Overcharging on Long-Distance Train Journeys
Concerns About Ticketing Apps
In a parliamentary debate, Conservative MP Chris Loder raised concerns about passengers being overcharged by nearly £100 for long-distance train journeys from London due to issues with ticketing apps. He called this a “scandal” and urged the competition watchdog to investigate the matter, especially in light of proposed closures of nearly 1,000 ticket offices.
Proposed Ticket Office Closures
During the debate, Mr. Loder suggested that Transport Secretary Mark Harper might reconsider the proposals to close ticket offices due to strong opposition from passengers. He emphasized the need to address the issue of online ticket pricing.
Online Ticket Pricing Issues
Mr. Loder provided an example of a return journey from London to Plymouth, highlighting that the cheapest way to travel was by taking a route through Waterloo and Exeter St David’s with a railcard. However, he pointed out that ticketing apps, like Trainline.com, offered significantly higher prices, almost £100 more than the cheapest alternative. He attributed this discrepancy to what he called “anti-competitive digital algorithms.”
Allegations of Preventing Cheapest Tickets
Mr. Loder accused ticketing apps of using algorithms that prevented passengers from accessing the most affordable ticket options. He also criticized South Western Railway’s website for not offering the cheapest tickets and directing passengers to take routes from Paddington instead of SWR services from Waterloo.
Calls for Investigation
Expressing his frustration with online ticketing systems, Mr. Loder stated his intention to write to the Competition and Mergers Authority to request an investigation into the matter.
Varying Ticket Prices
When attempting to book the same journey on the Trainline app, the Standard found a return fare of £119.80, indicating a saving of £71.70. However, this journey was via Paddington, and tickets via Waterloo were not readily available. South Western Railway’s website also listed the cheapest return ticket at £119.80, again from Paddington.
Proposals for Ticket Office Closures
The debate also highlighted the proposed closure of 974 ticket offices, potentially putting up to 2,300 jobs at risk. MPs expressed concerns about the impact on passengers and urged the reconsideration of these proposals.
Support for Ticket Office Staff
MPs argued that station staffing hours should be maintained to ensure passengers can access the most cost-effective fares, especially during a period of rising living costs. They emphasized the importance of ticket office clerks in providing trustworthy assistance.
Opposition to Closure Proposals
Several MPs, including Mark Francois and Munira Wilson, voiced their opposition to the proposed closures, highlighting that these changes were unpopular, even among Conservative backbenchers. They called for a reevaluation of the plans.
Concerns About Reduced Staffing Hours
MP Fleur Anderson expressed concerns about stations like Barnes, Putney, Earlsfield, and Wandsworth Town facing reductions in ticket office staffing, which could impact disabled passengers, those requiring special tickets, and women traveling at night.
Importance of Ticket Offices
The hearing included insights from a whistleblower at Abellio Greater Anglia, who emphasized that ticket offices were used more extensively than commonly believed. Stations such as Billericay were reported to sell over 500 tickets per shift on weekends, indicating that the 12 percent average figure for tickets bought at ticket offices might be underestimated.
Trainline has been approached for comment on the matter.