Train Fares Heading Up, But Whatever Happened to Service?

Dec 19, 2012   //   by Keith McDonald   //   Commentary / Editorial  //  Comments Off on Train Fares Heading Up, But Whatever Happened to Service?

We’re all bracing ourselves for more inflation-busting train fare rises in the New Year, but despite mammoth annual increases, there is little sign that service has got any better.

Before the recently announced strike action, the fight over train fares came to our doorstep last week. Rail unions staged protests at Leicester and at stations across East Anglia.

The TUC’s Action for Rail campaign showed that average fares increased by almost 27% between 2008 and 2012, far higher than the average increase in wages. And as we pointed out earlier in the year, rail has become the most expensive form of travel for the majority of long-distance journeys.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) said that this figure was misleading because the proportion of passengers travelling with ‘anytime’ tickets was relatively small. It notes that the average fare rise in the new year will be 3.9%

But the trick with ‘average’ fare rises is that companies can hike some prices much higher than others provided that they balance it out with smaller rises elsewhere. So, particularly where journeys into London are concerned, season tickets are seeing a hefty increase.

Many companies are restraining themselves to 1% above inflation, which is traditionally set by August’s RPI figure (3.2% this year). But in some cases, the fare rises are more than double this ceiling. Season tickets from Bicester and Banbury to London with Chiltern Trains are to rise by a huge 6%.

And for those who have to travel at distance into London, the outgoings are quite formidable. An annual season ticket from Norwich to London with Greater Anglia will cost over £7,000 in the New Year, while journeying from Peterborough on the nationalised East Coast will cost £5,800 from January.

Our table below shows the new price of season tickets set by a number of different operators for journeys within roughly one hour’s travel from a London terminus.

To / From LondonOperator2012 Price2013 Price% Change
BasingstokeSouth West Trains£3,792£3,9524.22%
ColchesterGreater Anglia£4,376£4,5564.11%
East GrinsteadSouthern£2,268£2,3604.06%
LutonFirst Capital Connect£3,604£3,7203.22%
Milton KeynesVirgin£4,408£4,6204.81%
OxfordFirst Great Western£4,348£4,5324.23%
PeterboroughEast Coast£5,600£5,8003.57%
Southend CentralC2C£3,012£3,1364.12%
Tunbridge WellsSouthEastern£3,968£4,1324.13%
Zones 1-6 (London)TFL£2,136£2,2244.12%

And, of course, it’s easy to get hung up on London, but increases across the board affect other major journeys too. An annual ticket between Cardiff and Swansea – though the cheapest of our featured list – is to rise by over 6%.

Other ConnectionsOperator2012 Price2013 Price% Change
Birmingham – LeicesterCrossCountry£3,096£3,2244.13%
Cardiff – SwanseaArriva Wales£1,468£1,5606.27%
Doncaster – HullHull Trains£2,844£2,9644.22%
Edinburgh – GlasgowScotrail£3,380£3,5123.91%
Leeds – ManchesterFirst TransPennine Express£2,708£2,8204.14%
Lincoln – NottinghamEast Midlands Trains£2,008£2,0924.18%
Middlesbrough – NewcastleNorthern£2,044£2,1284.11%


Uphill Pricing, Downhill Service

Gaffes with guidelines: staff at Southern struggle to give correct information. Images: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

So, prices are heading up much faster than wages. But as we’ve alluded to above, there’s hardly overwhelming support for the service that train companies are providing. A new report from the Department for Transport showing the 10 most overcrowded trains (based on August 2011) reveals that some services have been running at almost double their seating capacity.

And certainly, on account of what we’ve been told, train companies are becoming increasingly estranged from customers when it comes to refunds.

We’ve been alerted to one case recently where a passenger travelling on Southern trains, unable to purchase a super off-peak return ticket using the machines, was allowed through the barrier to buy his ticket on the train instead.

But the conductor refused to sell him one, insisting that both portions of the ticket were only valid on a weekend. The passenger opted for a single to London, where he was finally able to acquire the ticket he wanted.

Southern are refusing to refund the wrongly sold ticket because it has already been used for its journey – despite the fact that the passenger was able to subsequently purchase his correct ticket and that he was left with no choice but to purchase an unnecessary additional ticket during the point of travel on the basis of incorrect information.

Southern have controversially taken out toilets from a number of their fleet traveling between Portsmouth and Brighton. But – if we want to put it the polite way – there’s no lack of effluent on show. It didn’t take long when researching this piece to find Southern trains making more mistakes when it came to giving out information on the super-off-peak ticket range.

A quick check of the Twitter feed found advisers having to correct themselves after suggesting that the time restrictions also applied to weekends.

Southern Railways Twitter

So, for the sake of accuracy (and Southern staff themselves), let’s clarify Southern’s actual policy:

When can I travel with my Super Off-Peak ticket?
When travelling with Southern, Super Off-Peak tickets allow travel to London Victoria on any train arriving at or after 10:55. Return journeys are permitted at any time except on trains timed to depart London Victoria between 16:15 and 19:15 (inclusive)…

Time restrictions apply to Off-Peak travel on Monday to Friday, but these tickets are valid for travel at any time on Weekends and Bank Holidays.

Our staff may not know this information. Print it off and carry it with you.

Cross with CrossCountry

We’ve also heard that CrossCountry may be flouting their Delay/Repay requirements for season-ticket holders. The Delay/Repay scheme entitles passengers of train companies to a part-refund at least if they encounter delays of over 30 minutes.

The government is now making this refund policy a requirement for operators when franchise agreements come up for renewal or negotiation.

We know of one season-ticket holder who submitted a claim to CrossCountry after a series of delays, but the company has outright refused to co-operate.

Again, for the sake of accuracy, let’s see what CrossCountry claims to abide by:

If your journey was delayed by 30 minutes or more, irrespective of the cause, you will be entitled to claim compensation under our Delay Repay scheme. We will offer our customers:

  • 50% of the cost of your single ticket or 50% of the cost of either portion of your return ticket for delays of between 30 and 59 minutes; or
  • 100% of the cost of your single ticket or 100% of the cost of either portion of your return ticket for delays of 60 minutes or more.
  • If either or both the outward or return legs of your journey is delayed by more than two hours and you have a return ticket, you will be entitled to receive up to 100% of the cost of the return ticket.

In the case of Season tickets, Delay Repay compensation is calculated based on the proportional single ticket price paid for that journey. For example, the daily proportional cost of a seven day ticket is calculated based on an assumption that ten single journeys are made per working week (five return journeys).

We may choose to conveniently ignore this at any point

Train companies are denying cutting back on services while prices are going up. But on the evidence we’ve seen, there’s still some way to go to justify these rises to consumers based upon quality of service. A spate of union strikes over Christmas – if they go ahead – is hardly going to help the cause.

If complaints about train procedures are not met to your satisfaction, take up your claim with rail watchdog Passenger Focus. Both cases above are under or pending review.
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