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Rail fares and ticketing processes need to be simplified and modernised to encourage more business travellers to use trains instead of cars and airlines for their journeys in the UK.
The complexity of UK rail fares was one of the main topics during the Rail Revolution conference session at the Business Travel Show in London.
While the panel agreed that business travellers could be “more productive” onboard trains compared with road or air transport, there was “confusion” over the complicated fares structure, which is currently being reviewed by the government.
Josh Collier, head of proposition rail and ground transport at Capita Travel and Events, said: “In the 21st century, we’re still walking around with orange paper tickets. There should be a focus on fares – a single ticket can be as much as £150, that’s got to change.
“We have started to see fares evolve. Train operating companies are starting to look at different ways to price but there’s still a long way to go. You are only now starting to see mobile and e-ticketing.”
Raj Sachdave, managing partner of consultancy Black Box Partnerships, suggested that train companies could offer more flexibility on advanced fares.
“You could have an advanced purchase fare with 45 minutes flexibility each way and you would pay a little bit more for that,” he said.
“There could also be bespoke fares with other incremental items, so you have a base fare which you then top up with other services such as a personal entertainment experience.”
But ITM member Will Hasler added: “We don’t like menu-based pricing, we like negotiating a fare that has everything in it. Why do we need to have so many fares? There are thousands of them. It should not be this complicated.”
Peter Scranney, head of retail partnerships at the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the train operators, said the group was committed to looking at ways “to guarantee the best fare for the journey”, as well as making sure fares were “more available” across different distribution channels.
The Rail Delivery Group produced its Easier Fares for All proposals earlier this week which promise a “transparent, simpler to understand fares system” and will be backed up by an industry “best fare guarantee”.
The proposals also include rolling out ‘tap-in, tap-out’ payment across the country, as well as better integration of rail fares with other modes of transport.
Trying to encourage business travellers to buy their rail tickets earlier was also a key element in saving money for corporate clients.
Gary McLeod, managing partner at Traveleads and chair of the GTMC’s Surface Transport Strategy Group, said: “How do you get that shift to people booking earlier? A lot of effort is going into that. Everybody has the attitude that you can always just get on the train.
“It’s about education and using technology and data to keep clients moving in the right direction.”
McLeod added that the rail industry needed to offer a “consistent” service, including giving passengers access to power and wifi onboard trains.
“They should be seeking to maximise the passenger experience,” he said. “Quality is important and you also have to do the basics like making sure the cleaning is done properly.”