Here are five tricks to get cheaper rail tickets in Britain

Get your life on track. Image: Dave Strom/Flickr/creative commons.

British rail commuters are being told they are likely to face fare hikes. Price increases aside, the rules around tickets are complex and date back to the 1980s, which means there’s a bewildering array of tickets available: anytime, saver, super saver, season, advanced, first class, second class, child, adult, privilege, two together – to name a few.

A simple matrix gives over 200 ticket types for all destinations. Add in a second operator or specific requirements, and the choice can easily be over 250. People are pretty much left to interpret all this for themselves, and make the decision that’s right for them.

With 20 years of experience in the rail sector, working for train operating companies, Network Rail and in non-government organisations, together with a keen focus on customer service through our research at the University of Huddersfield Business School, we thought it would be worth sharing some tips on how to navigate train tickets. So we have come up with some simple rules of thumb, which can help you get better prices on your train tickets.

1. Book in advance

The further in advance you buy a ticket (online), the cheaper it will be. For instance, a standard class single, Milton Keynes to Glasgow Central, leaving in the morning would cost £22 (only valid on the 10.13am train on September 12, 2018, booked July 2018). By contrast, an off-peak ticket – which can be bought in advance or on the day – would cost £64.05, while an anytime ticket would cost £155.50.

It’s important to know that, for the most part, all train websites sell the same tickets at the same regulated price. For advanced fares (bought before travelling) the train company that covers the majority of the journey you are travelling may offer a cheaper ticket price not available on other sites, so its worth checking who the main operator is and visiting their website or budget spin offs.

For example, Milton Keynes to Southport (Merseyside) will require you to use two operators, probably Virgin Trains and Mersey Rail. In the case Virgin Trains is likely to offer the cheapest advanced tickets for this route.

2. Late starts and split ticketing

Most journeys starting before 9.30am will face a peak time premium, so always start your journey after that time if possible. If you have to start before 9.30am, look at buying two tickets; the first covering you for the part of the trip that you take before 9.30am and the second for afterwards. This is called “split ticketing”.

Take your time. Image: David McKelvey/Flickr/creative commons.

For example, Cheltenham Spa to Edinburgh Waverley on a Saturday costs £154 direct – that’s £59.40 more than splitting the ticket at Manchester Piccadilly. Two tickets – one covering Cheltenham Spa to Manchester, and the other Manchester to Edinburgh – will cost £94.60.

And providing your train is routed via Manchester, you don’t even have to get off the train. You can figure out and book your route yourself, or there are some websites that can do it for you.

3. Saving with singles and returns

Anytime returns, setting out before 9.30am, often cost twice as much as a single. Meanwhile, tickets valid after 9.30am often have a return price that’s less than £1 more than the single. So, it’s often cheaper to buy a single and a return, if you think you might travel the same route again.

Return journeys are typically valid for a month, so consider using them for other journeys. For example, an off-peak single from Huddersfield to Birmingham is £58.60, while an off-peak return is £59.60. If I’m travelling before 9.30am, I might buy a single for Huddersfield to Birmingham, and a return for Birmingham to Huddersfield.

This is because the two singles will cost £137.60, but I could pay £140.30 for a single and an anytime return. Then, if I happen to have a night out in Manchester (or anywhere else on the Huddersfield to Birmingham route) I can use the return to get there, potentially saving some of the cost of the fare.

4. Check the operator

Always check if there’s more than one operator running a route, and if they have specific tickets. For instance, the London to Birmingham journey is served by three operators, which offer a direct service, all with a different journey duration and price.

For a departure before 9am, a ticket with Virgin will cost £176.50 and the journey will last 80 minutes, London North Western Railway (Formerly London Midland) will cost £29.50 and last 130 minutes, and Chiltern will charge £30.50 for a journey lasting 120 minutes.

5. Take a break

All tickets are valid via any reasonable route, unless specifically stated on the ticket. This means that you’re allowed to break your journey, by getting off at a stop along the way (as long as you still respect restrictions, such as off-peak travel). This means you can do some quite remarkable journeys on strange tickets.


The rule is rather arcane and not well understood. Because of the challenges this can cause, the railways simply state that “a route needs to be reasonable” – without making clear what that entails. Basically, you must be able to justify your route and never double back on any section of track. If challenged, you must explain the route you are taking, in accordance with the rule.

The ConversationAs an example, Swindon and Birmingham might reasonably be visited on a ticket to Manchester, or even Edinburgh, from London. The fact you can break your journey means you could schedule a meeting or visit friends at any or all of these cities. In some cases, you may not even make your end destination... but bear in mind the ticket is only valid for one calendar day.

Marcus Mayers, Visiting Research Fellow, University of Huddersfield and David Bamford, Professor of Operations Management, University of Huddersfield.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Leeds is still haunted by its pledge to be the “Motorway City of the Seventies”

Oh, Leeds. Image: mtaylor848/Wikimedia Commons.

As the local tourist board will no doubt tell you, Leeds has much to be proud of: grandiose industrial architecture in the form of faux-Egyptian temples and Italian bell-towers; an enduring cultural legacy as the birthplace of Goth, and… motorways. But stand above the A58(M) – the first “urban motorway”  in the country – and you might struggle to pinpoint its tourist appeal.

Back in the 1970s, though, the city council was sufficiently gripped by the majesty of the motorways to make them a part of its branding. Letters sent from Leeds were stamped with a postmark proudly proclaiming the city's modernity: “Leeds, Motorway City of the Seventies”.

Image: public domain.

During the 1960s, post-war optimism and an appetite for grand civic projects saw the rapid construction of motorways across England. The construction of the M1 began in 1959; it reached Leeds, its final destination, in 1968. By the early 1970s the M62 was sweeping across Pennines, and the M621 loop was constructed to link it to Leeds city centre.

Not content with being the meeting point of two major motorways, Leeds was also the first UK city to construct a motorway through the city centre: the inner ring road, which incorporates the short motorway stretches of the A58(M) and the A64(M). As the council put it in 1971, “Leeds is surging forward into the Seventies”.

The driving force behind Leeds' love of motorways was a mix of civic pride and utopian city planning. Like many industrial cities in the North and Midlands, Leeds experienced a decline in traditional manufacturing during the 1960s. Its position at the centre of two major motorways seemed to offer a brighter future as a dynamic city open for trade, with the infrastructure to match. In response to the expansion of the roads, 1970s council planners also constructed an elevated pedestrian “skywalk” in an attempt to free up space for cars at ground level. Photos of Leeds from that time show a thin, white walkway running through blocky office buildings – perhaps not quite as extensive as the futuristic urban landscape originally envisaged by planners, but certainly a visual break with the past.

Fast forward to 2019 and Leeds’ efforts to become a “Motorway City” seems like a kitsch curiosity from a decade that was not always known for sustainable planning decisions. Leeds’s historic deference to the car has serious consequences in the present: in February 2019, Neville Street – a busy tunnel that cuts under Leeds station – was found to contain the highest levels of NO2 outside London.

City centre planners did at least have the foresight to sink stretches of the inner motorways below street level, leaving pedestrian routes largely undisturbed. Just outside the centre, though, the roads can be more disruptive. Sheepscar Interchange is a bewildering tangle of arterial roads, Armley Gyratory strikes fear into the hearts of learner drivers, and the M621 carves unsympathetically through inner-city areas of South Leeds with pedestrian access restricted to narrow bridges that heighten the sense of a fragmented landscape.

 

Leeds inner ring road in its cutting. Image: author provided.

 

The greatest problem for Yorkshire's “Motorway City” in 2019, however, is not the occasional intimidating junction, but the complete lack of an alternative to car travel. The dire state of public transport in Leeds has already been raised on these pages. In the early 20th century Leeds had one of the most extensive tram networks in the country. The last lines closed in 1959, the same year construction began on the A58m.


The short-sightedness of this decision was already recognised in the 1970s, as traffic began to build. Yet plans for a Leeds Supertram were rejected by successive Conservative and Labour governments unwilling to front the cost, even though smaller cities such as Newcastle and Sheffield were granted funding for light transport systems. Today, Leeds is the largest city in the EU without a mass transit system. As well as creating congestion, the lack of viable public transport options prevents connectivity: the city's bus network is reasonable, but weaker from East to West than North to South. As a non-driver, I've turned down jobs a short drive away that would be a logistical impossibility without a car.

Leeds' early enthusiasm for the motorway was perhaps premature, but there are things we can learn from the 1970s. Whatever else can be said about it, Leeds' city transport strategy was certainly bold – a quality in short supply today, after proposals for the supertram were watered down to a trolleybus system before being scrapped altogether in 2016. Leeds' rapid transformation in the 1960s and 70s, its grandiose visions of skywalks and dual carriageways, were driven by strong local political will. Today, the long-term transport strategy documents on Leeds City Council's website say more about HS2 than the need for a mass transit system within Leeds itself, and the council has been accused of giving up the fight for light rail and trams.

Whilst central government's refusal to grant funds is the greatest obstacle to Leeds' development, the local authority needs to be far more vocal in demanding the transport system the city deserves. Leeds' desire to be the Motorway City of the Seventies might look ludicrous today, but the political drive and utopian optimism that underpinned it does not.