Rail fares advice “inadequate” – are there design solutions?

According to Which?, the advice that passengers receive on selecting the right train fare is inadquate – www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12563302.

Why is this and what could be done to fix the problem?  Well we’ve tried to give the problem some thought and come up with some ideas.

1) The train companies need to start thinking more like passengers and how they plan their journeys.
How do we think about a journey when we travel? We know where we want to start, where we want to go, what time we want to leave or arrive, whether we need to go via somewhere or stop off and whether we want to go with the shortest journey time or lowest cost.  We might know when we want to travel one way but not be sure of when we are going to return; or I might want to return to or from a different station.

So why can’t the ticket machines, websites and the staff in the ticket offices get our travel requirements in a similar way? Ticket machines and websites could be designed to help you with this kind of route planning based around asking questions and allowing more freedom of potential responses.  Staff in ticket offices could be given intelligent support systems to help them diagnose what the customer wants.

2) Simplify the ticket options.
Some efforts have been made in the last few years to reduce the complexity of the ticket structures but its still not that simple.  For example, who really understands the range of what peak vs off peak really means on different lines?  Do you know when off-peak starts?  How do you find out?

So why don’t ticket machines, offices and websites give you this information?  If you specify a departure time towards the end of the peak, why can’t you be given the clear option of delaying slightly and getting a cheaper ticket?  The information on restrictions (and opportunities) needs to be pushed visibly at the passenger so they can make better decisions.

3) Ease the complex regulations
Whilst the railway industry clearly has to run as a business, some of the regulations that operate and restrict are arcane and impenitrable. For example, rules about breaking journeys or how you can’t easily buy a ticket to extend a journey beyond the reach of your Oyster card in London.  None of this is passenger focused.

The industry is clearly poorly set up for this.  The structure makes it difficult to buy tickets that use services from different train operating companies.  But as passengers we take a “train”, we don’t take a Virgin train or a FCC train.  The distinction between companies should be invisible.  One thing this does is push you towards using the train company websites individually.  What a pain to maintain different logons for each website!  Why can’t we have one single website (like the Trainline offers on a commercial basis)?



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