Train passengers not getting fare pricePoor advice means passengers could pay too much

20 August 2009

Buying a train ticket

Book in advance to get cheap train tickets

Poor advice from rail staff means that some passengers could be paying more than double the cheapest train fare, an investigation published today by Which? has found.

The consumer body asked staff at station ticket offices and the National Rail Enquiries (NRE) call centre about the cheapest way to take specific journeys by train. Two thirds of station clerks and four in ten call centre staff failed to quote the cheapest fare, with the cheapest fare quoted in response to just 93 out of 200 questions.

Find out how to get best value train fare without relying on the help of rail staff with Which?'s guide to cheap train tickets.

Double the cheapest

Where there was a choice of train company, staff gave the more expensive fare 27 out of 50 times, with 80% of ticket offices ignoring the cheaper option. In some cases, the fare quoted was more than double the cheapest available option. For example, on the London to Grantham route, the majority quoted £57 (National Express East Coast), when the cheapest fare was £22 (First Hull Trains) for a journey departing at around the same time.

When asked about making the same journey twice in one week, two thirds of staff gave the price of two returns, although a rover or season ticket would have been better value.

More than half the questions about breaking a journey en route were answered incorrectly and when asked about journeys close to the end of a peak period, staff tended not to mention that delaying the time of departure - sometimes by just a few minutes - could result in substantial savings.

‘Not acceptable’

Which? editor, Martyn Hocking said: 'If you just want to know the cheapest way to get from A to B, you’d expect staff at the station ticket office or on the end of the rail enquiries helpline to be able to tell you. It’s not acceptable that passengers could be paying well over the odds because of poor advice. Rail firms must ensure that staff are properly trained and that fare information is clear.'

'Correct information'

The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) challenged the Which? investigation. Chief executive Michael Roberts explained: 'Independent research last year based on the kind of questions most commonly asked by passengers found that the correct information on rail fares was given 99% of the time.'

In response, Martyn Hocking said: 'Following ATOC’s criticism of the research we did two years ago on rail fares, we have quadrupled our sample size. As with then, the questions we asked this time were questions that any passenger faced with the complexities of Britain’s railways could be reasonably expected to ask, and any ticket office clerk or NRE advisor worth their salt could be reasonably expected to answer with the right information.'

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