LNER, the York based train operator, is to pilot a new tier of tickets which they claim will simplify travel but which critics say will reduce flexibility and cost people who can’t book ahead more.
The trial will include journeys between London King’s Cross and Newcastle, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh on LNER trains.
North Yorkshire stations and York are not included at the moment.
LNER says this is what the travelling public want but social media reaction has been far from universally positive.
LNER has introduced a new type of semi-flexible ticket, on sale from today (Tuesday 16 January 2024) for travel from 5 February 2024.
This is what some passengers in the North East and Scotland can now buy. It could be rolled out across the network.
- Advance (Fixed) – Booked in advance for a fixed journey with a guaranteed reserved seat for travel with LNER. (These are the cheapest non-flexible tickets you can buy but LNER is often more expensive than rivals LUMO and GRAND CENTRAL for this type of ticket)
- ‘70min Flex’ (Semi-Flexible) – This is a new type of ticket offering customers the flexibility to travel on other LNER services, which can be 70 minutes before or after their original booked journey. These will be slightly more expensive than Advanced tickets.
- Anytime (Fully-Flexible) – this ticket can be used at any time of day and is very expensive. Anytime singles from Edinburgh to London cost £193.9. (York to London is £160.30)
What is really worrying many passengers and rail pressure groups is that Off-Peak and Super Off-Peak fares will be removed from 5 February 2024.
(A flexible off-peak ticket from London to York is £65 rather than £160.30 and can be used on any service outside the peak hours. Note – York is not included in the pilot so these remain available for now)
The pilot will run for two years and LNER will continue to collaborate with industry partners to understand how it is working for customers, also ensuring a wide range of affordable tickets are available.
Reaction to the move was mixed. On RailForum UK , the leading discussion board about rail, there was concern that the off-peak and super off-peak fares were being axed.
One contributor said: “How’s that less complicated?
“What an utterly awful idea. Dare I suspect that the intention is that the feedback will be “that’s complicated” and thus they can move to Anytime and Advance only?
“That’s me not using LNER then, not that I do very often anyway! How will Fares Regulation be approached, using a fares basket? Or are they being given free rein to charge what they like?”
Another pointed out: “If I’m reading this right, you will now either have to buy an anytime ticket or choose a service and be able to take one an hour either side of it (I presume the 70 minutes is to account for slight variations in clock face timings).
“This is not passenger friendly, and not really simplification, it’s just an opportunity to increase revenue.”
The reaction on X (Twitter)
“This is simplification way too far, to have no walk up fare for off peak is a massive mistake, I can never plan my travel in advance because it doesn’t suit. This is going to push people away not entice them.”
and this response.
“This turns the railways into the airlines. It removes rails USP – the ability to turn up and go – as need to book in advance or pay v.expensive anytime fare. The small print makes clear that advances and semi flex tickets are limited in number.”
But there were positive comments too with one social media users saying the 70 min window would be useful when meetings went past their finish time.
LNER claims Off-peak is a “dwindling fare” which now only represents 11% of all journeys.
They say their research found that most customers think the option to travel one hour earlier or later is about right.
Customers will also be able to use Change of Journey should they wish to flex beyond 70 minutes but sometimes at extra cost.
Data from the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train operators, found that 35 per cent of people for whom rail is an option are put off travelling by train because they find it difficult to find the right fare and 84 per cent want to see change.
The social media reaction suggests that this change might not be popular though.
David Horne, Managing Director at LNER, said: “Simplifying fares is vital in making rail travel more attractive. Customers tell us they find fares confusing.
“This exciting new pilot is the next step in our plans to overhaul complicated and outdated ticketing options and we look forward to hearing feedback from our customers.
“We believe that making fares simpler, smarter, and fairer, while introducing value for money and modern flexibility, will encourage more people to choose to travel by rail, the most sustainable travel choice.”
Rail Minister, Huw Merriman, said: “We are delivering on our commitment to reform the railways, working with operators to provide passengers with simpler and more flexible tickets that better suit their needs.”