Which? say that ‘Train Station Machines can Charge More Than Twice The Price of Booking Online’: Not with Smart Kiosks
Written by Isabella Hales
This article is written by our partner Cammax and originally appeared on their website.
Rail ticketing is once again firmly in the spotlight following recent research by Which? that claims passengers buying a ticket at train station vending machines risk paying up to twice as much as online.
Consumer champion group Which? conducted a study by sending mystery shoppers to 15 stations, each managed by a different train operating company (TOC), comparing the prices of 75 journeys from a ticket machine with those available on the UK’s largest ticket site, Trainline. The mystery shoppers aimed to purchase the cheapest one-way ticket for travel on the same day, the following morning, and three weeks later.
The findings revealed that online fares were cheaper approximately three-quarters of the time, with same-day journeys costing an average of 52% more from machines. Some discrepancies were particularly notable, such as a same-day, one-way ticket from Holmes Chapel in Cheshire to London, which cost 154% more at the station’s ticket machine (£66) compared to the online price (£26 split-ticket option).
Similarly, a same-day, one-way ticket from Northampton to Cardiff cost £107 from the machine, 148% more than the online price of £43.
‘Restricted Choice & Higher Prices for Passengers’
Which? also discovered significant variations in the services offered by different ticket machines, leading to restricted choices and, consequently, higher prices for passengers.
One major reason for the higher costs of machine tickets is the limited availability of ‘advance’ fares, which are cheaper tariffs for purchasing tickets in advance. Only five out of the 15 machines tested by Which? offered advance fares.
Some machines may also cause passengers to miss out on cheaper fares as they don’t seem to sell off-peak tickets during peak times, Which? claims. For instance, a mystery shopper at Hitchin found only an anytime single ticket priced at £133 for a journey that qualified for an off-peak fare. Online, the same journey could be booked for just £55 off-peak.
Despite the availability of advanced Smart ticket machines at a third of the stations visited, Which? also highlights that the machines do not offer split ticketing, a common feature found on websites such as Trainline and mobile ticketing apps.
The study also revealed alleged issues with ticket validity, as machines often fail to clearly indicate the times and services for which certain tickets are valid. This lack of clarity, combined with the absence of timetable information on most machines, poses challenges for passengers planning unfamiliar journeys.
Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, revealed his shock at the findings and urged passengers to book online to secure the cheapest fares.
He commented: “The price differences we found between booking online and using station ticket machines were simply astounding. Millions of tickets are purchased using ticket machines every year, meaning that huge numbers of us are potentially paying significantly more than we need to when we commute to work or visit friends and family across the country.”
“Wherever possible we’d recommend booking train tickets online for the cheapest options, but that won’t be possible for everyone. Significant numbers of elderly people don’t have internet access at all – leaving them with little choice but to run the gauntlet of ticket machines which either don’t offer the best prices, or make it difficult to find the appropriate fares.” He added.
Unveiling The Smart Rail TVM Solution
According to a 2023 survey commissioned by award-winning travel technology provider SilverRail, nearly half (48%) of British people indicated that they prefer to purchase train tickets at the station rather than online or via an app.
This sentiment is even stronger (52%) among those who have never bought rail tickets before.
Additionally, official statistics reveal that one-third of all rail tickets sold, equating to around £2.8 billion in current revenue, are purchased at the station. This indicates strong demand for using ticket machines however, as the Which? research rightly implies, passengers are growing increasingly frustrated with outdated systems that are far from user-friendly, too complex, and lack both fair and clear pricing.
Recognising the need to deliver a solution that satisfies the evolving needs of modern passengers, Cammax, the UK’s leading supplier of Smart ticketing systems, has joined forces with SilverRail to develop a groundbreaking new system: the Smart Rail Ticket Vending Machine (TVM). This cutting-edge solution features SilverRail’s advanced Ticket Issuing System (TIS) ‘SilverCore’ and the company’s intelligent UK Journey planner (IPTIS). It aims to revolutionise the ticketing experience, addressing the issues and shortcomings identified by Which? while ushering in a new era of transparency and efficiency in rail travel.
Addressing the Which? Concerns: Smart Rail TVM Capabilities & Functionality
The Smart Rail TVM provide passengers with a seamless, consumer-centric, and cost-effective alternative to the inadequate ticket machines currently found at a large majority of UK train stations. The Smart Rail TVM’s functionality and state-of-the art capabilities also directly address the concerns highlighted in the Which? research and provide several essential benefits to TOCs.
Seamless Pricing & Consistency
Which? Finding: Fares purchased online were cheaper around three-quarters of the time.
Smart Rail TVM: With SilverRail’s Ticket Issuing System (SilverCore), the Smart Rail TVM ensures pricing consistency, mirroring the cost-effective nature of online purchases. Passengers are always presented with the cheapest fare option, fostering transparency and trust in the ticketing process.
Empowering Passenger Choice
Which? Finding: Different ticket machines offered varied services, leading to restricted choices and higher prices.
Smart Rail TVM: Transforming from static, pre-programmed ticketing machines, the Smart Rail TVM acts as a dynamic shop window. It empowers TOCs to showcase their complete product range, providing passengers with diverse choices, including advance, off-peak, and walk-on rail tickets.
Flexibility in Ticketing Options
Which? Finding: Most machines fail to offer ‘advance’ fares, contributing to elevated ticket costs.
Smart Rail TVM: The Smart Rail TVM is designed with passenger flexibility in mind. It not only offers tickets for the day of travel but also extends the capability to secure tickets for future dates, allowing passengers to access advanced ticket pricing and plan their journeys with ease. Tickets can be purchased up to 90 days in advance.
Real-Time Information Access
Which? Finding: Many machines lack timetable information, making planning unfamiliar journeys challenging.
Smart Rail TVM: Equipped with an optional Customer Information Screens (CIS), the Smart Rail TVM provides real-time updates on train schedules, delays, and cancellations. This feature empowers passengers to make informed decisions, eliminating the challenges associated with planning journeys at stations without a ticket office or where station staff aren’t present.
Dynamic Functionality & Adaptability
Which? Finding: Even the most advanced smart ticket machines lack features such as split ticketing.
Smart Rail TVM: Breaking barriers, the Smart Rail TVM can incorporate many of the features expected from websites or train ticketing apps, including the capability for split ticketing and managing seat reservations. Constantly evolving, the Smart Rail TVM will also adapt to future travel trends.
Access to Discounts & Promotions
Which? Finding: Passengers do not benefit from rail ticket discounts at existing ticket machines.
Smart Rail TVM: In addition to offering flexible and affordable fares, the Smart Rail TVM displays and offers discounts, including national rail cards and local promotions, maximising cost-effective options for passengers.
A ‘Smarter’ Future
The UK rail sector is currently facing many challenging, not least how to overhaul tired and outdated ticketing systems that are clearly no longer fit for purpose. However, all challenges give rise to new opportunities and the Smart Rail TVM offer a promising glimpse into the potential of a ticketing solution that is not just functional but future-proof, ready to evolve with the ever-shifting tides of travel expectations.
TOCs, suppliers and other stakeholders must now work together in order to guide the rail industry toward a future where ticketing is not a challenge but an enabler of smooth and connected travel experiences.