Posted 31st October 2014 | 7 Comments

Probe reveals ticket machines conceal cheap fares

A NEWSPAPER investigation into ticket machines at National Rail stations has found that many are effectively concealing cheaper fares and that different operators are not consistent.

The fundings, published by the Daily Telegraph, have received swift support from user groups and the Commons transport select committee, whose chairman Louise Ellman said: "The industry needs to put things right and if it does not, the Government must get involved. Passengers are being treated unfairly and being forced to spend more than they should.”

Watchdog Passenger Focus also agrees. Head of policy Mike Hewitson said travellers wanted clear, simple information. “Our research shows us that ticket machines still aren’t particularly user-friendly,” he said. “Passengers should be able to use ticket machines and be confident in what they are offered, without needing to be 'experts’ in the system.”

At least one train operator has admitted that the machines are not always the best solution, with a London Midland spokesman reportedly saying: "Tickets for more complex journeys are always better bought online or at a booking office".

Among the examples quoted by the Telegraph were Leeds, where passengers using a Northern Rail machine were charged the Anytime rate of £271 for a First Class Return to Birmingham but were not offered the Off Peak option of  £145.70 although this was available from East Coast machines alongside. Meanwhile passengers from Birmingham to London would be charged £49.50 for an Off Peak 'any permitted' Single from Chiltern Railways at Moor Street but only £31 for the same journey from a Virgin Trains machine at nearby New Street.

It can also be hard to get group discounts from machines, while 'splitting' a journey to save money -- although permissable -- cannot be done because machines usually only sell tickets for journeys starting at their station.

Northern Rail told the Telegraph that it was "working with its suppliers to ensure all necessary data were fed into its ticket machines to offer the best value fares to customers," and that "this sometimes involved entering new data manually". A spokesman said that the company would strive to “correct any inconsistencies”, while Southeastern said it was not able to include every fare on machines -- because too many were available.

The Rail Delivery Group responded: “Independent research carried out on behalf of the rail industry shows that 19 out of 20 people using ticket machines are able to independently find the correct ticket for their journey, which is comparable to those customers buying online.

"But we know that there is more we can do to make ticket machines simpler to use, which is why the industry is working to increase the quality of the on screen information provided by the machines. In particular, in response to feedback we have received from customers, over the next few months changes will be rolled out on all self-service machines to make it easier for passengers to understand the specific restrictions that apply to different ticket options.”

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Chris, Oxford

    A very cheap evening ticket allowing travel from Oxford to other local stations is the "Oxford Evening Out" - £3. However in the evening, the ticket office is closed yet it cannot be bought from the ticket machines. A sort of Catch22.

    Official website guidance: "This ticket can either be bought on the day or in advance from a station ticket office, online, by telephone (08457 000 125), or on the train (valid ticket/permit to travel is required unless boarded at a station without ticket-issuing facilities)." Is there a permit to travel machine on Oxford station?? (I'll look next time). The only encouraging sign was one guard who said when the ticket office is closed, but the barriers still operational, then it should be possible to buy it from the person manning the gates. However often the barriers are also just left open after 6pm.

    Maybe, just maybe, when Oyster is expanded countrywide, this would cap the cost of any local Oxfordshire evening journeys within the permitted boundaries - and so only charge a maximum of £3. Well, one can hope....

  • Jack, Redhill

    Had this with Southern, their machines sometimes forget to add your railcard on when you purchase anytime or off peak day returns. Other times it just will not accept it, southern were in a slight state of denial when I wrote to them. Always use the ticket office when buying, you have to queue but they can't sneakily con you out of money...

  • Tim, London

    If I remember correctly, and the rules have not changed, Train Operating Companies are only contractually obliged to be impartial if you are using a window at a ticket office or travel centre. They aren't obliged to be impartial when providing tickets through electronic means, be that their website or a ticket machine on the station.
    So, they do what any business would do when it is not legally obliged to be impartial -- roll the dice in their favour.
    To ask anything else of a business other than to look at the bottom line is unrealistic.

  • Fed-up Thameslink User, Luton

    I have seen examples of misleading ticket machines on so many occasions. Machines that offer off-peak returns on weekends when cheaper super-off-peak fares are valid. Machines that only offer peak fares during off-peak hours when the ticket office is closed. It's incredibly frustrating!! Note that each example generates more revenue for the train operator and misleads the passenger into buying dearer tickets. It never seems to guide one towards a cheaper ticket.

    What do I do? Can I get on the train without a ticket, and claim I can't buy the ticket I want, because the machine is programmed incorrectly and there's no staff to assist?

  • David Cook, Broadstone, Dorset

    If the newspaper found that everywhere was offering tickets at the same price, there would be accusations of price fixing and collusion. You can never win!!!!

  • Steve Alston, Crewe

    For four years Northern Rail wrongly sold normal CDS and CDR tickets in Manchester. Customers should have been offered the Cheap Evening Return or the Evening Ranger, but their 'Parkeon' ticket machines failed to offer this, instead charging double, for four years.

    Northern Rail resolved this problem.... by err ....removing all the cheap fares.

    RIP Common Sense.

  • Lutz, London

    So is it the user of the machine that needs to be smarter?

    If you wanted to get the best fares, would n't you use the website and book in advance?