Rail firms forced to stop ‘hiding’ cheap fares

Code of practice aims to give passengers best deals. Picture: PA
Code of practice aims to give passengers best deals. Picture: PA
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Rail passengers are to be told by train companies if they can get cheaper tickets for their journeys, following an agreement by rail companies.

Train operators across Britain will sign up to a code of practice designed to help travellers get the best deal possible.

The move follows a summit called by the rail minister, Claire Perry, and comes on the eve of a 2.2 per cent rise in rail fares.

Ms Perry said passengers should get the best possible deal for every journey.

A summit last month with representatives from across the rail industry saw the agreement of a new code of practice, which has yet to be fully drafted.

It was proposed following criticism that rail passengers using self-service machines can pay far more than if they go to a ticket office.

Rail companies have agreed that their machines will be labelled clearly, to inform travellers that cheaper fares for some journeys may be available. The code will be overseen by the Office of Rail Regulation and it is aimed at ending inconsistencies between prices available in ticket offices and machines in stations.

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Changes are aimed at ending the anomaly in prices available at the counter, where staff have access to the complex database of fares, discounts and promotions, and the more limited options in the automated service.

Ms Perry said: “I am absolutely determined that passengers should get the best possible deal for every journey.

“There is no excuse for poor-quality information, restricted ticket choice or confusing screen directions at ticket machines.

“I welcome the fact that the industry has responded to the challenge with some positive actions which will be rolled out by next March.

“However, one summit is not the end of our discussions. I will be closely monitoring progress and I will not hesitate to hold the industry to account if improvements are not made.”

Some machines promote expensive fares, bury cheaper options and do not apply discounts for groups or families, leading to a difference in ticket prices of up to £100.

As part of the rail fare code of conduct, train companies will be expected to overhaul their systems to ensure that customers are automatically offered all available ticket options.

As a first step, they must label all self-service machines by March to warn passengers they could save money by using the counter service.

Michael Roberts, head of industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said: “While industry research shows the vast majority of customers find the correct fare using ticket machines, we know there is more we can do to make them better.”

In Scotland, there will be no rise next year in off-peak fares, which have been frozen since January 2013. Peak fares will rise by 2.5 per cent, the same as the July inflation rate. It means on average overall rail fares will rise by 1.5 per cent.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Passenger Focus, said: “Passengers will welcome this increased focus on fares and ticketing. Our research shows many are confused by ticket vending machines.”

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