Rail Regulator calls for ticket machine price guarantee

10 February 2017

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is calling on train operators to refund passengers after its new research showed that overall 1 in 5 mystery shoppers selected a more expensive ticket than necessary or were at risk of a penalty fare when using a ticket machine.

Using mystery shoppers, ORR found that whilst the majority of users did buy the most appropriate ticket for their journey, 7% did not select the most flexible ticket for their journey (with the majority risking a penalty fare) and 13% actually chose a more expensive ticket than required.

Also:

  • Two thirds (65%) of ORR’s mystery shoppers did not see any information on the type of tickets which could or couldn’t be bought on the machine.
  • 57% of mystery shoppers reported the ticket machines did not explain the times when peak and off-peak tickets could be used for travel.
  • Almost a third of mystery shoppers (32%) reported no information on ticket restrictions or validity was provided on the machine.

ORR is therefore calling on train operators to introduce a price guarantee, refunding passengers who find that they could have bought a cheaper ticket. This is necessary to build trust and demonstrate they are responding to passengers’ needs.

It’s essential train companies learn lessons from the research and adopt good practice. This includes providing clear information on the range of tickets available and their restrictions and validities, such as peak or off peak.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) launched a 10 point plan to improve ticket machines in January last year, committing in February 2017 to complete it by the end of the year. We want to see improvements in place for passengers as soon as possible, and have asked RDG to make clear what it expects to be delivered, by whom and when, in the short term to address the issues our research identifies.

John Larkinson ORR’s Director of Railway Markets & Economics said:

"Everyone travelling by train should be able to buy the most appropriate ticket for their journey.

"Despite investment in new technology and the removal of jargon from ticket machines, our new research shows passengers may be paying more for their journey than necessary.

"Our mystery shoppers found ticket machines are missing important information on ticket choice, restrictions and validity.

"To quickly benefit passengers, the Rail Delivery Group must set out what improvements to ticket machines will be made in the short term, and we are calling on train companies to commit to refund anyone who finds that they could have bought a cheaper ticket for the same journey."

ORR is monitoring the rail industry’s work to improve ticket machines, and will carry out a repeat of the research in a year’s time to check on progress.

Notes to editors:

  1. The Office of Rail and Road is the UK’s rail regulator and strategic roads monitor for England. ORR protects the interests of rail and road users; improving the safety, value and performance of railways and roads, today and in the future. Follow us @railandroad.
  2. Link to ORR ticket vending machines review report pdf icon PDF, 293 Kb.
  3. Link to ORR research report pdf icon PDF, 901 Kb.
  4. Link to ORR letter to RDG pdf icon PDF, 195 Kb.
  5. About a third of rail passengers use ticket machines and in the financial year 2015-16 almost 21% (£2,103m) of industry total gross receipts were from ticket machine sales.
  6. ORR’s mystery shopping exercise was designed to determine passengers’ ability, when using ticket machines, to make the most appropriate purchase decision for their journey, and to examine whether ticket machine transactions lead to the purchase of a more (or less) expensive ticket than is required.
    • 721 mystery shops were carried out between October and November 2016.
    • Mystery shoppers undertook a range of purchase scenarios at ticket machines, completing all stages of the purchase but terminating the transaction prior to making payment.
    • To ensure a robust and realistic set of data was generated for this research, mystery shoppers with a range of ticket machine purchasing experience, including first-time users, infrequent users and experienced users were recruited for these assessments. Shoppers also covered a range of demographic profiles (age and gender).