Posted 18th January 2024 | No Comments

Ticket machines are charging higher fares, says report

A report by the consumer organisation Which? says that ticket vending machines are charging passengers more than they should for some journeys, and that some cheaper fares are hard to find or even not available.

Which? said three out of four fares purchased online were cheaper, and that travel on the same day cost an average of 52 per cent more from machines. It has published the figures after sending ‘mystery’ shoppers to 15 stations.

It quoted the example of a journey from Holmes Chapel in Cheshire to London, which was £66 if bought from a machine but only £25 from a third-party retailer, while a journey from Northampton to Cardiff cost £107 from a machine but £43 online.

The editor of Which? Travel magazine Rory Boland said: ‘Huge numbers of us are potentially paying significantly more than we need to when we commute to work or visit friends and family. Significant numbers of elderly people don't have internet access at all, leaving them with little choice but to run the gauntlet of ticket machines which either don't offer the best prices, or make it difficult to find the appropriate fares.’

Explanations for the differences include the fact that some machines do not offer Advance fares, make split ticketing difficult to achieve by not offering fares from any other station, or simply make off-peak fares less obvious.

Mr Boland added: ‘The price differences we found between booking online and using station ticket machines were simply astounding. Wherever possible we'd recommend booking train tickets online for the cheapest options, but that won't be possible for everyone.’

The Rail Delivery Group said: ‘Since the industry set out the case for fares reform in 2019, there has been some good progress, but more can be done.

‘The introduction of single-leg pricing and expansion of pay-as-you-go contactless fares are both important changes making fares easier and simpler for customers.

‘We will continue to work with government and industry stakeholders to achieve further reforms.’

Ticket machines have been criticised before, on the grounds that there is no standard screen and that the models vary, according to the operator which installed them.

It is only a few months since the government tried to put ticket machines at the front of retailing, by urging the train operators to close nearly all ticket offices at English stations, but some 750,000 objections forced the operators to abandon the idea, while earlier this week LNER, which is owned by the government, announced that it was reducing the number of fares to three main types, and that only Anytime fares, which are by far the most expensive, would be available without booking in advance.

Transport Focus chief executive Alex Robertson said: ‘The ticket office consultation highlighted passengers’ concerns about the difficulty of using ticket machines and the range of tickets available on them. It’s important that train operators consider this passenger feedback when looking at future improvements to ticket machines.

‘For all passengers to have confidence that they are getting the best deal, ticket machines need to be easier to use and have the best value fare available at the time of purchase.’