Rail fares shake-up starts next month

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The first part of a major shake-up of the rail fares system designed to make it easier for passengers to buy train tickets is to be introduced next month, it was announced today.

Aimed mainly at those travelling at off-peak times and first mentioned in the Government's rail White Paper last year, the new system is being brought in by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC).

From 18 May, all advance purchase fares, which are substantially discounted, will be known simply as Advance and discounts for Railcards will now also apply.

The Advance title will replace the numerous names for these tickets - including Leisure Advance, Business Advance, Value Advance and Apex.

Then from September 7, the turn-up-and-go tickets will be grouped into two categories - Anytime and Off-peak.

Anytime fares (singles and returns) can be purchased right up to the day and time of travel and used on any train without peak hour or any other restriction. Current ticket types that fall into the Anytime category include open singles and returns.

Off-peak tickets can be bought at anytime for journeys, including day returns, right up until the time of departure but they carry restrictions on the time or day of travel. Current ticket types that will become known as Off-peak include the Saver and Cheap Day Returns.

On some routes, where there are two off-peak fares, the cheaper fares will be called the Super Off-Peak. Current SuperSaver tickets fall into this category.

The new fare categories mean that passengers have only to choose from one of three ticket types when planning their journey and websites and booking office information will reflect this. The changes are designed to enable people to buy the best value ticket to match their journey more easily.

ATOC commercial director David Mapp said: "This is the biggest shake up in the fares and ticketing system for many years and we want passengers to take advantage of it and also encourage more people to take the train.

"Passengers have told us that they want a simpler fares system. We are listening and responding. These changes will enable people to buy train tickets more easily and with greater confidence."

Some tickets are not affected by the changes. These include season tickets and London Oystercards.

ATOC said the price of train tickets will not be increased as a result of the new fares structure and the regulation of fares, whereby around 40 per cent of fares are price-capped annually, is unaffected.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "Simplifying the range of fares is a big step in the right direction. Anything that hacks away at the current fares jungle will help. Fares names such as First Great Western Firstminute Business Standard, among others, will not be missed."

Passenger Focus research has shown that fewer than half of passengers are confident of getting the best-value ticket for their journey, while fewer than half claim to understand the range of tickets and fares available.

Mr Smith continued: "Our research shows that passengers like the new (fare) names. The combination of the ability to mix and match outward and return fares, railcard discount on a broader range of fare and the new names should help passengers make better, more informed choices."

Campaign for Better Transport (formerly Transport 2000) welcomed the new fare structure but called on the Government to reduce the cost of rail fares, especially for last-minute journeys.

The campaign's executive director Stephen Joseph said: "The real cost of rail fares has increased by 6 per cent in the last 10 years, and Government plans mean it will increase further.

"Advance tickets are sometimes cheap but people can't always plan their journeys weeks beforehand. The Government must make train travel the cheap and easy option if we're going to reduce carbon emissions from transport."

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker MP said: "This is a sensible move which will helpfully clear away the bewildering array of weekend fares, super savers and open returns. But there is much more that can be done to bring clarity to fares.

"There are some good deals around, but travellers are often left confused as to how to get hold of cheap tickets.

"It would help everyone if train companies made their advance ticket policies public so that travellers were clear about what bargain tickets are available and when and how they can best buy them."