Today, rail fares go up by an inflation-busting average of 5.9%, to howls of outrage from commuters and groups like Passenger Focus. But what many people don’t realise is that 5.9% is just an average.
And while Passenger Focus came across individual fare increases of up to 11%, I have scraped data from National Rail Enquiries and found that some anytime fares rise today by as much as 20% – that’s four times inflation – while others have fallen by as much as 45%.
Roll up, roll up to play the great rail fares lottery! (Bad luck if you live on Merseyside, where everyone seems to be a loser this year.)
Travelling from Moorfields to Chester at peak time? Oh no! Your anytime fare with Merseyrail has rocketed by 20% overnight, from £5.15 to £6.20. Liverpool to Southport? Ouch! The Merseyrail anytime fare is up 19%, from £4.65 to £5.50. Peak-time London to Warwick with Chiltern? Bad luck! Your fare rises by 9.8% today, from £51 to £56.
But peak-time Gatwick Airport to Southampton? DRRRRRIIIING – you’ve hit the jackpot: Southern’s anytime fare has bizarrely fallen by 45%, from £26.90 to £14.90. What’s going on?
You can find my raw data here – I scraped the fare increase in Anytime tickets on every end-to-end route listed in the NAPTAN database. I chose Anytime tickets because they are unregulated fares, and hence not subject to the RPI-plus-1% average limit imposed by the Chancellor. However, Passenger Focus’s good work has found large variation in regulated (off-peak and season) fares too – buying train tickets really is a lottery.
The 5.9% figure is a high-level average produced by ATOC, which regulates the train operators. When I rang them, ATOC told me the 5.9% figure is an average of an average, across all operators and all available potential routes, and all regulated and unregulated fares.
Clearly, with such wild variation between operators and regions, we need much better comparative data. I drew a graph showing the average rise I found in each operator’s fares, which showed large differences. I also compared the variation in fare increases, which produced some interesting geographical patterns (I’m looking at you in particular, Southern).
However, I’ve decided not to publish these for the moment, because my data only covers Anytime tickets and end-to-end routes, not every available journey, and it has holes in it, having been scraped. To compare prices properly, we really need to know how often each ticket is bought, but that data isn’t public.