Ticket machine woes

Ticket Machine ScreenTicket offices are opening for shorter times, and it’s more common to buy tickets online for collection from a station these days. Consequently, ticket machines are becoming more and more important – and have more potential to frustrate the unwary passenger.

FixMyTransport users have reported a wide range of ticket machine issues. The good news is that they often relate to problems that are easy to fix, and we have had some good results in this area.

So, what causes passengers frustration? Well, there are ticket machines with screens that are impossible to read. There are  ticket machines that are out of order, although in this case SouthEastern do explain how this is handled and how the passenger should not end up paying more than the original fare.

There can be long queues when machines are out of action, raising the question of whether it is reasonable to abandon the queue and buy a ticket on the train. Despite rail companies specifying maximum queueing times in their passenger charters, it is unclear whether this gives passengers any rights to abandon a queue. Passengers are also rightly concerned when little seems to be done to make sure they are travelling with valid tickets.

Finding out who is responsible for problems at a particular ticket machine can also be a challenge – but one we can help you with.

Then there’s the issue of collecting pre-paid tickets from machines.

Some stations allow you to pick up pre-paid tickets at the ticket office; some insist you only use the machines. Some companies will allow you to travel with just the booking information if you join a train at an unstaffed station with no machines (Greater Anglia recently said they allow this, and you can travel until you get to a station where you can pick it up), whereas other companies don’t. If you know the policy of your local operator, please tell us in a comment below. It’d be great to compile a definitive list!

Unfortunately for passengers at stations such as Liverpool South Parkway, there are no ticket machines, and even if there were, none of Merseyrail’s machines support pre-paid ticket pick-up. And even if you find a machine at your station, it is easy to pick the wrong ticket due to the complex fares system.

Buying a ticket in advance is not always the solution: many machines will only issue tickets for travel on the same day, and those which do sell tickets for the next day often limit them to expensive peak ones for travel early the following morning.

Many franchises have commitments to electronic ticketing and this will eventually help reduce the dependency on machines. Until then, if you’re infuriated by any ticket machine issues, FixMyTransport can be used to support campaigns pushing for improvements. That’s got to be better than the traditional method of giving the machine a good kick and swearing a blue streak.

Rail Fares and Ticketing Review

Rail ticket

Rail fares and tickets are not surprisingly a common source of complaint on FixMyTransport. Although there are expensive fares, there are also many which are cheap or reasonable, but the overall impression is one of a fares system riddled with unfairness and traps for the unwary, and a rail industry unwilling to do anything to fix the fundamental problems.

Examples which have been reported are the confusion of having cheaper fares for going further, where it is difficult to spot the right ticket on a machine from the confusing selection available and where splitting the journey into two tickets is cheaper than one. Users have also reported problems with ticket barriers which reject valid tickets.

What these FixMyTransport campaigns show is that whilst the train operators often give sympathetic responses, there is rarely a suggestion they want to fix the underlying problems.

However until 28th June 2012 there is an important opportunity to help  fix the rail fares system as the government is consulting on changes and it is clearly important this is not left simply for the operators to influence.

The organisation which is being most proactive in supporting the interests of  passengers is The Campaign for Better Transport with its ‘Fare Fares Now’ campaign:
Their website includes plenty of information and positive ideas.

The consultation  is described here:
Anyone can contribute by following the link to on-line response form.

Here are a few more ideas which I believe would help:

1. Openly publish full fares information
2. Simplify restrictions so passengers can be confident their ticket is valid
3. Price single fares so they can be used as a flexible alternative to returns
4. Help passengers to find cheaper fares involving more than one ticket
5. Always provide a fare which is valid for any reasonable route and for any operator
6. Check restrictions are being used to make good use of capacity, and not simply to maximise revenue, and support this by openly publishing train loading information

The problem of fares complexity has been building up for years and has become one of the main frustrations for passengers. Let’s hope real change is on the way, sweeping away the current unworkable system.