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Arriva: Fares Fair?

OP_Arriva_Andy Cooper 800x400Why 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.

“This year alone we have provided over 120,000 journeys using Advance tickets on the day of travel”

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.

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  1. BCCletts -

    What Andy Cooper does not mention is that the privatisation model of franchising rather then concessions created the need for a special company (Rail Settlement Plan Ltd) in 1996 to measure the % of traffic going on each TOC service over a route and divide the revenue from each ticket sold between the TOC’s.
    This of course created the jobs in RSPLtd and the jobs with the TOC’s to ensure they got their ‘cut’ on the fares revenue etc, but it also results in the fares for a route being inflated (often by around 100%) so that they can be divvied up between the TOC’s. An easy way to ‘proove’ this is to buy a TOC-exclusive fare which limits you to any train on the route but only if it is operated by the named TOC.
    Cross Country is a clear example of this, I can get a walk-up 30 day validity return fare Glasgow-Newcastle for roughly half the price of an any TOC fare if I limit my choice to Andy’s Cross Country Trains — especially comfortable given that I can enjoy 55 minute trip on a refurbished HST, with plenty of space between Glasgow and Edinburgh, whilst most opt to cram on to the 48 minute Scotrail services, and there are often AP singles for £2-£3 that I can book on my phone shortly before the train departs, compared to the £12 it costs on Scotrail.
    A Thameslink only fare from Kings Cross to Peterborough is likewise about half the price of you’d pay for a marginally faster Virgin East Coast service.
    My favourite is the Glasgow-Leeds via Appleby — actually the shortest distance, on a forgotten main line which now has some beautifully smooth track, sadly limited to 60mph mainly by the signalling system, and the pathing of freight trains, which can struggle with the steep gradients. The price — roughly half of that by any other routes, but with good connections at Carlisle the journey time matches those you can achieve via York or Preston.
    The solution is not to renationalise the UK railways but to revise the model to that used by TfL. Commercial operators would bid to run a contracted service, with negotiable additions and developments to bring them and DfT more, but all fares revenue would go to the DfT (Treasury) from which the payments would be made to the TOC’s. We might even see the return of ‘open jaw’ fares and other flexibility.
    So let’s give a great shout, not only for Cross Country’s great app but also for their far cheaper XC-Only fares, and maybe Andy will need to put more of the 5, ‘pay as you go’ HST’s they have (only 2 are used most days), out to carry 532 passengers per train in place of the Voyagers (204/264 seats per unit), which the contracts (a detail set by DfT and Franchise terms) mean they have to pay for whether or not they use them. But that’s yet another story about how the UK’s privatised railway ended up costing far more than it needs to