Rail ticket system causes confusion, survey reveals


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The Independent Online

Many train passengers find selecting and buying tickets confusing and frustrating, a survey by rail regulators revealed today.

Some travellers struggle to understand the validity and restrictions of tickets while others have difficulty finding and buying the most cost-effective fares.

Train companies should provide better ticket information, said the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) which conducted the survey.

More than 1,600 rail passengers were questioned on trains, online and as part of focus groups about their experiences of choosing and buying rail tickets.

The survey highlighted a varied understanding of different types of ticket - including knowing the real meaning of terminology such as "peak", "off-peak" and "Advanced" ticket types.

The survey found:

:: Nearly three-quarters of all those interviewed were not confident what off-peak times were - 5% of on-train interviewees travelling on an "Anytime" ticket realised that they could have travelled on an off-peak ticket;

:: More than 50% of online respondents agreed that it was "a bit of a lottery as to whether you find the best price for a rail journey or not", while 45% said the fare system was too complicated for them to understand;

:: 41% of online respondents said they had previously purchased tickets and later found they could have made the journey on cheaper tickets;

:: 70% of on-train interviewees were unaware that they could only travel on the specified train on an Advance ticket. Among those travelling on an Advance ticket, 37% interviewed did not realise that if they missed their train, and travelled on a later train, they would normally have to buy a new ticket.

ORR chairman Anna Walker said: "Our research shows that passengers are often confused and frustrated by the lack of information about rail tickets, particularly where and when to get the best value fares and what the best ticket options are.

"If passengers do not have the information they need, they can end up paying more than is necessary or find themselves being penalised for having the wrong ticket. Lack of clarity or certainty that they are getting the right ticket can also undermine passengers' confidence and trust in the railways."

Ms Walker said ORR had been working hard with train companies on the question of ticketing and that she was pleased with the progress being made.

But she added that there was more work to be done.

Rail Performance Minister Norman Baker said: "I firmly believe that buying a rail ticket should be a straightforward transaction, not an obstacle course. Passengers should be able to confidently choose from a range of fares, finding the best one for their journey without having to understand every nuance of the fares and retail structure. When people do decide to travel by rail, they want a train ticket, not a lottery ticket.

"We are currently consulting on fares and ticketing issues as part of our fares and ticketing review and we would encourage people to feed in their views by responding to the consultation."

David Sidebottom, director of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "Passengers will welcome these findings as they corroborate much of the research we have carried out in recent years.

"This new work will add extra momentum to the rail industry's existing efforts, spurred on by our work, to reform fares and ticketing. Passengers will be pleased to see the rail industry's attempts to dispel the haze of uncertainty that surrounds some rail ticket purchases."

He added that the survey results showed there was still "much work to be done".

Association of Train Operating Companies chief executive Michael Roberts said: "By providing a broad range of fares, operators have attracted record numbers of passengers to the railways. Despite tough financial times, more and more people are choosing to go by train because they are able to find a good value ticket for their journey.

"A lot has been done to make things as straightforward as possible for passengers and we are committed to doing better. Train companies have been involved for some time now in a series of projects to improve the information they provide to passengers."