The National Rail System Is Insane

I have just returned from a short break in Liverpool. By booking through Megatrain, the train tickets from London cost £5 there and £3 back. Even using every (legitimate) option to reduce my fares, I can’t get to London and back from Guildford for the same money. The full standard fare too Liverpool is £69, although I don’t know how many people actually pay that. This is insane.

Now, I enjoy getting a bargain as much as anybody but there has to be something wrong with a system that allows standard class fares on the same train to differ by up to 2,300% depending on how much effort the customer goes to to find the cheapest option. I am sure the train companies feel that they are getting the most out of the customers by selling at all price levels but I think that most people find the whole thing confusing, annoying and even exploitative.

Once in Liverpool sanity was restored. In Liverpool, Travelcards are called Saveaways and the zones are not concentric but, when it comes to the stuff that matters, Merseytravel clearly thinks along the same lines as TfL, rejecting the craziness of the National Rail system. They are just getting started on their equivalent of Oyster, which they hope will reverse falling levels of bus use, as Oyster has in London. Clearly they are on the right track.

If this stuff works in London, Liverpool and cities all round the world then why can’t we have the same thing for the whole UK? This isn’t about ideology or politics; It is about a system that works and a system that doesn’t. We need regional bodies, like TfL and Merseytravel, for every region of the UK. We need a single cashless payment system, supporting price capped pay-as-you-go and season tickets, for every bus and train in the country. We need a system that does not penalise the casual or disorganised traveller with fares 23 times as high as others just because it hopes it can get away with it.

If we could have a coherent UK wide transport system that always charged a consistent, predictable and fair price to all its users then people would have more confidence in it and would use it more. I would gladly give up my occasional bargain ticket for that.

I wouldn’t hold your breath for that though. In the meantime I guess all we can do is keep our wits about us and grab whatever cheap fares we can find.

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August 8, 2011. Sensible, Travel.

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