First Bus increases group ticket price by 90% for families in Staffordshire

first_bus_2060First Bus in the Potteries have withdrawn their family network day ticket which allowed 2 adults and up to 3 children to travel for £10 a day, replacing it with a £15 group ticket for 4 people

A family of 5 now need to pay £19 (£15 for a group ticket, and £4 for a young person’s ticket), almost doubling the price from £10 overnight.

In contrast a group of 4 adults used to pay £20 for 4 x £5 day tickets, but can now travel on the group ticket for £15, a reduction of 25%.

The new group ticket is good for adults, but unfair in charging children the same as adults, and unfair in introducing a 90% price rise overnight.

First bus explain that “Our studies show that multiple adults are more price sensitive to bus travel than those travelling with young people, as the cost of multiple adult tickets is often prohibitive.”

So it seems families are being squeezed for more as surveys have shown they are more likely to pay the extra compared to groups of adults!

A compromise would be to allow a family of 5 to travel on the £15 group ticket; a 50% rise but still offering good value for money for typical journeys in the area.


Cheaper Merseyrail Day Fare option not offered by National Rail Enquiries

National Rail Enquiries doesn’t offer every rail fare so sometimes suggests an unnecessarily high fare. For example there is a £4.80 Day Saver available for travelling Off-Peak on all Merseyrail services, but National Rail Enquires shows a fare of £7.95 for an Anytime Return from Southport to Chester even for Off-Peak Journeys. See below for details.

As a footnote, Merseyrail are unique in not allowing people to pick up pre-purchased tickets from their ticket machines or booking offices, which means people arriving on flights at John Lennon Airport cannot collect Advance purchase tickets from Merseyrail operated Liverpool South Parkway.


Buying a Travelcard – First Capital Connect style

You want to buy a Travelcard, one of the most common types of ticket, from the First Capital Connect (FCC) website. It should be simple but passengers continue to think it cannot be done due to the ticket not being shown in the first few steps of the ticket purchase. The following takes you through the process for a Cambridge to London Travelcard. It’s been like this for months. FCC have been told but have done nothing to fix it. 

Adding “London All Zones Travelcard” to the list on the front page or the website, or a clear ‘with Travelcard’ option on the page showing the journey options  would help. There are other issues with ease of use which are also highlighted below, including the issue of not being able to buy a Travelcard having started on the National Rail Enquiries website.

The process is described below:
Start on the FCC homepage leaving from Cambridge. Type in London by “Going to” and the list just includes London stations – no mention of a Travelcard. No alternative apart from…..


…choosing London Kings Cross as that’s the station we want to travel through


Click ‘Buy Tickets’ and you are taken to this screen, which seems to serve little purpose apart from having a link to a user guide.


Click ‘Buy tickets’ and you are taken to this screen which simply lists the Cambridge to London ticket. Looks like we are out of luck – no Travelcards in slight. Most people I have spoken to have given up at this point, and fortunately for First Capital Connect have gone to the station to buy one. However, if you click on ‘Amend Search’….


….a new search panel pops up. This looks very similar to the one on the FCC home page but….


…if you now type in London again you get a different set of stations including London All Zones Travelcard.


Select this and click ‘Search’…


…and a new set of fares is displayed including a London All Zones Travelcard for £15.50, and a list of all the serves including the 10:15 Cambridge to Kings Cross. This looks promising……


…so click on the ‘£15.50 return’ button, but almost all the trains disappear including the desired 10:15. No clues in the information under ‘Super Offpeak Day Travelcard’ However, don’t give up yet. If you hover the mouse over the £15.50 button……


….a pop up appears saying ‘Greater Anglia Trains Only’. That would explain it. So let’s try hovering the mouse over the other buttons. Same result for the £16.35 one, but…


….the £20.40 button has no mention of ‘Greater Anglia Trains Only’. We are finally there……


Click on the £20.40 button and ‘Buy Now’ and you can congratulate yourself on completing the FCC ticket buying challenge.


Starting on the National Rail Enquiries page is just as frustrating. In a similar way to FCC, only London stations are listed, so again you chose one of these. However, this time there is a ‘With Travelcard’ button on the results page to turn it into a Travelcard…..


…but if you now select the required £20.40 fare….


…and choose First Capital Connect are a ‘Ticket Provider’ the ‘Buy Now’ button is greyed out, presumably because National Rail Enquiries know that First Capital Connect are unable to sell these in a straightforward way so don’t want to launch passengers down this route – although it would be useful if there was a message explaining this rather than simply greying out the button. The button is greyed out for other operators as well to the problem is not unique to First Capital Connect.



Also misleadingly, if a passenger was to continue with First Capital Connect’s original query only showing destinations of London Terminals (Kings Cross being £15.65 return) they are eventually presented with a travelcard option as an add-on at an extra cost of £5.90 giving a total of £21.55 – not the correct price of £20.40 for the combined Cambridge to Zones 1-6 ticket, although no far off.




Ticket restrictions incorrect after timetable change

Time restrictions for tickets are sometimes specified by referring to a specific service and this can lead to incorrect restrictions being specified if the train moves by as little as a minute in a timetable change.

For example, the 09:05 from Foxton to London was re-timed to 09:04 in December 2013, but the restrictions still refer to 09:05.

In this case £21.60 Off-Peak Day Return is not shown as valid on the 09:04, although the £34.00 Off-Peak Return is shown as valid presumably because this has been corrected by one minute (although the text description shown later would imply not).


Below is the current description of the restrictions from “as of 19 January 2014”. It raises the question: does the rail industry have an automatic way of identifying these timetable related issues, or is it a completely manual process?

Off-Peak Day Return 


Off-Peak Return



Provide a code on tickets for checking validity

The recently published Fares and Ticketing review:
contains a proposal for a new print layout for tickets.


This includes a link to the restriction code (in this example L4) for that ticket which will link to helpful information about the ticket’s validity but this is a page covering a broad range of journeys leaving the passenger with the difficult task of interpreting the complex rules.

I suggest it would be valuable to also add a longer code allowing the passenger to look up more detailed information about the ticket allowing future features to be provided which are specific to the ticket, such as a ‘is my ticket valid on this train’:

NRE already uses 3 letter station codes and 3 letter ticket types so 9 characters are needed to represent the ticket plus something for the route (e.g. Any Permitted)

e.g. CBGLIVSVRA would be a Cambridge (CBG) to Liverpool Lime Street (LIV) Off-Peak Return (SVR) Any permitted route (A)

This code could be printed on the ticket so a passenger can look up validity information which is customised to the route and journey instead of the current proposal of simply printing the restriction code which it too broad and vague to give the passenger concise and easy to understand information.

A QR code with this information could be printed on tickets directed to NRE to make looking up information straightforward.

The date could be added to the end of this code (e.g. 290913 for 29th September 2013) so the date the ticket is valid until could be taken into account when giving the passenger information, but the date restrictions are in general straightforward (e.g. valid for 1 month) so the extra typing to enter this code (e.g. CBGLIVSVRA290913)  would probably have not enough benefit for most queries.

Initially the codes suggested about could simply be directed to the generic information about the relevant restriction code (e.g. Restriction code 9I) but in future a much more focused page could be provided such as the one proposed here.

Cycles on Trains

Allowing cycles on trains is at peak times a delicate balance between the convenience of cyclists and the comfort of others.

This is a particular problem at Cambridge due to a combination of the popularity of cycling and extremely poor station cycle parking facilities putting people off leaving their cycle at the station to avoid taking it on the train.

Providing more cycle space on trains is essential impractical as it is challenging enough to provide enough seats for passengers. Providing extra cycle storage on trains is simply not cost effective at busy time. In parts of Europe with high cycle usage the solution is to provide good alternatives such as high quality cycle parking at each end of the route. Folding cycles can always be carried.

The issue has been visible in Cambridge recently as Greater Anglia are consulting on their cycle strategy:

This has lead to press coverage including some good suggestions about how to ease the probem:
‘Bring Boris bikes to Cambridge’ says campaigner who believes we should give
up fight to board Cambridge trains with bicycles’ s-campaigner-who-believes-we-should-give-up-fight-to-board-Cambridge-trains- with-bicycles-20131017031047.htm
(which has a rather odd title as in the article it says “He said a system like London’s Boris Bikes would not be suitable because it is not geared for commuter cyclists”)

The very flexible cycle hire scheme which doesn’t need the physical infrastructure used in London is described here, operated by Deutsche Bahn in several German cities:

Some coverage about the current restrictions being enforced “Cyclist hits out at ‘draconian’ bike ban on rush hour trains to city”

A few ideas on this subject:

  • There are limitations to the number of cycles taken on trains so on busy routes it is necessary to provide good alternatives including high quality cycle parking park at each end of the journey.
  • The cycle restrictions need to be clear, unambiguous and well publicised.
  • Journey planners and timetables should have clear information about cycle restrictions.
  • Where reservations are required these should be simple to do (phone or internet) and available up to the departure time.
  • It is important to consult with local cycle and rail groups where changes to the rules are being proposed. The basis for any rule change proposals should be made clear, and the results of any associated surveys should be made openly available to the groups being consulted.

Confusing London Midland Great Escape Rules

The restrictions for London Midland’s Great Escape appear to be worded differently to what they intended; instead of “Great Escape tickets are not valid on direct services to London Euston from Stafford, Rugeley, Lichfield and Nuneaton before 1245hrs on Saturdays” they should say something like “On Saturdays Great Escape tickets are not allowed on direct Euston trains joining at Stafford, Rugeley, Litchfield or Nuneaton until 1245.”

The Great Escape

London Midland regularly operate a popular “Great Escape” promotion giving freedom of their trains for £15:

In the past there has been overcrowding on trains through the Trent Valley (stopping at Rugeley, Lichfield and Nuneaton) on Saturdays so London Midland have introduced a Saturday restriction:
“To prevent overcrowding, Great Escape tickets are not valid on direct services to London Euston from Stafford, Rugeley, Lichfield and Nuneaton before 1245hrs on Saturdays (feel free to travel via Birmingham/Coventry, though). There are no other time restrictions at weekends.”

The wording of this rule is ambiguous:

  • Does “before 1245hrs” refer to the arrival time at Euston or the departure time at Stafford, Rugeley, Lichfield and Nuneaton?
  • Although it says you cannot travel on the restricted services, are you allowed to board them south of Nuneaton?
  • Likewise are you allowed to board them north of Stafford and travel on them through Stafford, Rugeley, Lichfield and Nuneaton?

London Midland gave the following answers:

  • “It means leaving those stations at 1245. Not arriving into Euston.”
  • [Waiting for an answer from London Midland but will assume the answer is that you can board any train south of Nuneaton]
  • On a Saturday can you board a train north of Stafford and travel to London via Litchfield before 12:45hrs? “Yes, getting on at stations north of Stafford is fine.”

The last answer is not what the rule implies as the rule talks about the “services” being restricted rather than whether you can “board” the trains.

A better wording would be something along the lines of:
“To prevent overcrowding, on Saturdays Great Escape tickets are not allowed on direct Euston trains joining at Stafford, Rugeley, Litchfield or Nuneaton until 1245″.  Feel free to travel via Birmingham/Coventry, though. There are no other time restrictions at weekends.”