Friday 10 February 2017

Being Radical Part 2

Think Of A Number, Then Double It!
The big problem with trying to resolve some of the real issues with rail fares is that the price you pay has almost nothing to do with the cost of providing the train! If you buy groceries, you are not at all surprised that a village shop charges more than a Super Tesco. Rail fares tend to be the exact opposite. Remote rural branch lines and most journeys in Scotland (for example) ...
... can be so much cheaper by the mile than travelling on an every twenty minute, packed to the roof Virgin train between London and Manchester.
Because of subsidies, you simply cannot divorce rail fares from Government Policy. Blaming the train operating companies is unfair as they have their hands tied when it comes to the "regulated" fares; which are the fares that most people are paying.

We accept payment by cash, cards
or an arm and a leg!

So the LEVEL of fares will always remain a political decision, changed at the whim of party policy and the mind of the current Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Chancellor 1606 to 1614
Sir Julius Caesar (really!)

What fbb would like to see happening is a deep steam clean of the relationship between different types of fare; then, at least, a customer could have a good idea of what is the best fare deal to look for for any journey.

If we have a "national" railway system, the fares system should apply throughout the network with an absolute minimum of exceptions.

So here goes with the fbb ideas (not all of which are original, by any means!)

Currently people who don't return or people who return later than one month from departure are penalised. People who return on the same day pay less. This is historic and silly. So the answer is to only sell single tickets. An expensive outward leg can be matched, perhaps, with a cheap return leg.


It is as easy as A, B, C ...
... plus D.

A - Anytime
The recent publicity talked about ludicrously expensive fares which no-one would ever use; but there is still a case for retaining peak hour restrictions into our big "commuter" cities. The pain of premium prices would be mitigated by buying, say, an Anytime single from Brighton to London for travel at 0800 on  Monday, but a cheaper single for the return journey at 1400 in the afternoon or 1900 in the evening.

Priced at 50% more than Base (see below)

B - Base
This would be the "standard" fare for any journey made outside the (limited) peak hour "travel at your stand-all-the-way peril" time slot for commuters. Currently off-peak tickets are restricted only for morning arrivals in the big city, but there may be a case for an evening departure restriction as well. There would be no time penalty on longer journeys whether they go via (e.g. London) or not.

C - Cut Price
This would replace Super Off Peak and some of the higher Advance fares. Availability would vary nationally (e.g. NOT Fridays on Inter City lines; longer peak restriction on commuter lines) but the ticket would always be available for weekend and Bank Holiday travel. Unlike today's Advance, it would not be limited to a specified train. Reserved seats would not be available.

Priced at 50% less than Base

A, B and C tickets would not be limited to specific operators.

D - Double Discount 
This would replace the silly and very limited "Advance" tickets. It would be a replacement for company specific special offers. It would also be the basis for season tickets. Exceptionally, individual tickets at this price band might be restricted to a specific train or group of trains.

Priced at 50% less than Cut Price. Reserved seats would not be available.

Season Tickets
These would be defined as a multiple of C-priced tickets; e.g. one week, 13 x C; one year 540 x C. A pack of these C-priced tickets could be sold for irregular commuting patterns.

So let's try this scheme, set against the Axminster to Andover fares listed on yesterday's blog. Where a single is not currently available at Axminster, the price is shown in brackets.

This is about a simpler relationship between different types of ticket. The actual price level is a whole different ball-game.

Anomalies that lead to a lunatic forage for split ticketing will need to be removed. (And the best of British luck to whoever gets the job!)

All tickets would be available on the day and from ticket offices as well as machines and on-line.

As the prices are calculated as a simple percentage of base, there would be no need for systems to store millions of fares. The choices could be calculated "on the fly" and displayed as a simple grid with restrictions clearly shown.

Every ticket sold would be printed with the specific restrictions for that ticket; so no excuse for misuse or misunderstanding.

Another fair-deal tidy up would provide for the opportunity to upgrade from one grade of ticket to another if circumstances change. This removed the rip-off of being forced to donate you fare to the Directors' champagne and caviar fund if you fail to travel when they want you to.

Ah... but ...
The anguished cry reverberates throughout the industry, "this makes a nonsense of all our business plans and franchise bids, It will be a financial disaster."

So we need an independent fares "tsar" to act as a sort of hyper-referee. He/she would be independent of Government, Operating Companies, DaFT, The Treasury, Passenger Groups and the station cat. The remit would be to oversee the change and adjust franchise subsidies or premiums (premia?) to ensure that the overall result was balance-sheet neutral.

The obvious (only?) suitable candidate for such a role would be fares guru Barry Doe ...
... but fbb suspects that he would emigrate to the planet Zog rather than take on such a daunting task.

And finally
This is proffered as a topic for discussion and debate, not as a fully formed proposal. Much more work would be needed to dot the ts and cross the is.

fbb suggests, hesitantly, that any comments for appending to this blog should be simple and general. Specific thoughts can be e-mailed to:-

And finally, finally
To those who are keen "Advance" bookers, well done for getting cheapo fares. But readers should remember that such bargains probably account for only 3.6% of all tickets sold. Doesn't sound much until the other statistic is revealed. "Advance" fares account for 14% of rail revenue. Conclusion; the longer distance train companies sell the majority of this type of ticket - which is why fbb struggles to get a seat!

It's not straightforward, is it?

 Next mixed bag weekend blog  Saturday 11th February 


  1. You may have just worked out how "touch-in touch-out" contactless card travel can be implemented on the railways!

  2. So FBB would be happy to stand all the way from London to Scotland because reserved seats are no longer available? I wouldn't.

    There are evening peak restrictions in certain directions - e.g. out of London on Virgin and London Midland Services.

  3. I'm still taken by how you can be 'done' for not travelling as far as you paid. Like in the recently much-publicised Lancaster (off-peak is all day) versus Preston fares to London. I remember GNER winning a court case against a man with an advance to Durham who got off at Darlington.
    If I go to Wetherspoon's for a pint but I don't drink all of it, will the staff come over demanding another £250?

    1. As a resident of Lancaster I wish people wouldn't keep mentioning this so-called anomaly. It could easily be put right. But it wouldn't be the expensive fares to Preston that disappeared!