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Train tickets bought from machines can cost DOUBLE the fare bought online

Train tickets bought from machines can cost DOUBLE the fare bought online
Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Commuters who buy train tickets from station machines could be paying more than double the cost of fares available online, an investigation reveals.

Train ticket machines were found to charge passengers up to 154% more than booking online, with the best-value fares unavailable or hard to find, Which? found.

Given that 150 million rail journeys were bought from ticket machines in 2022, passengers may have been paying over the odds.

The consumer champion checked the price of 75 journeys at 15 ticket machines (each owned by a different train operator) across England to find the cheapest single fare for a journey that day, the following morning and in three weeks’ time.

It found that tickets bought online were cheaper around three quarters of the time.

Same-day tickets were 52% more expensive on average when purchased from a machine. In one case, a single from Northampton to Cardiff (London Northwestern) was £107 from a ticket machine, but £43 from online retailer Trainline.

A same-day ticket from Hitchin to York (Great Northern) cost £55 online, but set passengers back £133 from a machine.

Advance tickets from not so advanced ticket machines

When it came to advance tickets – cheaper, non-flexible tickets available up to the day of travel, sometimes up to 10 minutes before departure), two thirds of the machines didn’t sell them.

Which? found that the cheapest fare from a machine from Canley in Coventry to Cardiff was an off-peak single costing £74. The same ticket online was an advance fare costing £27.

The mystery shoppers also found that many machines didn’t appear to sell off-peak fares at peak times. In one example, a passenger checking fares in the morning to travel from Hitchin to York later that day was given just one option of an anytime single costing £133. On Trainline, the cheapest was £55.

Great Northern which runs that station and the ticket machine said customers can buy an off-peak ticket at any time by clicking ‘Tickets for future travel’ – usually for tickets required at a later date.

Passengers warned over small print

Which? suggested that where ticket machines do sell off-peak fares, passengers may select the wrong ticket as “there was often no information on when the ticket was valid”.

Instead, small print at the end of the booking process stated: “Restrictions apply – please enquire. It said for those in a hurry or with no ticket office, passengers risk a £50 penalty fare plus the price of the correct ticket.

Indeed, while rail companies recently scrapped plans to close almost all of England’s ticket offices, only one in six of the stations within the Department for Transport’s control have a full-time ticket office, while 759 stations don’t have a ticket office at all.

Elsewhere, Which? found only five stations visited had smart kiosk machines displaying real-time information as well as more information. However it said “even smart machines didn’t always match the online price because they don’t sell split tickets – when you buy two or more tickets for a journey instead of a single through-ticket, which can work out cheaper.

To make the point, it found a one-way fare from Holmes Chapel in Cheshire to London was £40 pricier at a smart kiosk (£66) than Trainline’s cheapest split ticket (£26).

‘Train ticket machines need to be easier to use’

Alex Robertson, chief executive at the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “The ticket office consultation highlighted passengers’ concerns about the difficulty of using ticket machines and the range of tickets available on them. It’s important that train operators consider this passenger feedback when looking at future improvements to ticket machines.

“For all passengers to have confidence that they are getting the best deal, ticket machines need to be easier to use and have the best value fare available at the time of purchase.”

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