Trains: What’s a fair fare system?

This week there are more ineffective attempts to tinker with the train fare system. The entire price network is a mass of anomalies and bad logic; what a mess. Of course, if you’re prepared to do the work you can beat it (see the Cheap Train Tickets guide), yet sadly the lack of coherent structure means this has to be by trial and error.

Why the system makes no sense.

There are more problems with the ticket pricing system than there are spam e-mails about Viagra. Yet to illustrate what I’m talking about, here are a couple of examples:

  • Journey length doesn’t count. Compare the cost of 30 mile journeys across the country, it’ll vary from pennies to £10s. There’s no pricing consistency.
  • Split ticketing. While it’s one of the big tricks in my Cheap Train Fares guide, frankly it’s absurd. As an example, for a London to Penzance return, the cheapest ticket was a standard open return at £257. This train stops in Plymouth and by instead buying four singles… London to Plymouth, Plymouth to Penzance, Penzance to Plymouth, and Plymouth to London the total cost for those tickets is just £48; a saving of £209.

A fair fare proposal

What I’m about to suggest has more holes than a golf course. It doesn’t take into account the privatisation and multi-company nature of the industry.

Yet what I want to do is see what ideas people have for solutions to this problem, so I thought I should put something up to be shot down to start with (please suggest your own ideas in the discussion link at the end).

  • Each journey should have a BASE COST which depends on journey length

    The following are some made up figures, to give an indication of how the system would work, rather than exact prices.

    First ten miles… 60p/mile
    Ten to 20 miles… 40p/mile
    20 to 30 miles… 30p/mile
    30 to 100 miles 20p/mile
    100 and above 15p/mile.

    Thus a ten mile journey would have a base cost of £6.

    A 30 mile jouney £13.
    A 100 mile journey £27
    A 200 mile journey £42

  • The actual cost then depends on when & how you book

    Again the following are some made up figures, to give an indication of how the system would work rather than exact prices.

    Book over six weeks ahead: Pay 1/3 of BASE COST
    Book over four weeks ahead: Pay ½ of BASE COST
    Book a week ahead: Pay base of BASE COST
    Book on the day/late: Pay 2 times of BASE COST
    Book a flexible ticket on any train: Pay 3 times whatever the cost depending on when you booked it (above)
    Book a first class ticket. Pay 3 times the cost depending on when you booked it and flexibility (or 1.5 times at weekends when there’s no restaurant menu)

    There would then be a 50% premium for peak travel.

There are ways to vary this system depending on the route’s competitiveness. The regulator could allow companies a discretionary multiple of base; but this way at least there’d be some consistency and legitimate expectation.

What do you think, what’s your solution?

Comment and Discuss