Rail industry plans overhaul of fares to make it easier to buy the best-value ticket

Stephanie Hawthorne
8 May 2018

An end to the bewildering array of Britain's 55 million different railway fares is in sight with the launch of a public consultation next month by the rail industry.

Decades of well-intentioned but outdated regulation have led to a range of fare options that have not kept pace with technology or how people work and travel today.

The consultation, to be carried out jointly with independent watchdog Transport Focus, will span the UK to establish a road map for change to update fares regulation and make ticket purchasing easier for customers. The proposals from the industry will be designed to be neutral in overall revenue terms and would require working with governments to implement.

The current system ignores the rise of smartphone technology or how people work and travel today, with part-time working and self-employment having increased by over a third in 22 years.

Today’s announcement follows new research by KPMG which shows that only one in three (34%) rail customers is very confident that they bought the best value ticket for their last journey and fewer than one in three (29%) were very satisfied with the experience of buying their ticket. 

Regulations controlling rail fares were set out in the 1995 Ticketing Settlement Agreement which spelled out how fares should be set and sold. It assumes all customers will buy their ticket by visiting a ticket office and says customers must be able to buy a ticket from each of the 2,500 stations in Britain to every other station in the country.

Since then, further layers of requirements have been added through individual franchise agreements, with little or nothing taken away. This means that long-standing anomalies are becoming locked in resulting in bigger problems for customers.

Worst examples of anomalies include:

  • Through-ticket peak-time premiums, where a customer takes a journey involving more than one leg. The first leg is on a peak-time train and the second leg is on an off-peak service. The customer might be charged a peak-time fare for the whole journey because regulation means train companies have to offer one through-fare. For example, a passenger travelling from north to west via London can end up paying for a peak fare for their entire journey when half their trip is on an off-peak service.
  • Inflexible seven-day, monthly or annual season tickets, where smart ticketing could offer better products to passengers who work part time. (In addition, many passengers can lose out by as much as 90% by buying one ticket to a destination rather than paying for the journey in sections in a practice known as 'split ticketing'.

This means that rather than buying one ticket, you pay for the same trip in sections to get a discount.

So, for example, an advance ticket from London to Leeds costs £109, however by purchasing different legs of the journey separately it is possible to buy the same journey for just £58.85.

Commenting, Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, says: “As part of the industry’s plan for change, we want to work in partnership to drive root and branch reform of well-meaning but out-dated fares regulation. Working together, we want to develop proposals to reform fares and regulation to make it easier for our customers to get the right ticket, enhancing trust in the system and supporting continued investment to improve the service.

“Unpicking the regulation of a £10bn-a-year fares system that underpins such a vital public service means there are no quick-and-easy solutions. The change that’s needed won’t be easy and the industry doesn’t have all the answers, which is why we want to hear views from passengers, communities and businesses in all parts of the country."

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, says: ‘Rail passengers want a simpler, more understandable and modern fares system which matches the way we now travel. Opening up the debate and looking at the pros and cons of various reform options is welcome. Transport Focus will make sure the passenger voice is heard in these debates.’’


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I like to get low cost train tickets. I wanted to go to a children's party in Cornwall and to get a cheaper ticket we split the journey at Par Station. My two children and I had a lovely time at the party. I have got a Friends and Family Railcard and when I was younger I had a Young Person's Railcard. My children have very low train fares when we use this to travel long distance. When we fly from a London Airport we book the train tickets around 3 months before our trip. If we go to Dorset then we split our day tickets in Bristol. I welcome an easy way to book a cheap train ticket because otherwise it is complicated.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

As a life-long student of railways and their operation it is patently obvious that the whole 'piratisation' of the railways has failed, and the taxpayer is picking up the tabs for the so-called profits which go to shareholders. The overwhelming majority of what really goes on in this shambles never reaches the public as the media are either not aware of what goes, refuse to believe it or are on the side of those ripping us off. Take your pick.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Not before time. I still remember going a trip with my ssiter to an exhibition. She got a split ticket saving nearly a third of the fare. I at the next door window got a non-split ticket. The whole ssytem needed overhaul long ago.

Add new comment