were valid only on one specified service.
Anna Walker, who chairs the ORR, said: "Passengers are often confused and frustrated by the lack of information about rail tickets, particularly where and when to get the best value fares and what the best ticket options are. Our research speaks for itself. Nearly 50 per cent of passengers surveyed online said that the fares system is too complicated to understand. If passengers do not have the information they need, they can end up paying more than is necessary or find themselves being penalised for having the wrong ticket. Lack of clarity or certainty that they are getting the right ticket can also undermine passengers’ confidence and trust in the railways.
“We have been working hard with the Association of Train Operating Companies on initiatives which respond to customer demand and I am pleased with the progress being made, and the work that ATOC has undertaken, to make improvements for passengers. Providing clearer information for passengers buying tickets online and at ticket vending machines is a positive step forward, as is improving information on tickets.
“I urge train companies to continue with these improvements to win the confidence of passengers. There is much more work to be done."
Transport minister Norman Baker agreed. After the seeing the results of the survey, he commented: "I firmly believe that buying a rail ticket should be a straightforward transaction, not an obstacle course. Passengers should be able to confidently choose without having to understand every nuance of the fares and retail structure.
“When people do decide to travel by rail, they want a train ticket, not a lottery ticket.”
ATOC responded to the report, which is the second making the same points within a few weeks, by saying that it had tried to make tariffs simpler. ATOC chief executive Michael Roberts said: "By providing a broad range of fares, operators have attracted record numbers of passengers to the railways. Despite tough financial times, more and more people are choosing to go by train because they are able to find a good value ticket for their journey.
“A lot has been done to make things as straightforward as possible for passengers and we are committed to doing better. Train companies have been involved for some time now in a series of projects to improve the information they provide to passengers.”
Watchdog Passenger Focus published its own report about the complexities of rail tickets on 22 May, when it warned that 'passengers who make an innocent mistake can find themselves facing a hefty bill, or in some of the worst cases, a criminal prosecution.
'Passenger Focus has been contacted by hundreds of passengers who have faced very unfair treatment as a result of an inconsistent application of complex rules.'
Following the new ORR findings, Passenger Focus director David Sidebottom said: “Passengers will welcome these findings as they corroborate much of the research carried out by Passenger Focus. This will add extra momentum to the rail industry’s existing efforts, spurred on by Passenger Focus’s work, to reform fares and ticketing. Passengers will be pleased to see the rail industry’s attempts to dispel the haze of uncertainty that surrounds some rail ticket purchases. With seven out of 10 passengers surveyed unaware they can only travel on one train only with an Advance ticket, and with only a quarter of passengers confident of when off peak starts and ends, there is much work to be done. Ultimately passengers will be the judge of how effective these proposed measures are.”
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