Some rail passengers are getting a ‘free ride’ due to a lack of station ticket-buying facilities and no inspectors on trains, a report from a customer watchdog said today.
Other customers face long queues at stations to buy tickets, while those buying by phone are often left hanging on for ‘absurdly long times’, according to a ‘mystery shopper’ survey by the Passenger Focus organisation.
Some passengers have to pay on board as no ticket-buying facilities are available at some stations.
In Wales it was found that sometimes trains were so crowded that inspectors could not get through the train to collect fares, while on some trains there were no inspectors at all.
But nationwide, passengers seeking information and buying rail tickets were generally well served, added Passenger Focus.
As part of its research into rail ticket retailing, Passenger Focus’s team of mystery shoppers carried out 421 visits to stations, 56 on-board train checks, 250 calls to train operators’ telesales operations and 150 website checks.
The research found that during off-peak periods, almost half (48 per cent) of passengers at the largest stations have to queue for longer than the industry’s guideline time of three minutes.
At the weekend, 34 per cent of passengers queue for more than three minutes. During peak hours, 11 per cent have to queue for longer than the rail industry’s guideline of five minutes or less.
When telephoning for information, of those tested, East Coast Main Line operator GNER was the only telesales centre to provide information to every caller.
But 40 per cent of callers to GNER, 32 per cent of callers to South West Trains, 28 per cent of callers to Virgin Trains, 22 per cent of callers to First Great Western and 10 per cent of callers to TransPennine Express waited for more than 10 minutes to speak to an operator
On trains in Wales, there were occasions when ticket inspectors did not appear at all on trains even though passengers had not been able to pay for fares at the station.
On these routes, 23 per cent of the Passenger Focus researchers were unable to buy a ticket at all and during the weekend this rose to 58 per cent.
Passenger Focus Chief Executive Anthony Smith said: ‘Generally passengers are getting accurate advice, given out by helpful and courteous staff – this is good news.
‘This generally positive picture is marred by the fact that many passengers are having to queue to buy tickets at stations, particularly the bigger stations, for much longer than they should do. When trying to beat queues by telephoning to buy tickets, passengers are often left hanging on the telephone – sometimes for absurdly long times.’
He went on: ‘What a strange way to treat potential customers. People keen to pay up and use the railways are either being left standing in queues or are locked into listening to endless ‘muzak’ while waiting for the phone to be answered.
‘Paying on the train seems to equate to free travel in some parts of the country. It is unacceptable to penalise those passengers honest enough to pay and also limits the potential for investment in services. Before hiking prices, train operating companies must collect what is due to them.’
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