August 17, 2003
Which? (the magazine of the
Communists Consumers' Association) is having its annual bitch over the National Rail Inquiry Service:
Rail customers are being quoted nearly double the true fare for many journeys because train companies are providing the wrong information, a survey has revealed.
Only four out of every 10 queries made by rail passengers received correct answers from the National Rail Inquiry Service, the official organisation jointly owned by Britain's train companies. Some were quoted fares as much as 300 per cent higher than the correct figure.
Well, just a minute. Let's at least begin by reminding ourselves where we started from. Before privatisation (incorporating new, improved state regulation, remember) you'd be lucky enough to find
a number and to get an answer (even a wrong one) would be regarded as very heaven. We've come a long way.
But there's a bigger point: fares and ticketing are difficult.
To illustrate the point let's start with the simplest possible structure: no fares at all. But that way you go bust. So, you have to have some form of fares. OK, next simplest form: a flat fare. Excellent if you want to travel long distance - but not so good if you just want to travel a couple of stops.
OK, have a flat per mile charge. £1 per mile (say). But that makes no allowance for time preferences (err, I'm not sure that is the correct term but the idea is that travel at peak hours is more popular than off peak). This is a big issue for train companies. One answer might to be to buy more rolling stock and hire more staff and build longer platforms etc just for the peak times. But this is a frighteningly expensive business. Far better to use price to deter some from travelling at peak times. So, we need peak rates.
Add in season tickets and this is just fine for a commuter system. But what about long distance? There the peaks and lows are less regular. They occur on a weekly and seasonable basis rather than on a daily basis...
Uh oh. You know what I've done. I've boxed myself into an intellectual corner. When I started writing this piece it was my earnest belief that rail fares were so complicated that people like NRES were bound to make mistakes. I was also going to add that the National Conditions of Carriage and protected fares (that's the state's contribution, boys and girls) just added extra layers of complexity.
By the way, I still believe it to be true ie that rail fares are difficult. I just need to do some more work on my argument.
Many train systems in the world have a fare system which is about as complicated as the one you describe (with the one usual feature you don't mention being discounts for young/old/disabled people). The fare system which applies in Britain (where there are something like fifty different types of adult ticket) is by the standards of most railway systems unbelievably complicated. I think it has evolved something like the tax code. The system starts out relatively simple, but gets more and more complicated as people close loopholes, introduce deductions, and the like. I think it could be simplified considerably without huge losses of revenue, and I think a new system designed from scratch would be quite a bit simpler.
Quite. We have Savers, Travelcards and Cheap Day Returns both of which (I think) are "protected" ie. the franchisees can't change them. In addition, many franchisees have felt obliged to introduce cheaper tickets that can only be used on their own trains. This is due to what are known as ORCATS raids. Don't ask me what ORCATS stands for but it is a system for redistributing fare revenue when one route is served by more than one operator (another state requirement). An ORCATS raid is where an operator puts through a service at an unpopular time but is able to claim a share of the revenue equal to the share of the services it runs. It's another layer of complexity and yet another thing to get wrong.
Actually, the point you make makes me think that maybe rail fares aren't as complicated as I thought they were. It's the state that confuses things.
Having said that there are a few extra complications unique to railways. Firstly, whereas on commuter routes it is acceptable for people to stand it is not acceptable on long distance routes - not that this stops people. So, there is an extra complication here.
Secondly, while planes (normally) go A to B, trains go A to Z through B, C etc. Goodness knows how you resolve this when you are trying to maximise revenue.
Thirdly, when flying you are usually only dealing with one operator but on a train journey you are often dealing with two or more. This is true almost everywhere and presents all sorts of problems for through ticketing.
ORCATS stands for Operational Research Computer Allocation of Ticket Sales - this model was built by BR Operational Research
Gosh wasn't railway privatisation a roaring success..... :P
November 23, 2004
'Captain commuter' wins Sydney a free day on the trains
Darling's saver ticket for slow-train Britain
- he's going to do everything but close them
November 21, 2004
Tollroads Jamaican style
- worth it if only for the pic of the toll plaza
November 20, 2004
Postive externalities come to DC
- sort of
Railways safer than ever
- says Christian Wolmar
Is graffiti art?
- LFTTR think the question misses the point. FWIW I think many artists clearly have a lot of talent and it's a shame they don't have an appropriate, nay, legal outlet.
- Subterranean Railway by Christian Wolmar
One airline, 4 crashes, 8 dead: the real price of sugar snap peas in November
November 17, 2004
British Transport Films Collection DVD Volume One
- Surely a must for any transport afficionado. It will be released just in time for Christmas.
- Disc 1 - On The Rails
- Blue Pullman (1960)
- Elizabethan Express (1954)
- Train Time (1952)
- Rail 150 (1975)
- Diesel Train Driver (1959)
- On Track for the 80's (1980)
- Cybernetica (1972)
- Disc 2 - Off The Rails
- Under the River (1959)
- Snowdrift at Bleath Gill (1955)
- This Year - London (1951)
- This is York (1953)
- The Great Highway (1966)
- A Day of One's Own (1955)
- John Betjeman Goes By Train (1962)
November 15, 2004
November 11, 2004
Brake fault forces Virgin to cut speed on flagship tilting trains
- you know, just for once it sounds as if the HSE could be right
November 08, 2004
"When trains crash", 1930 Channel 5 tonight. Talk about timing
November 07, 2004
Ufton Nervet crash
- 6 now confirmed dead
November 06, 2004
One person dead as train derails
November 04, 2004
FirstGroup wants to add the tracks to its trains
- that's brave
November 02, 2004
Car charge to rise to £6
October 30, 2004
Psst wanna buy a railway station?
October 26, 2004
- He tears around Quebec City at 100mph. In a go kart. At night. Wearing black. And he films it. Spotted by Jay Jardine
October 24, 2004
The downside of auto-mobile bans
- drivers text instead
Councils ban shrines to road crash victims
- a story that neatly combines both transport and the issue of the day: mawkish sentimentality
October 20, 2004
The air hostess, the long hair and the sun roof
- one of the more imaginative ways of staying awake at the wheel.
Wheelchair-using MP travelled in 'cattle truck'
- so, that's just the same as the rest of us then
23 escape from burning train
Wikipedia accuracy under fire
- so, it's back on with the Glossary
October 19, 2004
Rail chief quits after four months
- walking away from £130,000. Golly
October 14, 2004
New comment on old posting
- Tim Hall explains the story of the Highland Railway, its new locos and its soon-to-be-ex-Chief Mechanical engineer
Out now: DVD version of leaves on the line
October 13, 2004
- Transport Watch UK. Lots of facts, lot of comparisons. Doesn't look good for rail
October 11, 2004
Take the car and save the planet
- walking kills, apparently
Hybrids better than the real thing
Don't invest in mega-projects
- says Peter Gordon
October 05, 2004
Prescott backs plan to reopen branch rail lines
- well, he says he does
October 04, 2004
New Glossary Entry
- the Advanced Passenger Train
October 03, 2004
People are building their own speed cameras
- One fellow is even selling fully functioning ones
Pendolinos and Voyagers may prove to be one of privatisation's disasters
- says Christian Wolmar
- Tech Central Station on the 40th anniversary of the Shinkansen
October 02, 2004
Compulsory purchase to go
- in US? Johnathan Pearce has some musings
October 01, 2004
Indian railway runs out of wheels
- because it refuses to import
All for sprawl
- Tyler Cowen links to a couple of articles including one from the NY Times magazine which is attracting a lot of attention
Underground maps as art
- according to Brian
September 30, 2004
- Uncle Roger on the difficulty in working out accurate subsidy figures
Europe by train
- Tim Hall on Stephen Karlson's adventures
Carpool lanes = communist gulags
- Tim Hall is beginning to get it, possibly
September 29, 2004
P&O axes 1,200 jobs as ferry travel sails into past
September 27, 2004
Hurtling towards a £7.6bn bill at full tilt
- Alistair Osborne on the WCRM fiasco. Actually, I thought £7.6bn was on the low side
September 26, 2004
A double-decked shame
- RJ3 laments the passing of the Routemaster. It's those EU bastards
, I tell you
Tilting trains are rubbish
- according to Ross Clark. Now he tells us
Delays plummet by 28%
- says Network Rail
September 25, 2004
New glossary item
- the Health and Safety Executive - in which I demonstrate my almost complete ignorance of this institution
Scant improvement in train times
- according to latest figures
September 22, 2004
EU plan will hit safe women drivers
- and it's all in the name of sex equality
Unions gang up to demand railway renationalisation
- they mean it isn't already?
September 21, 2004
Top car makers support road-jam charging
- Ford, GM, Honda, Daimler
Journey times cut as 125mph tilting train sets record
- after £8bn and the odd bankruptcy tilting trains that actually tilt are finally here
September 18, 2004
ABD calls for environmental audit of public transport
- all those particulates
Camera Partnerships must come clean on real causes of accidents
- says ABD
September 16, 2004
The Green Quadratic
- ASI paper on planning from 1988. Now available on-line
September 14, 2004
Up with conductors
- they're really good, you know
Speeding Britons fined in car race to Spain
- "Among the cars were Ferraris, Porsches and Rolls-Royces."
MPs to lose free airport parking
- oh, how my heart bleeds
The case against driving licences
- Paul Clark in Lew Rockwell
September 10, 2004
Drivers trade privacy for insurance discounts
September 08, 2004
Free mints infuriate delayed commuters
- some even threw them away, ingrates
Privatize the roads! Liberate the streets! All we have to lose are our parking tickets!
- Anthony Gregory in Lew Rockwell
M6 Toll hits 10m journey mark
- er, about a month ago
September 07, 2004
California high-speed rail plan
- all sorts of claims being made but Peter Gordon doesn't like the precedents
September 06, 2004
Swedish farmer fined 1,211 kronor for illegally parking a snowmobile in Warwick
- Krister Nylander lives 205 north of Stockholm and has never been to Warwick. "They can wait till Hell freezes over and I can get to Britain on my snowmobile to pay the fine.”
September 05, 2004
"Obsession is not too strong a word to describe how railway enthusiasts feel about railways"
- Matthew Parris goes to Peru and meets some trainspotters
September 03, 2004
Hidden costs do not justify the level of tax on petrol in Britain
- says Graham Seargeant
- utilities to pay for digging up roads
Alistair Morton, builder of the Channel Tunnel, is dead
Government 'willed' Railtrack to fail
- says Corbett
Cyclists saddled with seafront speed trap
- in Bournemouth
Historic Amsterdam tram photos
Aaaah. Where's amg going to pitch up next?
Why so little US electrification?
- Tim Hall ponders the answer
September 02, 2004
London Underground Map
- as it really is.
Electric v steam
- in 1923. But who won
Freight or passenger in the US?
- they're in conflict. Stephen Karlson considers the options
September 01, 2004
Fares and charge up in London
- says Livingstone
'Fair fines' planned for speeding drivers
Railtrack is cleared over Hatfield crash
August 31, 2004
Thousands 'ready to quit Aslef'
- where would we be without brotherly love
August 30, 2004
Rural watchdog attacks road sign blight
- See it's not just me who can't abide the avalanche of street furniture
What the traffic will bear
- Bob Poole discusses the merits of tolling
- photos. Aaah
August 24, 2004
What if you can't drive?
- Catallarchy's Sean Lynch considers the options
97% of accidents within speed limit
- according to the ABD
August 22, 2004
Prosecute motorway lane hogs
- says RAC
August 20, 2004
Radio tags for congestion charge?
World's longest road opens
- in Russia
Sprawl is cheap
- says Iain Murray
August 19, 2004
Strike threat to BA and Eurostar
Toll roads are safer
- at least according to my reading of this Marginal Revolution post
Peking metro to hit 1000km mark
- I'm not sure even London's is that long
August 15, 2004
Squander Two calmly talks about speed cameras
Parking anarchy in St Albans
- Police withdraw traffic wardens, Herts council won't have any until October, it's bedlam!
The future of transport
- as seen from the past
Trains less efficient than cars
- yes, I know, it's old news
Ferry solution, please
- Eamonn Butler wonders how you could introduce competition to a subsidised ferry service in the Western Isles
August 14, 2004
Drink less, speed less, save on insurance
- Marginal Revolution has the story