Thursday, 23 August 2007

Reader Mail Vol III (The Wide World of Tickets)

Firstly, I would like to welcome the newest member of staff at In defence of First Great Western. My flatmate, who has now been press-ganged into bringing me toasted sandwiches while I write these. Let's have 0.5 secs silent contemplation of the hard work that he does.

This edition of reader mail is devoted to Tim and his comments on tickets in response to my last post. They can be found here. (Scroll way down). Lets go to the questions.

1. Off peak season tickets. Interesting question. It is true that regular season tickets are relatively cheap and a lot better option if you travel regularly. The fact that they are valid at any time also sweetens the deal (if you fancy travelling the route to work on yourday off) and that is one reason why they are not offered. The other reason is that there is little demand for them. There are not many customers who ravel regularly enough to make a season ticket worthwhile but make all their journeys off-peak. Season tickets are aimed at the commuter market and there aren't that many with a nice enough work schedule that they can avoid rush hour entirely.

2. Off peak returns. The official explanation for this ones that the return portion of the ticket s heavily discounted in order to encourage people to make both legs of their journey with us. Personally, I do not see the logic as the price difference is usually 10p and it costs more than that to take a passenger on a journey. I suppose it can help to develop loyalty and stop people straying to coaches but that only really works if the journey goes well. I think it is more likely that people would not be willing to pay twice the price of an off-peak single for a return ticket and reducing the single price so that a double price return would be reasonably priced is not cost effective.

3. Off-peak singles. That is a good point and was one of the thoughts behind making the new range of advcance pircahse fares single only. This allowed people to mix and match their tickets and also, if they could only get a coach on one leg, it discouraged them from getting the coach on both legs because all the single tickets were prohibatively priced.

There is a problem as you point out in that these advance purchase fares are not offered on all journeys and with the rail-link coach, only returns are offered (on the theory that if you go to an airport, sooner or later, you'll be coming back). I agree that there are a multitude of situations where an off peak single that was half the price of the return would be useful but again, it somes down to money.

With peak time returns, the single is, of course, half the price of the return, because the amount of money involved is larger. It would not make sense to have a standard open return 10p more than a single. Nor would people stand for having a single 10p less than the current return price. In addition to that, we like to encourage people out of the peak times, so making the single half the return encourages them to only go peak one way if that's all they need.

Good points there and I hope the answers helped. I will see if I can bring the points on off-peak singles to the attention of those who make such decisions and we may be able to get somehting done for the future.


Anonymous said...

Great thanks.

Apparently Virgin have started selling off peak singles at half the price of saver returns. All very good except that the tickets are confusingly called "half saver returns" when they are in fact single tickets not returns. When TOCs are trying to make tickets easier to understand this doesn't help clarify things and makes as much sense as calling a train company "One" (think about the following station annoucement that might be heard at Liverpool Street and tell me if "the eight forty one service to Colchester" leaves at 8:40 or 8:41?), or FGW selling tickets called something like "First minute standard" (an advanced purchase standard class ticket but the occasional user could be forgiven for thinking it was a first class ticket).

I know I am splitting hairs here and the important thing is that good tickets are avilable not what they are called.

Just one other ticket issue I came across a few years ago which I still don't think has been resolved involves through tickets to Bristol Airport via the Airlink coach from Temple Meads. A few years ago I used to travel from Bath to the airport quite regularly. A small amount of money can (at least in theory) be saved by buying a combined ticket at Bath Spa station all the way from Bath to the airport rather then buying a separate ticket for the bus. At Bath they sell singles and returns. The return on offer is a day return (or presumably a cheap day return if I had travelled off-peak). An open return or a saver return is not available because the journey is too short and those tickets are generally only available for longer distance journeys (although strangely a saver first return would appear to be available - not that many people would opt to pay for a first class ticket for such a short journey). BUT most people travelling to the airport will be catching a flight and will not be returning the same day. Wouldn't it be sensible if period returns were allowed for all journeys ending at an air or sea port regardless of the journey length? The situation with Bristol airport is compounded by the fact that if you want to buy a single from the airport to Bath you can't buy one because the bus driver only sells tickets for the bus part of the journey - he lacks the expertise and equipment to start selling rail tickets and there isn't a rail ticket office like the one at Heathrow.

Integrated ticketing is a great idea and it concerns me that it might be withdrawn to Bristol airport because someone in FGW management looking at ticket sale statistics finds that hardly anyone is buying the through tickets (I bet that if you looked at the stats yourself you would find many times more Bath-Airport singles sold than Airport-Bath singles sold)

About 3 or 4 years ago I wrote to FGW to complain about this. I was told that there was nothing they could do because I was told (I think correctly) that Wessex Trains priced that journey. So I wrote to Wessex to complain and was told that there was nothing that they could do because First operated the bus (also correct but absolutely irrevelent). I supose I should have written to the airport next (apparently they subsidise the bus so they might have had an interest?) but instead I gave up. I wonder if the problem can be resolved now that First is in charge of the bus and all of the trains?



Lee Fletcher said...

Off - topic , I know but , as this is a "Reader Mail" I hope that Insider will allow it :

A follow - up on the pacers (thanks to one of our regular forum contributors) :

"September's Modern Railways confirms that FGW is to take on 12 142s on a short term lease (how short is short one asks?) to provide additional capacity and to cover units away on refurbishment. They will mainly be allocated to the Cornish branches."

Personally , I hope not.

Pacers were occasionally used on the Cornish branch lines in the 80's but this was generally avoided where possible due to problems with wheel wear and the noise on sharp corners. I have also been reminded that with their rigid wheelbase they also got stuck on tight bends.

Apparently , they are banned from going any further west than Newton Abbot.

Insider , do you know any more on this?

Insider said...

Lee, tis is not strictly supposed to be in the public domain at present but it seems that Modern Railways have gotten hold of a snippet of information.

Thankfully, they are wrong (and not for the first time). Although there will probably be up to a dozen class 142s making an appearance shortly, and although they will be covering for DMUs away for refurbishment, they will not be working any further west than Paignton, mostly for the reasons you mention.

Hope that helps.

Lee Fletcher said...

Many thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

Hi Insider.... could do with some help.

I have read some of your blog with interest as it appears to be getting a bit beyond the surface of the issues of late running trains and the incredibly complex ticket system and a bit nearer to the nitty gritty.

I am a commuter that travels from Slough to Paddington on what I wish I could say was a regular basis, but frequent I suspect would be a more accurate term.

I too, have stood, sweated, queued, had trains cancelled, sat on 'fast' trains stuck behind slow trains etc.. as have many of us.

In the industry I work in we tend to go into root cause analysis in a big way, then come up with an action plan to address the issues.

Bearing in mind its clear the FLW have some intelligent people working for it, I am sure they must do the same thing.

I am aware that the track I am on is congested, but I am also aware that this is very old news.

I would really,really like to know what the root cause of issues of late (passengers definition not the ridiculous SRA definition) trains are, what is the plan to address them and who owns the issue either within or outside FLW.

My late Gandfather Trevor Green worked as a foreman at Old Oak Common and he predicted much of what is transpiring, but in his memory I would like to see if we couldn't elevate the debate a little nearer the actual facts rather than the emotion. In his day one big cause of delay when a signal failure occurred was that drivers did not know the rules on proceeding with caution...

So Insider what are the root causes of the poor peak hours service between Slough-Paddington and back, and who owns the actions to sort them ?

Thanks Brian.