Monday, 6 August 2007

Fare's Fair

I love that expression. It's pleasantly cheesy. To return to our regularly shceduled programme with the commentary that I promised on Friday: Ticketless Travel. I am sure that you enlightened souls who read this blog buy your tickets. I am sure that the vast majority of you are season ticket holders who have given large sums of your money to First Great Western in advance. However, there are chancers out there, what FGW refers to officially as 'the selfish minority' who do not buy tickets.

This has led, over recent years to barriers springing up all over the network and an increase in the number of Revenue Protection Inspectors. It is currently a fact that First Great Western stops several thousand people a week at Paddington alone, who have either no, or the wrong ticket. It is also a fact that a study not too long ago found that as many as 1 in 5 people did not have a ticket to travel. For a company that carries as many people as First Great Western, those are alarming statistics.

Barriers have become a necessity to protect revenue. Much as many may malign them, consider the alternative. That being that 20% of people get away without buying a ticket. First Great Western incurs the extra costs associated with carrying these people for no return. First Great Western decides that they need to make up the lost revenue. What happens? You guessed it: a fares increase. Judging by people's comments on ticket prices, nobody wants that.

Not all of the First Great Western network is gated of course. Many routes do not have the automated revenue protection that a barrier provides. Hence the Inspectors or RPIs. Nobody likes these guys. Nobody likes having their tickets checked 2 or 3 times each journey and almost everyone seems to have a problem with their attitude.

To be fare, I know several RPIs. At least one I can say I'm good friends with. Some of them are the nicest guys you could wish to meet. Equally, some need a good kick in the ass and tuition on how to walk without their knuckles dragging. Some do have a bad attitude. In all fairness, they do a crappy job and take more stick than just about anyone and it tends to sour their moods and their outlook on humanity. Some enjoy their job a little too much.

The most common phrase I hear when customers expound on these gentlemen after being caught without a ticket is 'made me feel like a criminal.' Let's not beat around the bush: you are. Not having a ticket is an offence uner the railway bye-laws and can give rise to criminal prosecution. I'm also sure that at least 50% of the people in these situations did not sit there meekly and be abused by the RPIs like they would have us believe.

At the end of the day, they're doing a job and the vast majority will not go off on a customer for no reason. Try being nice and see where it gets you.

Now, on to the issue of a lack of tickets itself. If you board at a station with a ticket office and without a ticket, I'm afraid there is no excuse. 'There was a queue' is not an excuse, although by far the most common. Get to the station earlier, buy your ticket in advance. I have almost as little sympathy for those with the wrong ticket. Yes, the ticketing system can be complicated, but if you're unsure, phone NRES and ask, phone customer services and ask, spend 5 minutes on and find out. At the end of the day, you can't expect to have your hand held by the train company every step of the way and it's time to take some individual responsbility.



Economy Klaus said...

What narks me is when they hold you uop at the ticket barriers at Paddington to check your ticket even though it will be checked again on the train itself by the train manager. Why this need for the belt and braces approach?

JP said...

When it comes to ticket queues, I can appreciate the logic of turning up and allowing enough time, but there are sometimes unforeseen circumstances. For example, on my regular commute I'm usually in a queue behind at most one or two people, but last week the platform was buzzing and there were four or five in front. I caught my train, having bought a ticket, but only just...

Now maybe it's because as a regular I have a finely tuned morning routine, but somehow I can't bring myself to allow for an extra five minutes when a queue this size is otherwise unprecedented.

I can appreciate that it would be difficult to verify such stories, but to penalise the regulars who otherwise always have a ticket when such things occur is a bit harsh.

On another note, I am pleased to have recently discovered this blog and am really interested in what you have to say. Keep it up!

Insider said...

Hmm, more interesting points all round. To answer your point klaus, the extra security is because there is no guarentee that the ticket will be checked on the train. I'm sure we can all name journeys where the Train Manager has failed to make an appearance. We expect them to check tickets but we know they don't always. This can be cbecause they an't be bothered or, especially on short journeys, because they have other things to do. We have the RPIs there just to make sure.

It does seem officious at times and we would not need to do it so much if we could guarentee that a TM would be able to check tickets but we can't at the present time.

Thanks to jp for the kind words. I am glad that some people are interested in hearing a different point of view than the usual FGW bashing.

I appreciate your points on queuing. Pesonally I hate getting up in the mornings and the thought of doing it 5 minutes earlier is somehting that fills me with dread.

Strangely enough, it doesn't seem to be the regulars who get into a tizzy and throw the queue excuse around as they do have a routine. I also agree with you that to penalise the regulars is a bit harsh. As you say, however, there is really no way to verify such things and, with the amount of chancers out there, staff are suspicious. Hopefully, this will get better in the future and alowances can be made, but its a difficult time at the moment

Anonymous said...

I don't object to ticket checks and ticket barriers and I am all for catching people who do not have a ticket. My beef with FGW is that they do not carry out their revenue protection job in the most customer frendly way. For example:

1) If you buy your ticket on FGW's website in advance you get sent a large format ticket that does not fit the gates. This is stupid and means that you have to go though the manual gate.

2) The gates at Paddington retain your tickets. This is no good if you need to keep the ticket for an expenses claim. Why no have gates that return your ticket with "cancelled" and the date printed on them?

3) At Paddington the platforms with the gates are those that tend to be used by the HSTs. These ate trains where it is feasable to do on-board checks. The commuter trains (the ones that Thames used to run) are surely more prone to ticketless travel and yet these tend to use the ungated platforms.

4) FGW claim that gates platforms are safer because they discourage access by trouble makers. If that were the case why are the barriers open in the late evening when antisocial behavour is more likely.

5) 8 years ago I travelled to Paddington from Bath and purchased my tciket on the train. I can no longer do that. Buying a ticket before and using the mained gates adds about 10 minutes to my door to door travel time. It is equivalent of slowing the trains down by 10%. This slowing must discourage people.

6) I am not convinced that for intercity journeys gated platforms are needed. It ought to be possible to check tickets on board and this should be done wheneven possible in order to be more customer friendly. Heathrow express had very high ticket prices (lots of revenue to protect) and very very efficient on board checks. I have never travelled with them and not had my ticket checked. They have a 15 minute journey time. If they can manage onboard checks then FGW ought to be able to as well.

7) The ticket barriers at Paddington compound the problem caused by very short notification of departure platforms. Everyone sures angary thru the barriers and then runs up the platform. This must be a health a safety issue. I am sure that people have been injured in teh rush


Anonymous said...

"It does seem officious at times and we would not need to do it so much if we could guarentee that a TM would be able to check tickets but we can't at the present time."

Surely this is an admission that FGW can't control their own staff! If TMs are tasked to check tcikets then it isn't to mush to expect them to do that on every train or else face the sack.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for catching genuine fare dodgers, but the railway makes it far too difficult to purchase tickets. Take Nailsea station, for example. It used to have a ticket office until a year ago, and the chap there could shift 3 or 4 people a minute selling tickets to Bristol (he stored a supply printed in advance). Now the office is closed, and about 1 passenger per minute clears the ticket machine. Result - in the morning, queues that far exceed the level required under the penalty fare scheme - sometimes 15 people can be waiting. It's unreasonable to expect people to wait this long.
And recently I tried to buy a ticket under the GroupSave scheme, and of course it didn't give the option, so I had to purchase on the train.
In fareness(!), I haven't seen anyone penalty fared yet, but FGW will have a case to answer for, as they are not able to meet the reasonable queuing requirements at at least this station.

Ollie said...

It's worth noting that barriers at Paddington are currently on those platforms due to that being the only area they can put them.
Although there are talks of getting platforms 9-14 done I believe.
Also would agree that local services are likely to have fare dodgers, but they are also the services which revenue teams focus on.

I may try and do an in depth blog on this at a later date. "Insider" can correct me if I get anything wrong.

Insider said...

To anonymous who mentioned nailsea. I agree that human contact was al ot better than machines in a big way and that the machines are slower.

First are making a big investment in new ticket machines and eventually the idea is that every station will have enough machines to meet demand. I thin the initla plan though is to get at least one in every station that does not have a ticket ofice or has a ticket office that opens later in the day and then to roll out more over time.

The machines will also be getting sdoftware upgrades so that they can sell tickets like the Groupsave, process railcard discounts and a load of other funky stuff. Thisis in the future, but it should be well underway by the start of next year, if all goes well.

Ollie is quite right. The current barrier locations are the only logical places for them at present. Whilst it would be possible (maybe) to shift platform alocations so that the trains FGW wanted came on to gated platforms, they are happy enough having the intercity ones gated. Eventually, the plan is to gate every platform at Paddington, certainly before 2009.

John Roberts said...

Thanks for your comment re the ticket machines. (I was anon of Nailsea!) Another comment about the machines. On a bright day they can be very difficult to read - on a sunny day if the sun is in the wrong place then they are practically impossible to use. Try it some time! (OK, granted the concept of a sunny day has been a bit alien in these parts of late). Perhaps a little more care could be taken with future installations with their siting and screen direction.

Ollie said...

The issue with platform allocation would be to do with the way they are connected to the mainline, for example a train for Bristol gets put on platform 10, it would have to travel on to relief and transfer to main at a good opportunity, need to bear in mind that if a HST is put on relief it's not easy to cross over in terms of there being other services coming in to London (other fast FGW Services and the Heathrow Express) and on the relief it will get stuck behind stopping services.

Also note during the evening peak that all trains that go from a platform with barriers is usually restricted. So on the revenue side this is good, as barriers are programmed to reject off peak tickets. Obviously when un-restricted services go on these platforms it makes it dificult.

Apologies if this comment is not easy to follow.

JP said...

Talking of "Fare's Fair", can you explain to me why pricing anomalies exist such as Bath Spa to London Paddington being a ludicrous £30 return (with a YP card) but to stay on the same train and buy Bath-Didcot and Didcot-London tickets costs a more reasonable £20 in total?

I think actually that this is deceptive and immoral because anyone who turns up on the day and asks for the cheapest fare to London is going to be ripped off and pay 50% more than they should.

Also, there has been a lot of talk over recent years about 'simple fare structures'. I don't doubt that it is less confusing than it was but I have just been totting up my commuting expenses and it's very apparent that the system is still far from simple. My commuting from Bath to Swindon, using tickets bought "on the day" has cost me either £5.60, £6.60, £8 or £12.10 depending on whether I travel before 9.30, between 9.30 and 10 or after 10 and whether or not my YP card is valid (which it wasn't for some trains in June but is now in July/August). Anyone who thinks that this is simple and transparent clearly never buys any rail tickets.

On the positive side, I do feel that the Advance Fares are good, and simpler to understand than some give them credit for. They can also be excellent value, but they are not a viable alternative to on the day tickets for those of us who need the flexibility.

John Roberts said...

I'm not a FGW apologist, but I think deceptive and immoral is overstating it a bit. Just think of it as an opportunity, which online fare searches make much easier to find. These anomalies have always existed, and are inevitable in a complex fare structure. I'm aware that I can save a fair bit on the extortionate peak fare from Bristol into London by buying a Day Return to Swindon and then another onwards. The ticket staff are required to sell you those tickets if you ask, but are under no obligation to make you aware of the anomaly.

As for the YP railcard not having a time restriction in July/August, this has existed ever since it was a student railcard 20 years ago. The aim as I understand it is to minimise fare abstraction by those using the card for a daily commute to work or college. In July and August the colleges are out, so the restriction is less necessary.

P.S. Definition of deceptive and immoral - charging viewers £1.75 per call for a competition which they have a minute 1 in 100,000 chance of winning, and then excluding half the calls from the draw anyway.

JP said...

Without wishing to make this comments page like another forum, I'd like to thank John for his response to my comment.

You're right, I was overstating it a bit, but only because it really frustrates me. Besides when the implication is that the ticket staff will find you the cheapest fare, and yet aren't under obligation to tell you about such anomalies, it is deceptive. And even if it's been happening for years, that doesn't make it any better.

Also, I'm not whinging about the YP discount in July and August (far from it :)) but just wanted to highlight the fact that the fare system is unnecessarily confusing and complicated, and whoever says it isn't is kidding themselves. Four different fares for travel between 0845 and 1015 is mad.

John Roberts said...

Apologies. You're right... we shouldn't let this degenerate into another forum. We should focus on the subjects raised by Insider and the valuable insight we get from him, and avoid it becoming a dialogue between third parties.

Billyo said...

Hi Insider,

I've been away for a few weeks and have only just come by your blog, as you may be aware, I'm not a massive fan of FGW and it is interesting to hear the opinions of an insider.

With regard to ticket barriers, I concur, like most of your readers, that revenue protection is a key issue and I have no time for fare dodgers.

For those commuters who don't have time to buy a morning ticket, I have a simple answer, buy one the evening before when you get back to the station. This is what I do, and the ticket office is always quiet.

With regards to the barriers, the new ones put in place at Bath Spa are frankly dangerous. There are just three gates (not yet fully functional) and already this week there has been an occasion when trains have arrived at platform 1 and 2 simultaneously and total chaos has ensued. The two sets of doors from the tunnel to the street are bolted shut and if there was an emergency I would hate to think of the consequences. I suspect we will just have to live with it though.

Also do you know if having increased revenue by 20% by installing barriers and catching the 1 in 5 non-paying travellers, will these savings be passed on to customers in the form of fare reductions.

Insider said...

Ollie is again spot on about platform allocations. As there are only a couple of crossing points in the Thames Valley, it can be difficult to get trains on to the right lines if the platform alocations are mixeed. Another good point about the need for having restricted services come on to gated platforms. In the end, I think that it does make things easier.

I think the issue of ticketing anomolies like the one that jp raised do deserve to be discussed in depth and I may well do that this evening.

I can understand the strength of feeling on the issue of tickets, especially when fares are high, which I why I will do my best to make things clear.

Hi Billyo. Your comment about buying tickets the night before is a good one and one that we have tried to publicise but it does not seem to have met with much popularity.

Funnily enough, you are not the first person to mention the Bath barriers as being dangerous. I personally feel that the location for them was not ideal and that they should not have been introduced until they could be made fully functional.

I would hope that the additional 20% revenue from catching the fare dodgers would be passed on to customers. It will be difficult to catch all of them until the network (and especially Paddington) is fully gated but I think that the savings will be passed on in the future.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't one way of reducing the queues at stations be to sell carnet type tickets or multiple jurney tickets. Staff of my firm travel between Bath and London once every few weeks with about 4 journeys made in total each week. It would be easier for us if FGW were able to deliver a book of say 20 tickets to our office every month and for us to use them as and when we needed them. It would save us queuing, and it would help FGW's cash flow. Most other countries allow this kind of thing but not the UK.



Lee Fletcher said...

They have a carnet ticket scheme on the Plymouth - Gunnislake and Exeter - Barnstaple lines.

Billyo said...

The four lovely new ticket machines at Bath Spa don't allow purchases of next day's tickets like the old ones did.

I mentioned it to the ticket seller who informed me they had notified the relavent people that this issue needed to be addressed, but they had been told it would probably take months to fix.

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eightf48544 said...

British train fares are basuically a shambles.

I have just come back from Germany where the whole country is divided up into tarrif unions with zonal fares,

These fares are valid on all publib transport in the area trains trams buses and even the Elbe ferry in Bad Shandau.

They usually have a an unlimted day ticket (after 09:00 weekdays to 03:00 following days) and samll group tickets. e.g. Berlin zones ABC 5 people 15.60 Euro. This takes you out to Potsdam.

Dresden 5 people all zones 22 Euro (this will take you from Meissen to Bad Shandau on the S baun.

Then there are Lander tickets which give you unlimited travel for 5 people (9:00 weekdays to 03:00 following day. 4 of us travelled from Dresden to Quedlinburg (on the day of a CDL strike). Bus from Leipzig to Halle so we were an hour later in quedlinburg that if there had been a train from Leipzig to Halle.

it was over 100 miles and cost just 26 Euros for 4 of us.

The only problem is they are only valid on RE RB and S bahn. But there is a huge netwrok of RE trains. They are slower than the ICEs and ICs but for that price who cares.

~I@VE also done Straslund to Stettin (Poland) on one.

We also did one from Chemnitz (Zone 13) to Zwickau Zone XX via citybahn Chemnitz (tram on ex DB branch) the end staion is in Zone YY.

Guest what ticket we were sold? a ZONE 12 with all adjacent zones: 18 Euro for 5 of us.

Zone 12 happened to border all the Zones we wished to travel through. Can you imagine a TOC in England being able to issue such a ticket?

Anonymous said...

Where is admin?!
By the way, anybody home?!

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