The Office

Rail fares are going to be shaken up to try and clamp down on train operators selling  expensive tickets when cheaper tickets are available. The practice in question is referred to a split ticketing. There’s even a little, but little known, industry specialising in the practice. The principle behind this is simple. Instead of buying a single ticket from A to C, buy two separate tickets, one from A to B and the other from B to C.

It doesn’t always work, but when it does it can save a rail user a small fortune. However, the rail user has to know themselves where to split the tickets. The ticketing system is complex beyond belief and it is totally unreasonable to expect any human being – even a ticket office clerk with 40 years service – to know where all the best splits are.

However, based on what I’ve read, there seem to be big flaws in this shake up. The system will soon identify savings where the passenger changes trains on a two or more legged journey. But the best splits usually seem to occur on certain boundaries where no change is necessary. For example, a passenger travelling from Weymouth to Birmingham with a change at Bournemouth currently pays £103 for a ticket. The new system will allow split tickets at £14.80 and £96.40. Obviously, at £111.20, this is not going to save anyone any money.

Yet if you buy a ticket from Weymouth to Banbury (£68.60) and then a ticket from Banbury to Birmingham (£13.30) you’ll pay just £81.90 – a saving of more than £20. You can get even more extreme. Buying tickets from Weymouth to Southampton (£26.30), Southampton to Reading (£19.60), Reading to Banbury (12.80) and Banbury to Birmingham (£13.30) sets you back a total of £72, shaving almost another tenner off the price. And regardless of which option you go for, your actual journey will be exactly the same with a single change at Bournemouth.

There’s another flaw to the new system which is entirely counter intuitive – book a ticket for a longer journey than you need to make. This only works with standard tickets, but again it can save a fair few pounds. An example – a person travelling from Weymouth to Chichester would normally buy a ticket costing £39.90. A person ‘in the know’ would instead buy a ticket to Worthing, six stops and a half hour further down the line from Chichester. Despite being a longer journey, the off peak ticket costs £25.50, nearly £15 less, and a passenger is perfectly entitled to get off at an earlier stop on a standard ticket. Yes, it’s a little bit mad.

Suffice it to say, there’s an awful lot of work to be done yet to simplify the UK train ticketing system and makes fares fairer.

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