Rail regulator reveals passengers' ticket confusion and calls for improvements

7 June 2012

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) is calling on train operators to provide better ticket information as revealing research, published today, highlights that many passengers find selecting and buying rail tickets confusing and frustrating.

Over 1,600 rail passengers across Great Britain were questioned on trains, online and as part of focus groups about their experiences of choosing and buying rail tickets. Research highlights a varied understanding of ticket restrictions and validities - including of terminology such as 'peak', 'off-peak' and 'Advanced' ticket types - and the difficulties finding and buying the most cost-effective tickets:

  • Nearly three-quarters of all those interviewed were not confident what 'off-peak' times were. 5% of on-train interviewees travelling on an 'Anytime' ticket realised that they could have travelled on an 'off-peak' ticket.
  • Over 50% of online respondents agreed that 'it is a bit of a lottery as to whether you find the best price for a rail journey or not'. 45% said that the fare system is too complicated for them to understand.
  • 41% of online respondents said they had previously purchased tickets and later found they could have made the journey on cheaper tickets.
  • 70% of on-train interviewees were unaware that they could only travel on the specified train on an 'Advance' ticket.  Among those travelling on an 'Advance' ticket, 37% interviewed did not realise that if they missed their train, and travelled on a later train, they would normally have to buy a new ticket.

The rail regulator is committed to putting passengers at the centre of the rail industry, building on the Government's Command Paper, published in March, which sets out its vision for customers being at the heart of rail reform. ORR has been working with the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) to address the ticket complexity research findings, pushing for the provision of better ticket information for passengers. More accessible information must be made available so that passengers can access the most cost-effective fares, understand ticket restrictions and are aware of alternative routes.

Work has started to improve the information presented to passengers on websites, at ticket vending machines, and on tickets, making it clearer and more comprehensive. This includes redesigning train tickets to improve clarity of information (e.g. detailing restrictions on routes) and providing better information about ticket choices at ticket vending machines.

ORR Chair, Anna Walker, said:

ORR's revealing research shows that passengers are often confused and frustrated by the lack of information about rail tickets, particularly where and when to get the best value fares and what the best ticket options are. Our research speaks for itself. Nearly 50% of passengers surveyed online said that the fares system is too complicated to understand, and 41% who had previously purchased a ticket found they could have made the journey on a cheaper ticket. If passengers do not have the information they need, they can end up paying more than is necessary or find themselves being penalised for having the wrong ticket. Lack of clarity or certainty that they are getting the right ticket can also undermine passengers' confidence and trust in the railways.
We have been working hard with the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) on initiatives which respond to customer demand and I am pleased with the progress being made, and the work that ATOC has undertaken, to make improvements for passengers. Providing clearer information for passengers buying tickets online and at ticket vending machines is a positive step forward, as is improving information on tickets.
I urge train companies to continue with these improvements to win the confidence of passengers. There is much more work to be done including how ticket collection can be made easier, and making sure passengers are able to print off their tickets at home, or use their mobile phones, just like they can when they fly. If other travel industries can do it and make it work, so should the rail industry.

The rail regulator will continue to work closely with ATOC, individual train companies, and passenger bodies to understand the extent to which new and proposed initiatives will address the problems identified. ORR will monitor their delivery and consider what action might be necessary to ensure that passengers see real change.

Notes to editors:

  1. Read ORR's report, including ATOC's response pdf icon PDF, 1,344 Kb
  2. Read ORR's research pdf icon PDF, 713 Kb
  3. Data was gathered via on-train research (937 passenger-completed questionnaires covering 127 trains), online questionnaires (755 respondents), focus groups, and examination of previous reports. For further information on methodology, please see ORR's report.
  4. ORR Media Relations can be contacted on 020 7282 2094.