Ticketing trials to offer train passengers simpler and cheaper fares are scheduled to be rolled out by four train companies in May. However, MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis believes the trials stop short of providing the best possible price – as the proposed changes don't include split-ticketing for passengers who stay on the same train.
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train companies, has today confirmed that a number of trials on routes between London and Sheffield, and London and Scotland, will take place. These are to test options such as offering the cheapest price for a combination of tickets if you have to change trains, 'airline-style' mix-and-match ticketing and removing outdated fares from the system.
MSE has long called for train ticketing to be simplified, particularly around split-ticketing – where you can have different tickets for different parts of the same journey, that bizarrely work out cheaper than just buying one ticket.
The fact there's no mention of split-ticketing for journeys that don't involve changing trains has led Martin to call for the trials to go the extra mile to ensure passengers are always offered the cheapest price for their journey.
'People should be given the cheapest price available'
Martin says: "It's quite simple. When you book a rail ticket, whether it's in a station or online, people should be given the cheapest price available at that time for their chosen journey.
"These changes will not make that happen. While it is certainly a move in the right direction, people cannot have the confidence that if they book a ticket, they will be paying the best price.
"The changes do include split-ticketing, but only where you change train. And most of the big ticket train savings come where you don't change – literally where you get on a train and have two, or three, or four, or 15 tickets for the constituent parts of the journey, rather than one ticket.
"So it's the same train, same time, even the same seat, just the cost is less. For example, for a London to Durham return, the cheapest anytime return ticket was £301. Yet splitting at York each way makes the ticket £82, a saving of £219.
"Now there are two ways to fix the system. Either they get rid of the ridiculous, arbitrary and illogical pricing structure that currently means the split-ticketing anomaly happens on a very regular basis right across the country, or if they're not going to do that, at least make a system that makes it easy for people to work out which split tickets are the cheapest and then buy them and use them easily.
"If we at MoneySavingExpert.com are capable of making a tool to do that, as we have done, surely the big rail companies must be able to do it too, as they have access to the primary data. Not doing so is a disservice to their customers."
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What will the trials be testing?
The RDG will begin testing new ticketing options with the help of four train companies – CrossCountry, East Midlands and Virgin East Coast and West Coast – on selected routes from May.
The finer details of exactly how the trials will be carried out are not yet available, but in a nutshell the areas of focus will be:
- Simpler route options. This will delete outdated fares for older, indirect routes . For example, sometimes passengers have to pay more to travel a slower route, simply because they have bought an 'any permitted' ticket, rather than one for their specific route.
- Cheaper fares if you swap trains part way through your journey. Passengers will be offered the cheapest combination of tickets if they have to swap trains during their journey. Rather than them having to manually 'split' these tickets they will be able to buy just one cheap ticket for the whole journey.
- Airline-style pricing for returns. Passengers will be able to 'mix-and-match' outward and return journeys to get the best price in each direction.
If these trials are successful they will become permanent on the trial routes, and slowly rolled out nationwide.
Although the trials will initially only look at eradicating split-ticketing where you actually swap trains, an RDG spokesperson has said it would hope to get to the point where split-ticketing for journeys that don't involve changing trains is also looked at.
Sounds simple – why is this taking so long?
The RDG is dubbing this the biggest ticketing overhaul in more than 30 years, and say it is working with the Government to make improvements.
Jacqueline Starr, RDG director of customer experience, says: "We know customers can find it hard to get the right ticket for their journey due to complex rules and regulations built up by Governments over decades.
"There are more than 16 million different train fares, many of which nobody has ever bought. This also makes it more difficult to give passengers the right, simple options on ticket machines."
The RDG hopes the trials will prove there need to be changes to regulations so that train companies can offer customers simpler fares, and remove confusing fares which they are required to include, but haven't been updated to reflect industry changes.
What does the Department for Transport say?
Rail Minister Paul Maynard says: "Rail passengers must be able to trust that they are getting the best possible deal every time they travel and we are working closely with industry on a set of actions to improve fares and ticketing for passengers over the next 12 months.
"The ticket-buying experience is all too often complicated and hard to navigate... We want a more modern and passenger-focused fares and ticketing system which takes advantage of all the benefits of new technology."