diamond geezer

 Friday, May 20, 2011

Yesterday saw the publication of the McNulty report on railway "value for money". The report was commissioned by the previous government, and is likely to be implemented by the present government. It recommends making rail fares fairer by balancing them out a bit, which'll be great if yours come down, but dreadful if yours go up. One particularly unsettling section recommends "reducing the coverage of Off-Peak/Saver fare regulation", which would give train operators greater opportunity to increase fares during the middle of the day and at weekends. Damn, that's when I use them.

So I thought I'd do some research to find out how much off-peak tickets cost now, for posterity, to compare with whatever future fare system we might end up with in several years time. I've investigated the price of off-peak return tickets from London to various stations across the southeast. I've started from the most appropriate mainline rail terminus. I've assumed I'm buying my ticket on the day, not in advance, because I hate being tied down to particular trains. I've chosen to travel out on Friday at noon, and return later the same evening. And I've worked out how far out of London I can go for £10 (yellow), how far for £20 (green), how far for £30 (light blue), how far for £40 (blue) and how far for £50 (purple).

Here's something I've never tried on the blog before - an embedded map...

View Rail prices from London in a larger map

£10: See the yellow ring around Greater London? That's fairly consistent pricing, that is, although with an uneven ripple to the northwest of the capital. Maidenhead scores the prize for the furthest station you can travel to (and back) for a tenner.
£20: Again the £20 ring is roughly circular, allowing Londoners to travel approximately 40 miles out of the capital. Brighton's good value, that's fifty miles, and you can travel similarly far to the north (Milton Keynes, Bedford, Sandy, Cambridge) and to the southwest (notably Basingstoke).
£30: It's at £30 that the differences between train operators really start to become visible. £30 gets you almost to Birmingham and all the way up to Peterborough. It gives you free run of southeast England, anywhere from Portsmouth to Dover. But try heading into East Anglia with National Express and you won't even leave Essex.
£40: There are relative bargains here, right the way up to Grantham and all the way out to Worcester. But the extra tenner doesn't nudge you far along the M4, nor far along the mainline into Suffolk. And pity the residents of Wellingborough in Northants. They're only one station north of Bedford (£19.50 return), but that extra station costs them an extra £19.
£50: Fifty quid will take you to Bristol or even all the way out to Somerset, past Yeovil. A similar distance from London are the north Norfolk coast and Newark, Notts. But £50 isn't enough to make Leicester, on the long-distance line that's the worst value of all for bought-on-the-day tickets. East Midlands trains, hang your head in extortionate shame.

I wonder how this week's rail report will affect these off-peak turn-up-and-go fares and their spatial distribution. I fear not well. Come back in a few years time and maybe I'll plot this map again.

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