Expert insights

The real cost of UK rail travel (and why it’s a mixed picture)

3 October 2016

We compared rail-ticket prices in the first six months of 2016 with the same period in 2015. The results show an interesting split in the pricing levels achieved by customers. 

Looking at the top 10 routes travelled, we see different trends in cost. This is because the train-operating companies working on each route have different pricing strategies.

Although some rail fares are centrally regulated (such as ‘anytime’ tickets, which increased by 1.1% in 2016), others are not. On these other routes, customer buying behaviour and restrictions on accessing certain fares will both affect the average ticket price.

Rail-ticket costs

Routes operated by Great Western Railway and Virgin Trains East Coast have seen average fare levels rise. These operators have reduced the availability of advance tickets on their peak-service trains, forcing customers to choose higher-priced anytime and off-peak tickets.

Meanwhile, Virgin Trains East Coast has brought in restrictions on off-peak usage, to bring its policy in line with the wider marketplace. This means this ticket type can no longer be used at certain times of the afternoon. Therefore, there is reduced opportunity for customers to purchase off-peak tickets.

The only route that bucks this trend is York to London, with a 9% year-on-year decrease in ticket prices. The decrease is perhaps the result of the competition provided by Grand Central, the open-access train-operating company. This could support calls for the marketplace to be opened up to competition.

Conversely, routes operated by Virgin Trains West Coast have seen a decrease in the average fare. This is because customers continue to display improved buying behaviour. Levels of advance purchases have remained high (and increased by 2% in the past year). The average booking window in advance of travel has also increased (by 0.5 days on average across all intercity routes). This is a significant shift in a short period of time.

As ever, therefore, managing employee behaviour, and ensuring staff are compliant with your policy and expectations, is of paramount importance.

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