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.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.