Investigation Reveals Rail Passengers Could Face Overwhelming Costs, Advocates Urge Online Booking for Best Value

Rail Passengers Face Ticket Machine Overcharges, Which? Investigation Reveals

According to a recent mystery shopper study by consumer watchdog Which?, train station ticket machines may be charging commuters up to 154% more than online booking.

The study emphasizes that, despite public opposition preventing widespread ticket office closures, a significant number of travelers rely on ticket machines or online booking.

Of the 1,766 train stations under the Department for Transport’s control, only one in six has a full-time ticket office.

Mystery Shoppers Uncover Price Disparity

Which? sent mystery shoppers to 15 stations, each run by a different train operator, to compare prices from ticket machines with those available on Trainline, the UK’s largest ticket site.

The survey revealed that, on average, same-day journeys cost 52% more when purchased from ticket machines.

In one instance, researchers found a same-day, one-way ticket from Holmes Chapel to London cost 154% more from the station’s ticket machine compared to an online split-ticket option.

Varied Services Offered by Ticket Machines

The study found significant variations in the services offered by different ticket machines. The limited choice often led to higher prices for passengers.

According to Which?, one key reason for higher machine prices is the lack of availability of ‘advance’ fares, which are cheaper options for buying tickets in advance. Only five out of 15 machines tested offered advance fares.

Passengers Risk Missing Out on Cheaper Fares

Some ticket machines may unintentionally lead passengers to miss out on cheaper fares, claims Which?.

The study highlights instances where machines did not appear to sell off-peak tickets during peak times, potentially resulting in passengers paying more.

Additionally, only a third of visited stations had advanced smart ticket machines, which, while offering real-time information, lacked split ticketing functionality.

Ticket Validity Confusion and Lack of Information

Which? notes that passengers could easily be caught out by ticket validity and unclear information on machines.

Some machines did not clearly specify valid times and services, putting passengers at risk of a £50 penalty fare plus the cost of a new ticket.

Furthermore, most machines lacked timetable information, making it challenging for passengers to plan unfamiliar journeys.

Industry Responses and Advocacy for Online Booking

Various train operators responded to the study, with GWR stating that ticket machines are not intended to provide the same range of tickets as online or in-person sales.

Advocacy for modernization of fares and ticketing has been raised, urging the industry to support initiatives that enhance ticket machine functionality and transparency.

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