Published November 29th
The UK rail fares and systems are often criticised as being complex and difficult to understand and The Rail Delivery Group (set up as a result of The McNulty Report), has said it is looking at simplifying these aspects of rail travel.
Arguably matters could get worse as train companies, such as London Midland and Southwest Trains are closing booking offices and travel centres. They argue that today there are many other ways of buying tickets and obtaining travel information. These include use of the internet, smartcard ticketing and passengers using ticket machines at stations.
Travel offices were once a major public facing part of the rail industry and obviously before the internet era, were vital for attracting business. Now that franchise agreements can limit exposure for franchisees under complex support mechanisms. There is less incentive to keep staffed booking offices open, hence their closure around the UK as suggested as necessary by the McNulty Report in May 2011.
Some companies such as East Coast Trains has retained their information offices but rarely open new offices unless as part of a redevelopment such as at Kings Cross.
Surveys have shown that ticket machines are increasingly used but do not offer the complete range of fares. Is it possible they are used more and more as ticket offices close or have their opening hours reduced combined with not everyone having access to the internet. www.Redspottedhanky.com is one site which guarantees to obtain the lowest fares and also operates a loyalty scheme. Other sites sometimes carry hidden charges such as for delivery.
The local community in Millom, Cumbria, decided that they would offer a community service by selling travel tickets for the UK rail network as their station was unstaffed.
Acknowledging their important service, Millom ticket office staff were recently awarded 3rd prize in the National Rail Awards for Customer Service. The presentation was made at Millom Station Chris Cutts, Northern Rail Stations Manager. He said that “This is a really remarkable achievement since the ticket office was only re-opened two years ago after having been closed for many years.
The station is in the middle of Millom and has become s destination in its own right. As well as railway tickets, there is a coffee shop and local museum staffed by a mix of volunteers and paid people. The station has become a centre for the local community attracting many visitors. The resulting sales pay for the staff, the building maintenance and lease costs with all profits going to the Millom Discovery Centre, in the same building.
Santa is coming to Millom station at 1340hrs on December 15 to collect letters from local children which will have been posted around the town in specially prepared postboxes.
Victorian costumed staff will be greeting Santa accompanied by a hurdy-gurdy player and what does this all cost? Nothing! It’s another community effort and the rumour is that Santa is a volunteer, but don’t tell the kids…...
The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) has urged the Government to scrap regulations that prevent them from launching a program of wholesale ticket office closures as suggested in the McNulty Report. This could lead to nearly 700 ticket office closures.
Michael Roberts, chief executive of the ATOC said at The Future of Rail conference in London suggested closing booking offices could save the hundreds of millions of pounds annually. The existing arrangements were contrived in 1996 as part of rail privatisation and determine ticket office opening hours at the UK’s staffed stations.
Mr Roberts said that the use of ticket machines had doubled in the last five years while internet ticketing had tripled. Given the 50% rise in passenger numbers and the continued automation and technology advances, perhaps these figures should have been greater. He claimed that tickets purchased at stations had declined by 13% and it is thought that this method remains the favourite way of buying tickets. Maybe the ‘Millom’ method could be employed elsewhere to prevent closures.
The Government has announced that season tickets will rise in January by an average of 4.2% which masks higher increases as the 6.46% on lines such as SouthEastern, who operate the fast ‘Javelin’ services.
ATOC said that “Successive governments have instructed train companies every year to increase these regulated fares on average by more than inflation. “In doing so, ministers have been seeking to cut the contribution from taxpayers towards the running costs of the railway and increase the share that comes from passengers.”
How can you find out about the new rates and which ticket is best for you? Visit your local ticket office while you can is suggested.