Why does it often cost more to buy a train ticket on the day of travel instead of the day before? We all know booking in advance can deliver big savings, but for someone needing to travel because of a last minute meeting or for a family emergency, the price can be much higher.
Britain’s rail operators, like airlines and coach operators, allocate capacity on their trains and offer this at discounted rates for people buying tickets up to twelve weeks in advance. This has been a major part of the industry’s success in growing the numbers of people travelling by train; so successful that between 2005/6 and 2013/14 the number of journeys using such tickets increased from 11 million to 47 million.
Advance tickets for train travel come with a free reservation so that the customer can relax, knowing they have the assurance of a seat for their journey. And therein lay the problem, as the railways have historically relied on putting a paper card in the back of a seat to show that it’s reserved and these need to be printed and distributed before the start of each journey.
So, on-the-day travel meant only full price tickets were available. However, because we use modern trains with electronic reservation displays that can be updated during a journey, we wanted to see if it was possible to offer Advance tickets on the day of travel and so asked the unthinkable question of whether the systems could manage this. They can!
Like many innovations it was not an easy process to deliver and required around £1 million investment, some extensive testing and a lengthy trial to explore customer reaction. But the end result was everything we’d hoped for. This year alone we have provided over 120,000 journeys using Advance tickets on the day of travel and independent research showed that 80% of customers would use the service.
And the benefit for customers is obvious, as these can be much cheaper than the fare on the day, although their availability is limited on busy trains and prices can vary.
Andrew joined Arriva in 2005 to lead the successful bid for CrossCountry, which he subsequently mobilised and has led as Managing Director since 2007. Andrew is also a Director of Grand Central and a Fellow and non-Executive Director of the Permanent Way Institution. He is Chairman of the rail industry’s System Safety Risk Group.