Thursday 9 February 2017

Being Radical Part 1

... fbb Offers Some  Fair Fare Ideas
There are three main reasons why our National Rail system has one of the daftest fares systems in the galaxy.

 1  Many years ago, under the much missed** British Rail(ways), "selective pricing" became the bastion of the fares policy. In simple terms, this meant "charge as much as you can get away with", or, to put it more subtly, charge what the market will bear. Because there is now no standard "rate per mile" there will always be anomalies for journeys that cross from one charging area to another.

 2  Although the "normal" fares structure was set in stone at Privatisation THIRTY YEARS AGO, railway companies are allowed to create all sorts of clever means of increasing their revenue. One particularly insidious disease has been the "Advance" ticket. Here a few determined people who hover over their lap tops can travel for next to nothing with a compulsory reserved seat, whilst some poor mug who travels at short notice and full fare is subsidising their journey and has to stand.

Whilst terms and conditions for official "Off Peak" tickets are reasonably standard and almost understandable (but by no means consistent nationally), conditions for "Super Off Peak" fares can be varied at the whim of the operating company.

 3  Many aspects of the general structure of our fares date back to Victorian times when the concept of "Cheap Day" and "Excursion" Fares were used to promote this new-fangled Iron Horse and the whole idea of leisure travel. Likewise, cheap fares for "workers" were needed to increase mobility and ensure that the big industrial and commercial cities could get their labour force into their office desks or benches without provoking demands for higher wages.

To which we need to add number 4.

 4  Government Policy. This is unfathomable and defies any normal commercial logic. A while ago a rail minister was reported as saying that rail fares would be frozen for the next two years. Except he didn't. What he actually said was that rail fare INCREASES would be frozen. What that ACTUALLY meant was that rail fares would still increase every year but only in parallel with the rate of inflation. The latter is a statistic manipulated by Government and its agencies for political and (even worse) party political aims.

Throw all this in a big cauldron with the system of rail privatisation and franchising and it is no wonder that we have a crazy fares system. What is worse is that the whole shebang is so intertwined that unravelling it is close to impossible.

What is currently proposed ...

... is a very minor tweak to rationalise (NOT remove) some (NOT all) of the more obvious anomalies in the current (NON) system. For the vast majority of passengers, it will not make the slightest difference.

** fbb's chum, Barry Doe, has often expounded his view that, had British Railways been given the commercial freedom that it wanted, the possible benefits of "privatisation" (hamstrung by the dead hand of Government), could have been delivered more quickly and at less cost to the taxpayer.

Because any discussion on rail fares sinks inexorably in the the Bunyanesque Slough of Despond ...
... fbb will continue with his "Radical" fair fare ideas tomorrow.

Until then, however, a few questions about what happens now. It is really, really hard to find a "typical" set of fares associated with a typical set of "restrictions". So fbb has been looking at journeys between his "home" station, Axminster ...
... and Andover, approximately 80 miles away.
Equally, and to keep things as straightforward as possible, fbb has examined fares that are clearly on offer on the National Rail web site. It is worth emphasising that EVERY web site will give the same results, so don't be conned by those that claim to offer you the "cheapest" fare. The cheapest may be on offer but it is the same cheapest as everywhere else.

Always reject sites like The Trainline which charge a fee. Use your local rail company site and always save money! The Trainline is NEVER, EVER the cheapest because of its charges.

Axminster to Andover

57.00  Anytime return
For Axminster, the peak premium price only applies to a few departures on Mondays to Fridays.
If it is used by so few people, why not withdraw the fare completely?
How much revenue would be lost across the Southwest Trains franchise?
Ah, but we must protect our peak revenue. Really? See below.

37.50  Off-peak return
This the fare paid by the vast majority of passengers travelling to Andover and back up to one month later. There are no time restrictions on the return leg.

Some journeys (elsewhere) have an off-peak single at roughly half the off-peak return price.

32.00  Off-peak DAY return
Why, pray, should it be cheaper to come back on the same day? Conversely, why should it be more expensive to stay away longer than a day?

32.10  Anytime DAY return
Why the extra 10p?
This price makes a nonsense of the "we must protect peak revenue" argument. The penalty for peak travel only applies if you want to stay away for more than one day.

28.50  Anytime single
Half the Anytime return.
Here you are being penalised if you don't want to come back!

Now we come to season tickets. These prices may well be a revelation to those who listen to the anguished cries of hard-done-by "commuters" every time rail fares are increased. It's always a "shock increase", of course, although such changes are usually announced months in advance.
26.70  Season day return
Weekly season ticket (£133.50) used five days a week

22.24  Season day return
Annual season ticket (£5340.00) used every working day
assuming five weeks holiday

And we need to remember that all extra journeys on the line of route are "free". There are also extra bonuses for holders of an Annual season via a Gold Card.
So, whilst fbb and his chums are being penalised for travelling at "Peak", regular commuters are paying a cheaper daily fare than anyone else.

Is this differential the biggest rip-off on the railways?

There are no "Advance" tickets normally available for this journey ...
... and Southwest Trains does not offer reservations, although you still need them for through "Advance" tickets from other areas; but they don't reserve you a seat!

And for a complete picture, how much would the journey (return) by car? Aaagh!

Generally motorists do not cost their journeys "fairly". The AA provides a list of true car costs on-line, but there are so many variables that a definitive answer is almost impossible. This is a stab at a fair cost for a medium sized family car (bought new) doing about 30,000 miles a year.

30.00  return
Fuel, other consumables, repairs, parking etc.

45.00  return
Adding in the capital cost of the car, depreciation etc.

Obviously car sharing offers a massive saving, a deal that cannot be had for a rail commute!

As well as the dreaded "Advance" tickets, heavily restricted to one particular train and forfeit if you fail to travel, the other complexity is created by train company specific offers.

It works like this:-

A cheap offer day return fare (for example) from Birmingham to London might be £20. Under a mysterious computer analysis system called O R C A T S (Operational Research Computerised Allocation of Tickets to Services) this money is then allocated to all the possible train operating companies that you might use.

Virgin, London Midland, Chiltern and Cross Country (to name the main four) would all get a percentage irrespective of whose train you travel on. Virgin might get £13 out of the £20.

By offering you a ticket valid only on their own trains, companies can ensure that they get every penny of the fare, possibly more money than their share of a "normal" fare. A Virgin-only version might be £15 but the company will get it all, £2 more than the all operators price.

Fares ONLY available on and from London Midland

Cheapest fare from National Rail site?

WARNING! Company only deals and discounts are ONLY available from that company's web site or, sometimes, from the company's exclusive ticket offices. They are not available from independent ticket sites, even if they are "the cheapest"!


It is a minefield and almost impossible to understand.

But fbb can offer a few suggestions.

 Next rail fares blog : Friday 10th February 


  1. With over 2500 stations and approaching 7,000,000 possible end to end journeys and a rail network that caters for not only commuters but day trippers, shoppers and holiday makers good luck coming up with a system that is described by some as "simple".

    More tickets = more choice as far as I am concerned.

    Also advance purchase tickets are one of the reason the rail industry has boomed. The move away form what oldies would call the "apex returns" has been a success.

    I'd go one step further and make trains on the busiest Fridays (Bank holiday weekends etc) on GWR, VTEC and VTWC compulsory reservation too! That will stop people moaning about having to stand!

    1. Might they then moan about not being able to travel at all? Not everyone can choose when to travel. If they moan that's still money coming in, but if they choose other means,there's no money.

  2. I don't see what the fuss is about season tickets, it is the same logic as buying a weekly bus ticket where by you should get at least one journey free as a reward for your loyalty.

  3. The example fares are influenced by the fact that all South West Trains fares are structured for the London commuter area. For example off-peak is defined as arrival at London Waterloo after 10:00, unlike most areas which is from the start point after say 09:30.
    When First took over Great Western they introduced real off-peak fares in Devon and Cornwall. The previous all day off-peak fare became the full fare and a new reduced off-peak fare was introduced after 09:30. Ridership and revenue went up, I believe.
    Season ticket holders cannot get a season seat reservation to match eg on Cross Country to Bristol.
    Advance purchase tickets are a pain. Life for most is not that fixed that you can guarantee to need a particular service; how long is a hospital appointment going to take! Many journeys don’t have them. Some routes have headline grabbing fares that rarely exist. Some seem to have unlimited availability, but you have to commit to a particular train before midnight the day, because there is no off-peak single fare set. SWT’s current promotion is advance purchase of a standard off-peak ticket (unfortunately excludes west of Yeovil this time).
    Cheap fares are not the driving force behind the rail boom; try road congestion, desire to travel, …

  4. The ORR publishes figures which show that in 2015/16, getting on for a fifth of ordinary revenue comes from advance tickets (£1.3 bn of £7bn). Season tickets bring in a further £2.2bn. Off peak revenue is slightly larger than peak/anytime revenue. That all suggests that the rail industry is much better at filling up off peak capacity than it used to - particularly important, because there tends to be a lot more of it than there used to be.

  5. A little tip here - if travelling by more than one train company check each operator's individual website as buying singles for each operator may work out cheaper than the through ticket as operators can only offer discounts on their own services.

    FBB is right - trainline won't look at those individual journeys and even trainsplit I manage to beat regularly. If you want to try it for yourself last week I tried to find the cheapest fare fro Paddington to Haverfordwest. Look at the through ticket price then split te journey at Cardiff Central, where you have to change anyway, and buy two singles, one from GWR's site, and the other from Arriva Trains Wales site. You'll be surprised.

    I have always believed off peak should be determined on arrival time not departure time - as I do with the 0930 limit on bus passes - so the 1000 arrival time at London is a good thing in my opinion. Looking forward to part two.

    1. The above post is in general wrong. It is normally cheaper to get a +connections advance as the connectons bit is usually peanuts. There are exceptions but that's the norm. Also you could have booked both tickets on gwr or arriva or anywhere else for that matter unless the last bit was a website special (ie club 55). Operator specific fares can be bought anywhere. Also splitting at Swansea can be better as can other stops en route depending on the offers. It all depends on the time and busy-Ness of the train.

    2. Changing at Swansea was over £5 more expensive as advance fares are not available between Swansea and Haverfordwest. I checked! Do you have figures to back up your claims? I do! What on earth is a +connections advance. I have never seen it mentioned on any website. Sounds like a single operator thing but I'll check.

      But please if you're going to accuse me of being wrong - and I've been saving myself and others money several years now, including when I was a Conductor then please qualify your accusations with facts and figures, not mights and maybes.

    3. I have just checked the journey again from Paddington to Haverfordwest on 14th March leaving Paddington on the 1115. The through single is £51.40, the same on gwr site and the Trainline. However if I buy two singles - one to Cardiff then another from Cardiff to Haverfordwest they are £25.50 and £10.50 respectively. A total of £36.00 saving £15.40 on the through ticket.

      If I split the ticket at Swansea however the single from Paddington goes up t £32.00 plus I have to leave 30 mins earlier. Then a single fro Swansea to haverfordwest is bizarrely £15.80 - check it yourself - making a total of £47.80 - £11.80 more than changing at Cardiff and less convenient.

      I could give you thousands of examples from all over the country. I DO check every option as it's the nly way if you want to save the most.

      Oh - at no point whatsoever did any of the websites offer me a +connections ticket. Trainsplit got close for once quoting me £37.09 including their commission.

    4. If you split at Newport it costs the same, most of the time, as Cardiff (including your example) but can be cheaper. Sometimes its cheaper to split at Carmarthen/Whitland if the advance quota is gone from Cardiff or Newport to Haverfordwest. The fare price is determined by how many of each advance quota is available on each of the two sections in this case and varies by train and by the station you choose to change tickets over (eg Newport, Cardiff, Carmarthen or Whitland). In addition given the Super Off Peak return is only £84.30, if you are doing a return trip often that is better value unless booking far in advance or needing to travel on trains banned by that ticket.
      It can also be cheaper to split the Paddington to Cardiff advances at Swindon. Indeed if the advances are gone from Cardiff-Haverfordwest the cheapest option could be splitting at Swindon and Whitland. Also of note is that the anytime single from Swindon to Haverfordwest is less than the one from Bristol!
      the main reason I objected to the post is stating that you have to by the two tickets from separate websites because the two tickets you were buying could both have been bought from anywhere and also the Trainsplit ones (once found) could also be bought anywhere without paying them commission.
      On your latest post you mention Cardiff is easier to change which CAN be true but isn't always and can also cause you to be delayed by an hour as in both directions the connections to/from West Wales are held, where possible at Swansea but not Cardiff. So westbound the West wales train may run just in front of a late GWR train but at Swansea it will be held a couple of minutes (it has to reverse anyway) to make the connection that was missed at Cardiff.

  6. I think that by +connections K is referring to routings on tickets that say VWC +connections for example, where an Advance is available to local stations off the main line. Not available everywhere, maybe?

    1. Available on GWR but not called that (the Haverfordwest ticket is effectively that) but on many other flows they do exist as described by asb and can save a fortune and enable peak time travel into London in the southeast for peanuts.

    2. Try Birmingham to Haverfordwest which has XC+Connections and ATW+LM+Connections fares amongst many others!

    3. No problems - I'll drive Mum 200 miles up to Birmingham just so she can get a connections ticket!