SRTA Response to 3 December Fare Changes

The Problem

On 3 December South Eastern Trains introduced restrictions on use of off-peak fares from Sevenoaks and other stations. These have the effect of increasing costs for many rail travellers and were justified as part of the lead-in to Contactless fares.

Thanks to a ban by DfT on advance information or consultation, on Monday 4 December rail travellers were surprised by the following changes effective for Sevenoaks:

  • five morning trains to London between 9.05 and 9.27 which have up to now been charged as off peak  are now charged at peak
  • off peak tickets not longer valid back from London between 4pm and 7pm

These changes have affected many ‘off peak commuters’ who don’t travel enough to use flexi-seasons, and also hundreds of concession holders. For a  journey from Sevenoaks to London starting, for example, at 9.05 and returning at 18.00, the cost of a ticket to and from London terminals rises from £15.20 to £27.80, or 82%

South Eastern (and GTR) will still honour the Travelcard agreement with TfL, outside DfT control. Off peak Travelcard fares (for paper tickets) still start at 9.05am, and have no peak fare for a return between 4pm and 7pm.  This means that a ‘later commuter’ traveling – say on the 9.27 –  to a London terminal and returning between 4pm and 7pm will pay £19.80 for a Travelcard compared to the fare on November 30th of £15.20, a price increase of 30%, before an expected 2024 rise.  Travellers can use the Underground and bus services with a Travelcard, but many going to the West End and City don’t.

The only ‘winners’ are travellers who go to London travelling one way only, not coming back. This is a very small number of users who could have been helped without disadvantaging many more.

For journeys beyond London it can be complicated. For example a journey to  Bletchley, in Bucks on November 29th cost £25.85 with a Senior Railcard.  Now the through fare has increased to £37.55  –  a 45% increase.  Buying two tickets for the journey (a Travelcard to Euston and an off peak to Bletchley) is cheaper, but that’s not what the ticket sales platform offers.

Bizarrely, catching the same trains but travelling from Tonbridge to Bletchley (an extra 14 miles) saves £7.20 as the Tonbridge-Bletchley fare is only £30.35. These fares make no sense.  How will they work when Contactless actually starts?

What must happen next?

The first thing to do is stop digging!  However hard DfT or the rail companies try to justify what has happened (and we are sure that the issue is caused by DfT because it affects rail operators at 53 stations round London) it is unreasonable to impose these changes to fares without any of the benefits which Contactless is supposed to bring. They certainly do not ‘simplify’ fares, or  ‘ensure travellers are offered the lowest fare’ as claimed.

The changes to fares must be suspended until DfT, the train operators and TfL are ready to deliver a system which includes benefits as well as costs for most users. The scheme was brought in “overnight” with minimal consultation and no public communication. Passengers are paying more for some tickets than they need. Most were unaware on arrival at the station on 4 December of the changed regulation of peak travel.

What is currently in place is not fit for purpose.

  • Booking office staff finding it very difficult  to sell the cheapest ticket for a journey, as required by fare regulations
  • Fares from Tonbridge which are cheaper than from Sevenoaks
  • A “hidden” workaround using the One Day Travelcard
  • Complaints from many passengers to a London terminus having to buy a Travelcard and so being compelled to pay £3+ to TfL for services they do not use.

There are a number of other hidden changes in the new fares affecting stations in the Darenth Valley.  For example fares via Sevenoaks – often the fastest route – have disappeared. Also off peak fares from Sevenoaks and other stations into London are more restrictive, starting at 4.30am rather than 6.30am, and in the evening than TfL services with which the Contactless system is supposed to be aligned.

We demand proper consultation and public information before the introduction of the Spring 2024 full contactless scheme to avoid any repetition of the current fiasco.

Where we need to get to

It’s hard to accuse the Contactless introduction of being ‘rushed’ because it has already taken too long. But it has ignored some essential principles which proper consultation and planning would have avoided. Contactless fares need to be accompanied by:

  • transparent fares compatible with the London fare system where many journeys go
  • explicit recognition of ‘fare zones’ like those already in operation at Swanley, Dartford and elsewhere
  • clear rules on capping of daily and weekly charges, including the Travelcard option and covering journeys through London
  • a Contactless system actually in operation
  • fair definition of off-peak fares similar to those in the TfL system

Department for Transport must consult on how these principles can be met, and avoid creating perverse incentives – like lower fares for longer journeys.

In the Meantime

SRTA advises rail travellers to use the Travelcard to London if they are able to start their journey after 9.00am, to limit the increase to 30%.

If you can travel up to London after 9.30 and then back avoiding the 4-7pm peak you may be able to pay the same for a return journey as before 3 December

There may also be ‘split ticket’ options for some journeys, e.g. buying an off peak Travelcard then an off-peak ticket from London Zone 6 boundary to your final station.

It may sometimes be cheaper to buy an Off-Peak ticket from Tonbridge!!

Tony Clayton, Chairman, Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Association 8 December 2023


Comments

SRTA Response to 3 December Fare Changes — 1 Comment

  1. This is disgraceful. No consultation or warning. Cowardly behaviour and flies in the face of commonly sense and facilitating people to do the right thing but using public transport rather than clogging up the roads and the environment by traveling by car. I’m genuinely shocked!

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