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Rail regulator calls for ticket machine price guarantee

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is calling on train operators to refund passengers after its new research showed that overall one in five mystery shoppers selected a more expensive ticket than necessary or were at risk of a penalty fare when using a ticket machine.

Using mystery shoppers, ORR found that whilst the majority of users did buy the most appropriate ticket for their journey, seven per cent did not select the most flexible ticket for their journey (with the majority risking a penalty fare) and 13 per cent actually chose a more expensive ticket than required.

Also:

  • Two thirds (65 per cent) of ORR’s mystery shoppers did not see any information on the type of tickets which could or couldn’t be bought on the machine.
  • 57 per cent of mystery shoppers reported the ticket machines did not explain the times when peak and off-peak tickets could be used for travel.
  • Almost a third of mystery shoppers (32 per cent) reported no information on ticket restrictions or validity was provided on the machine.

ORR is therefore calling on train operators to introduce a price guarantee, refunding passengers who find that they could have bought a cheaper ticket. This is necessary to build trust and demonstrate they are responding to passengers’ needs.

Said the ORR: ‘It’s essential train companies learn lessons from the research and adopt good practice. This includes providing clear information on the range of tickets available and their restrictions and validities, such as peak or off peak’

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) launched a 10 point plan to improve ticket machines in January last year, committing in February 2017 to complete it by the end of the year. ORR wants to see improvements in place for passengers as soon as possible, and has asked RDG to make clear what it expects to be delivered, by whom and when, in the short term to address the issues our research identifies.

 John Larkinson ORR’s director of railway markets & economics said: ‘Everyone travelling by train should be able to buy the most appropriate ticket for their journey.

‘Despite investment in new technology and the removal of jargon from ticket machines, our new research shows passengers may be paying more for their journey than necessary.

‘Our mystery shoppers found ticket machines are missing important information on ticket choice, restrictions and validity.

‘To quickly benefit passengers, the Rail Delivery Group must set out what improvements to ticket machines will be made in the short term, and we are calling on train companies to commit to refund anyone who finds that they could have bought a cheaper ticket for the same journey.’

ORR is monitoring the rail industry’s work to improve ticket machines, and will carry out a repeat of the research in a year’s time to check on progress.

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group said: ‘Train companies are working to reform fares through a number of agreed trials which will enable simplification of the fares structure. Complex, decades-old government rail fare regulations make it more difficult for train companies to offer the right, simple options on ticket machines.

‘Simplyfing the number and types of fares in the system will let train companies provide customers with clear information and help them to make better informed choices. We want customers to get the best possible deal every time they travel by train, however they buy their tickets.’

Vickie Sheriff, Which? director of campaigns and communications, said: ‘The current ticketing system is a mess with passengers finding it far too difficult to find the best ticket for their journeys.

‘It’s unacceptable that people are paying over the odds and train companies need to refund passengers who’ve paid more than they should. Train companies must do much more to ensure that passengers can find the right fare every time.’