UK: 'Radical changes' to fares which are intended to 'guarantee customers simpler fares and the best possible deal every time they travel' are to be tested following an agreement between train operators and the government, the Rail Delivery Group confirmed on February 1.

There will be three elements to the trials, designed to offer ‘new pricing, simpler routes to give customers clearer choices, and the removal of unnecessary and unwanted fares from the system’:

  • Changing rules on valid routes between London and Sheffield which ‘date back to when the direct service was much less frequent and journeys often needed a change of train via a longer route’. RDG said the current rules mean ‘tickets are required to be available which are not in step with actual options available now.’
  • Arriva franchisee CrossCountry is to test ‘best value end-to-end through fares’ for journeys involve a change of trains, combining the cheapest fare for each leg of the journey. RDG said national rules currently require operators to set a through fare ‘even where there are cheaper deals’, and operators want to remove such ‘obsolete’ fares ‘which in many cases nobody buys’.
  • Single-leg rather than return journey pricing will be tested on the London – Glasgow and London – Edinburgh routes. The government-regulated off-peak fare is a return fare, and RDG said ‘customers are often left to calculate whether two single tickets are cheaper’.

The trials aim to establish the regulatory changes which would be needed to remove ‘decades-old’ rules which RDG said were ‘originally intended to protect customers but introduced before the internet and online booking’. It claims that these have ‘prevented train companies from being more flexible in offering tickets that customers want’.

RDG has also set out a 10-point plan for improving ticket vending machines, which is to be implemented this year. The aim is to get rid of jargon such as ‘any permitted route’ and ‘London Terminals’, tell customers when a TVM will start to sell cheaper off-peak tickets, and to make clear what types of tickets TVMs do and do not sell.

‘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’, said Jacqueline Starr, RDG Managing Director of Customer Experience. ‘There are more than 16 million different train fares, many of which nobody buys. This also makes it more difficult to give passengers the right, simple options on ticket machines.’

Responding to RDG’s announcement, Vickie Sheriff of consumer organisation Which? said passengers would ‘expect big changes to make fares and the ticketing system easier to understand’. Russell Goodenough, Client Managing Director for Transport at Fujitsu UK & Ireland, said simplifying the fares structure would ‘help enable the next generation of digital services that will improve the passenger experience, including smart and account based ticketing’.