Call for cheaper 'ticket splitting' fares to be made more public

Image caption Train station ticket staff will not offer a split-ticket option, the passenger has to ask for it

With train fares set to rise following the release of new inflation figures, many people may not realise there is an existing way of paying less for your rail journey - by ticket splitting.

But why is this legal but little advertised scheme not made more public?

Log on to the National Rail website and an anytime return from Reading to Birmingham will cost you £94.

But if on the same day you buy anytime return tickets for different legs of the same journey on the same train (Reading to Banbury, Banbury to Leamington Spa, and Leamington Spa to Birmingham) you will pay £42.50 - practically half the price.

You do not have to alight and the only rule is that the train must stop at the stations you have bought the tickets for.

The National Rail website details the journey calling points so, in this age of online ticket booking, 10 minutes' research could save you around 50% of your fare.

'Poptarts and ketchup'

The reason why "ticket-split" journeys are so much cheaper is rather complicated and to do with the popularity of your destination and differing fares by different rail operators.

But Railfuture, which campaigns for better rail services, calls the disparity "madness".

Jenny Keefe, of MoneySavingExpert.com, which has produced a free app called Tickety Split, said: "For really huge savings remember train fares and logic go together like Poptarts and ketchup, so lob the rulebook out the window.

"Split ticketing shouldn't work, it makes no sense."

The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) said the ticket pricing is based on a system from the 1970s with "half the fares" regulated by the Department for Transport.

"For over 40 years, rail fares in Britain have been based on passenger demand and competitive factors rather than a simple mileage tariff," a spokesperson said.

Image caption Travel consultant Barry Doe said ticket fare anomalies brought "railways into disrepute"

"This means there are some anomalies where purchasing a combination of shorter distance tickets can undercut a longer distance through-fare."

Travel consultant Barry Doe, who has produced public transport timetables since 1984, called the situation "crazy".

"Bits of the railway were priced by different sections of British Rail but since privatisation some operators have put up fares at different rates than others," he said.

Mr Doe said he thought it brought "railways into disrepute if you pay £100 for a fare only to find afterwards you could have paid £60 had you split the journey".

'Simply impractical'

Anthony Smith, chief executive of campaign group Passenger Focus, said passengers should be made more aware of this cheaper method.

"With the RPI announcement potentially leading to double-digit fare rises on some routes in the New Year, it is not surprising that passengers should seek to keep down the cost of their journeys," he said.

"We firmly believe that for tickets bought on the day, the price of a journey should not be more expensive than the 'split' journey."

Railfuture spokesman Barry Williamson said people should "be able to buy affordable tickets without jumping through hoops".

Currently it is up to the passenger to ask for a split-ticketed journey. Ticket booth staff will not offer this cheaper fare.

So why are train operators so tight-lipped about this cheaper means of rail travel?

Speaking on behalf of train operators, an ATOC spokesperson said: "To provide someone at a ticket office with every single permutation to get from A to B is simply impractical and would lead to unmanageable queues at stations."

She added split ticketing "potentially makes rail fares more complicated for the majority".

"Train companies have doubled the number of very cheap advance fares that they make available over the last few years with almost a million now sold every week," she said.

A DfT spokesman said it was "working with ATOC to consider how to provide wider access to rail fares data in a way that allows private sector companies to offer fares information innovatively, while protecting passengers from buying invalid tickets".

He added: "Understanding train operators' likely response to more widespread use of split ticketing will help us to act in the best interest of passengers overall."

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