Campaign group probes rail ticket prices

Victoria Leggett A campaign group claims Norwich's rail passengers are being penalised when they book same-day tickets. They say the city's train users have to pay up to six times more when they book on the day.

Victoria Leggett

A campaign group claims Norwich's rail passengers are being penalised when they book same-day tickets.

Campaign for Better Transport says the city's train users have to pay up to six-and-a-half times more when they book on the day compared with advance ticket fares.

Cat Hobbs, of the campaign, said: “Passengers need to be able to have affordable walk-on fares. At the moment they can only get them by booking weeks in advance. Advance fares are not a good enough way of dealing with expensive train tickets.”

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The criticism came as rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus warned that ticket prices could rise by up to a tenth next year. It said government-regulated fares, including season tickets, had to rise by 1pc above inflation each year, but unregulated fares - set by rail companies - could rise much more.

For its report, Campaign for Better Transport compared single fares for journeys from Norwich to the 11 biggest cities in Britain. It found that trips from the city were on average 4.78 times higher when passengers bought tickets on the day compared with advance bookings. The biggest gap was on the Norwich-London route. The cheapest single “walk-on” fare is £40, six-and-a-half times the price of an advance ticket, which costs £6.

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As part of its nationwide campaign, the group has visited railway stations around the country with a “fortune-teller”.

Mystic Peg, alias Jess Finch from Campaign for Better Transport, said she was needed to help rail travellers see into the future.

She said: “If you're not a fortune-teller, you don't know what's going to happen in the future. You can't book these cheap advance tickets all the time because life's not predictable.”

However, National Express East Anglia, which runs many of the region's train services, insisted it did offer passengers lots of ticket options. A spokesman said: “A range of tickets is available to suit all travel needs, including those for walk-up type journeys. Many of these tickets are of the discounted variety, including season tickets and cheap day returns.”

Campaign for Better Transport wants passengers to be encouraged to use trains as an environmentally-friendly form of transport, but Ms Hobbs fears high walk-on fares put people off.

She said: “They need to be able to hop on the train in the same way they can hop in the car. If not, it cannot compete and we will not have sustainable transport in the future.”

The Association of Train Operating Companies disputed that view. John Dennis, from the group, said: “Advance fares offer excellent value for money and are highly popular with passengers. They have contributed to the increasing numbers of people using the railways instead of other more environmentally-damaging modes, such as cars or aeroplanes.”

The campaign group's report was timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the government's rail white paper, which said the Department for Transport would be cutting the amount of money it spent on the railways.

Ms Hobbs said: “Last year they spent £6.3bn; by 2014 they are only going to be spending £3bn. They are halving their investment and expecting passengers to spend more.”

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