Britain is on the verge of a “rail fares revolution” that could enable passengers to save millions of pounds on published ticket prices for the first time.
Under an agreement reached between ministers and train operating companies, comprehensive ticket price data from across the UK’s railway network is to be made available for free within the next few months.
The new information will allow customers travelling on some routes to make savings of more than 30 per cent on current ticket prices – without passengers needing to change the train they were intending to take. A journey from Birmingham to Edinburgh taken yesterday, for example, would be almost £40 cheaper.
The Independent understands that a secret report for the Government by the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) estimated that the total potential saving to passengers could be in the “high tens of millions of pounds”.
It will go some way to compensate passengers who face rail fare rises of 4 per cent next year.
Under current rules, train companies are not obliged to publicise the cheapest way of getting from one destination to another – only the most direct. But because of the UK’s complex fares structure, there are many instances where passengers can save money on the same journey simply by “splitting” their ticket.
For example, National Rail Enquiries was today quoting a price of £62 for a single journey from Glasgow to Manchester departing at 12.40pm.
However, a customer taking exactly the same trains, could save £18.30 if they bought two separate tickets – one from Glasgow to Oxenholme in the Lake District (£26.50) and another from Oxenholme to Manchester (£17.20) at a total cost of £43.70. The passenger would not have to get off the train at Oxenholme, but simply show the ticket inspector the relevant ticket for each part of their journey.
While the fares data will be too complicated for individuals to process, it will be used by internet developers to create computer and smartphone apps. This will allow passengers to input journey details and automatically find the cheapest fare.
It will also permit customers, less worried about the time their journey will take, to achieve even greater savings by calculating longer, cheaper routes between the same stations.
For example, the cheapest single journey between Liverpool and London yesterday afternoon on the National Rail Enquiries website cost £73.30. However, passengers prepared to change trains in Birmingham and spend an hour longer on their journey, could do the same trip for £53.50 – a saving of almost £20.
Jonathan Raper, who runs the transport data company Placr, said: “At the moment the only information that rail companies provide passengers with is for the most direct route – which is often their most profitable – so they don’t want people to be made aware of cheaper, slower alternatives,” he said.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “People shouldn't need to have a degree to get hold of the cheapest ticket for their journey. That’s why the publication of open fares data will mark a big step forward.”