We have been working hard on our responses to the many questions in the consultation paper on the requirements for the new Southeastern franchise from December 2018. There’s lots to say, and we will be sharing some of our draft responses here for public comment and improvement. This second instalment of the draft is to the questions on fares and ticket purchasing.
- What changes to the fares structure would be of benefit to you?
We welcome the inclusion of fares structure in the consultation. It is widely recognised that the existing national fare system is too complex and needs a thorough revision. Therefore we were disappointed to hear at the stakeholder consultation meeting that it would be too difficult to pursue wider fare reform as part of an individual franchise – there is a risk that it could also be too difficult to implement national fare reform once a local franchise are in place. The new franchise should be required to accept any nationally agreed fare reform measures.
In accordance with this guidance, we have focus our attention on fare structure changes that affect only journeys within the Southeastern franchise area. (It is unavoidable that they would also affect the limited number of Thameslink routes in the same area.)
(a) The Transport for London Oyster/Contactless system should be extended to Dunton Green and Sevenoaks. Oyster was extended to Dartford and to Swanley in the 2014 Direct Award and, like them, Sevenoaks and Dunton Green are in the statutory London Rail Area. Most Sevenoaks rail users travel to London and onward within London on TfL services, so Oyster would give end-to-end integrated fares, immediate access to Pay-As-You-Go, and a guarantee of the lowest fare for the end-to-end journey actually made. Passengers using TfL Oyster would not need to buy tickets for each journey, and so it would significantly lessen queuing times to buy tickets at Sevenoaks station, to the benefit both of Oyster users and of other passengers. As with the TfL network, it would also improve revenue collection. The TfL system could be quickly deployed.
By contrast the recently introduced “Key” SEFT smartcard is only currently scoped to provide season tickets and is still suffering teething problems even in this limited mode; and while the RDG ticketing strategy might provide some Pay-As-You-Go service in the future there is no immediate prospect of this and it is understood that this will be a rail-product, so still requiring passengers to buy separate TfL tickets or a “Travelcard” product.
It is understood that the extension of Oyster to Sevenoaks is well within the capacity of the current TfL system and infrastructure and we understand that it could be implemented by a zonal fare for Dunton Green and a special fare point for Sevenoaks (as has been done for Watford). It could make sense for the “Darenth Valley Line” stations between Swanley and Sevenoaks (Eynsford, Shoreham, Otford and Bat & Ball) also to be brought within the Oyster system; these stations are operated by Southeastern and are served by Thameslink trains from Sevenoaks via Swanley to London.
(b) The current season ticket structure does not reflect the variety of modern, flexible, working patterns. In particular those who commute three times a week pay nearly the same as those who commute five times a week. This is not only inequitable but constitutes discrimination against those whose caring responsibilities mean that they are unable to commute five days a week. Moreover it provides no incentive or recognition for others to move to more flexible working patterns, even though if passengers generally reduced the number of days that they travel this would free some capacity on the existing system and infrastructure, and so reduce the urgency of further investment beyond the 12-car standard already planned (and, in the case of Sevenoaks morning peak services, already the norm). Part-time season tickets was descoped from SEFT in 2014 [NAO report] but other TOCs have implemented these innovations without smart-cards. The new franchisee should introduce a means of providing part-time and flexible commuters with daily tickets usable when required at season-ticket prices. For instance a carnet of 10 daily tickets usable within a month, with a write-in space for date of travel (to prevent fraud) and each ticket priced at 1/5 of a weekly season could be an attractive solution that would be easy to implement without advanced technology or delay.
(c) The return ticket structure from Sevenoaks to London strongly disadvantages customers who do not return the same day, and Sevenoaks passengers suffer disadvantages that passengers nearer to London and further from Sevenoaks do not face. For Sevenoaks returning the next day means buying two single tickets which, in the offpeak period, are only 10p less than a day return ticket. Period (one-month) returns to London are not available. Within Greater London the Oyster system provides single fares priced at half a return, whereas from Tonbridge and further out in Kent a period (one-month) return is available. The new franchisee should introduce one-month period returns from Sevenoaks area stations to London.
(d) Although they are important destinations from Sevenoaks (and will be more so once the Elizabeth Line opens) Farringdon and St Pancras are not “London Terminals” for Sevenoaks area ticketing purposes. Special tickets to these specific stations have to be purchased: not only is there an extra 10p on the fare but the tickets do not have the flexibility to be used to start or finish journeys at “London Terminals” which are not on a direct route to St Pancras. This causes customer confusion and the possibility of penalty fares for very little legitimate revenue gain. Farringdon and St Pancras should be added to the set of permissible London Terminals. The marginal lost revenue should be recovered in the general uprating of London Terminals fares.
(e) For a number of years the Southeastern franchise had special fare increases of RPI+3% (rather than RPI+1% for other TOCs at the time) to finance the construction of HS1. These special fare increases were cumulative and became part of the baseline; as a result approximately 13% of current classic-route fares is the HS1 charge. Now that HS1 is built and customers using HS1 are charged a premium for doing so, charging customers on classic routes for HS1 costs is unnecessary and unfair. Over no more than the first five years of the franchise the HS1 element of fares on classic routes should be phased out completely.
(f) Fares on the ‘classic’ Kent mainline are significantly higher than comparable services on other London commuter franchises. For instance the fare per mile from Sevenoaks to London is up to 39% more  than comparable services in distance and frequency from Reigate or Redhill on Southern. The difference is only partially explained by the HS1 charge and it is not clear whether the additional element is profiteering or lack of cost control by the current Southeastern operator. Either way the new franchisee should be required to lower Kent mainline fares to a level comparable with similar journeys on other TOCs serving London.
 http://srta.org.uk/wp/posts/415 quoting Sevenoaks Chronicle.
- What else could be done to improve the way tickets are sold and provided?
There is a national standard that customers should not have to queue for more than five minutes at peak times (3 minutes off-peak) to purchase tickets. This does not seem to have been enforced against Southeastern, where queues of 10 minutes or more are common-place. This is now more important since a “But Before You Board” policy has been introduced to remove the option of buying a discounted ticket on the train. The new franchisee should be under a contractual obligation to meet the existing national standard. Customers who have had to wait more than the standard time should receive a 50% discount on their ticket price (and this should count against franchisee profits).
Terms, conditions and limitations of tickets are hard for the customer to establish. Although some tickets now have a link to a National Rail webpage for their validity code, there should be for each ticket a single web page with authoritative information about all limitations on the ticket, including routing, validity code, refundability and other factors.
Ticket Vending Machines
The current Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) are not fit for purpose. Early in the new Franchise action is needed in the following areas:
- ORR research  has shown that TVMs sell 20% of customers an inappropriate ticket, overcharging 13% of customers and selling 7% of customers an invalid ticket for the journey that they are taking. The cheapest fares can be hard to find, and are not prioritised. There is additional evidence  that the screen order may be designed to actively mislead. customers. ORR have called for a “price promise” that refunds overcharges, but while this would be a good long stop it assumes that customers know that they have been overcharged and that they can navigate a burdensome and time-consuming process to recover the overcharge from the TOC. The new franchisee should
- (a) be under the same obligation to sell the cheapest ticket for the journey through a TVM as they already are for tickets sold through a ticket office;
- (b) make the price promise suggested by ORR, and allow the promise to be redeemed through a simple process with reimbursement within 5 working days; and
- (c) be under a contract commitment and penalties to ensure that 99% of TVM users are sold the cheapest ticket for their journey (this will incentivise better TVM design, better customer information and other methods to reach this goal).
- TVMs do not allow tickets to be bought in advance – in particular same-day off-peak fares are deliberately not sold until very shortly before the departure of the first off-peak train. This is defended as a customer protection to stop the customer purchasing a ticket that will not be immediately valid. But this has never made much sense since a ticket can be bought earlier at the ticket office, and now that tickets can be bought in advance online and collected from the TVM in advance, it makes even less sense. The new franchisee should allow tickets, including off-peak tickets, to be bought through a TVM at any time up to seven days in advance. For off-peak tickets a prominent warning should be given to the customer that they are not valid until a given time (this should be technologically easy to achieve).
- TVMs do not allow tickets to be bought for journeys other than ones starting at the location of the TVM. So, for instance, it is not possible to buy a ticket from Sevenoaks to London and then a ticket from London onward to another destination in cases where a combined ticket with a break of journey would not be allowed. The new franchisee should allow tickets starting at any of its stations to be bought from a TVM at any other station on its network.
- The smaller stations in the Sevenoaks area are unmanned and have just one credit-card-only TVM installed. This means that it is impossible to buy a ticket if the TVM is out of order, as they regularly are or if the customer only has cash. This is now even more important because of the new Buy-Before-You-Board policy. Each station should have a minimum of two TVMs, one of which should accept cash.
Online purchases of tickets is less attractive than it could be, and many risks under the control of Southeastern are simply transferred to the customer.
- While ticket purchase is online, ticket refunds have not been modernised in parallel. All tickets bought online should be immediately refundable online without penalty up to the point that they are used or collected.
- Currently tickets purchased online must be collected from the station nominated at time of purchase. This station cannot currently be changed. So if the TVM at the nominated station is out of order or the customer’s plans change then the tickets cannot be collected. This can mean that the customer pays for the same journey twice. All tickets bought on line for collection at stations should be collectable at any station on the franchisee’s network. This should apply both to the collection of paper tickets and the loading of season tickets on a Key card.
- The online channel still requires tickets to be collected at stations. This is time-consuming and can, as already noted, be difficult to achieve. For those customers with the facilities to do so, there should the option to print tickets at home or to load them onto a smartphone at home, and those tickets should be valid for travel without any action at stations.
The consultation paper states “Ticket buying habits are changing with more people purchasing from ticket machines and increasingly on smart media rather than purchasing at the station ticket office”. However neither TVMs nor websites are yet able to meet the stated requirements of “provid[ing] passengers with widespread and easy access to the full range of tickets” and “ensure that [passengers] have all the information they need to select and purchase the most appropriate ticket for their journey”. No closure of ticket offices or reductions in their opening hours or staffing levels should be permitted until it has been shown that alternative channels meet the stated requirements. In reality we consider that the complexity of the current ticket system is so great (even the Southeastern Twitter team regularly give incorrect advice!) that ticket offices will continue to be needed unless and until the ticket system is a replaced by an automatic fare payment system that guarantees that the customer only pays the minimum fare for the journey they actually made. This is one of the many advantages of the Tfl Oyster/Contactless system for Sevenoaks.
What do you think? Please let us have your comments and suggestions here.