2016 was a rough year for rail passengers. It was particularly rough for those travellers who relied on Southern. The amended timetable, introduced in July that cut 350 services every day due to ‘insufficient personnel’, caused delays and overcrowding at major stations during critical rush hours. Industrial action in December that saw all 2,242 services cut was heralded the worst disruption in 20 years.
Needless to say, passengers are fed up. The National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) revealed that customer satisfaction has plummeted, especially for commuters – and not just for Southern, but across the whole sector.
As if things couldn’t get worse: not only are there even more strikes continuing this month, but as of 2 January, fares have increased an average 2.3%, with Virgin Trains East Coast rising an even higher 4.9%. That’s about £2,000 more for a yearly ticket, compared to just seven years ago, and some journeys end up costing about as much as a premium-rate phone call – 27p per minute.
According to the NRPS, there was already serious discontent about the cost of travel: only 23% of peak-time passengers thought their ticket was value for money. There’s more than a good chance that this number’s decreased by this point after last year’s travel chaos (the survey was conducted back in spring 2016).
According to The Campaign for Better Transport, since 1995 average fares have increased 23.5%. Unfortunately, the likelihood these percentages will drop anytime soon is pretty slim. According to Richard Westcott, transport correspondent for the BBC, fares keep rising because the proportion of the rail bill paid for by passengers continues to grow. ‘It used to be around 50%. Today it’s around 70%,’ writes Westcott. ‘Ironically, the original idea behind the government regulating around half of our rail fares was to protect passengers from big price rises imposed by train operators. Yet it’s often been government ministers who have used the mechanism to put fares up.’
Fortunately, with a bit of careful planning and the help of a few clever ticketing hacks, you could actually end up saving money as prices rise.
The most obvious way to save is with a railcard, which offers a 30% discount on rail journeys. The only caveat with this is who can apply – there are six different railcards available for those aged 16-25, seniors (over 60), the disabled, and families. Each card costs between £20-30 per year for average savings of around £150 per year – to read more about railcards and to see if you’re eligible, click here.
Another way to save involves some forward thinking. Booking your journey around 12 weeks before travel can earn serious savings, as that’s when rail providers release a limited amount of reduced advance tickets. While this works for weekends away or events planned months ahead of time, this isn’t a very practical means for those who have to book closer to travel time. That’s where split ticketing can come in handy.
Split ticketing is basically the train version of a layover: instead of booking your journey direct, companies like TicketClever have found that booking your travel in parts is a much cheaper alternative. For example, an off-peak, direct train with Virgin Trains from London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street costs £82.90. However, if you use TicketClever’s algorithm (which takes you from Euston to Crewe, then Crewe to Liverpool) you save over £40. If you’re willing to section your travel, the savings could seriously add up.
Even though travelling by train can seem like a hopeless feat these days, split ticketing and other travel hacks provide a way for commuters to actually save money despite recent fare increases.