Train ticket machines might save you time, but they cost you money…
We’ve all done it- looked at the long queue full of idiots who’ve seemingly never caught a train before and decided to buy our train ticket from the helpful ticket machine standing idly by. After all, modern technology is here to improve our lives, right? Unfortunately, that might not necessarily be true. And almost certainly isn't going to save you money.
An investigation by the Telegraph has found that actually, using a ticket machine could end up costing you hundreds of pounds more than asking at the ticket office- while railway clerks are required by law to offer the cheapest tickets, regardless of which company they work for- ticket machines are under no such obligation and, not only don’t offer the cheapest fares, they also hide cheaper fares where no one will ever find them. And sometimes, it can simply depend on which particular machine you use when there are a choice in larger stations.
For example, if you wanted to travel from Leeds to Birmingham, if you used Northern Rail’s ticket machine, a First-Class Anytime Return to Birmingham is sold at £271. However, if you slid a few feet to the right and used the East Coast trains machine, you could get the same journey using a First-Class Off-peak Return for £145.70. This type of ticket is not available for customers using Northern Rail’s machines, but saves £125.30.
Similarly East Coast machines at King’s Cross offered a ticket from London Euston to Liverpool on a First-Class Anytime Single fare for £229.50 but a Thameslink & Great Northern machine sells a London Midland-only First-Class Anytime Single for £94, saving £135.50.
Other tips and tricks available at the ticket office, but not at machines include split ticketing (where buying three tickets instead of one to cover the journey from Carlisle to Manchester could save passengers up to £50), and group discounts such as a £45.20 saving for four adults travelling London to Dover. And you can always ask a ticket officer about the possibility of ‘stopping short’ a strange quirk in a complicated ticketing system which can mean it is cheaper to buy a ticket for a longer train journey than you intend to travel, and just get off the train early.
Mike Hewitson, head of policy at the rail watchdog Passenger Focus, said travellers wanted information to be given to them in a clear and simple way. “Our research shows us that ticket machines still aren’t particularly user-friendly,” he said. “Passengers should be able to use ticket machines and be confident in what they are offered, without needing to be 'experts’ in the system.”
Campaign group Railfuture said that passengers were being forced to “jump through hoops” to get a reasonable fare. Spokesperson Bruce Williamson said it was “clearly wrong” that the cheapest fares were sometimes “buried” behind a number of option menus while the more expensive ones were promoted on the main default screens.“Cheaper options have to be readily obvious and easy to find, not hidden from customers,” he stated, firmly.
East Coast said it was not aware that the cheaper London Midland-routed fares were missing from its machines at King’s Cross and said this had now been changed. Northern Rail said it was working with its suppliers to ensure all necessary data were fed into its ticket machines to offer the best value fares to customers.