Roddy Graham's Blog: 29 October 2009 - Public transport
29 October 2009
Two weeks ago, I explored the position of the three major parties on transport. One of the specific future targets of the Labour party was to simplify the structure of rail fares and ticket types across all rail operators. Lord Adonis, you need to get on the case right away!
I've just had a nightmare time booking rail travel.
As one of the fares was eligible for a discount, I was unable to book via the internet if I was going to ensure the person I travelled with sat next to me.
So, having called the national number, I was inevitably put through to an overseas call centre. Twelve minutes later, I was just about to book when the line went dead. Having made a coffee, I tried again. The same previous tedious process had to be repeated, not once but twice. Having relayed details of my required travel arrangements, I had these repeated back to me. Satisfied that all the details were correct, the operator then transferred me to a colleague to pay! You've guessed it. I had to go through the whole rigmarole again before giving my credit card details. All told, I spent over thirty minutes on the phone.
The trip? Not to Inverness via Aberystwyth, calling at Doncaster on the way. A simple return trip to the NEC.
The cost? For me a £40 single to the NEC and a £16.50 single back from the NEC.
It was cheaper that way apparently than buying a return ticket. Total adult price, one month in advance, £56.50.
Two things strike me. It would have been less time-consuming to have driven down to my local rail station and booked the tickets on the spot. It would have been less stressful too.
Next, the total cost of two people travelling far exceeded what I would have paid in fuel and car park charges if I had driven up. Okay, the overall motoring cost would have been more but then how many drivers actually think in those terms?
In this day and age of technology, our rail network should have an easy and quick booking engine system.
I recall a national travel correspondent had the same problem booking a train trip online to the south of France in an attempt to be green. In the end, he gave up and flew EasyJet. It was not only quicker but also cheaper.
The same applies to Eurotunnel that claims to be greener than cross-channel ferries.
Ever tried booking recently?
Its booking engine was as bad this last summer as it was when operations first started in the mid-nineties. I could not complete the transaction, despite three attempts. P&O was an absolute breeze by comparison.
It's hardly surprising that people are so protective of their independent mobility solutions. Only when Government and the various operators makes it cheap and easy to book public transport are we going to be able to start tempting people out of their cars.
We have a long way to go. Adding more lines, more coaches, improving station facilities, etc is only part of the solution. Making booking easy and the cost of travel attractive are equally important components.