Train tickets, says Which?, cost more at station machines than when bought from the Trainline
Train passengers who buy their fare from a ticket machine, rather than online, face paying more than double, suggests new analysis into prices.
Consumer group Which? has found station ticket machines are charging up to 150% more – with the best-value fares often unavailable or very difficult to find.
The investigation – which involved sending a team of mystery shoppers to stations across England – found that tickets bought online were cheaper around three quarters of the time.
Fifteen researchers tried to find the cheapest single fare for a journey that day, the following morning and in three weeks time – with same day tickets 52% more expensive on average when bought on site.
Plans to close almost all of England’s manned ticket offices were scrapped last year after huge public backlash, but many rail passengers, says Which? still have to rely on ticket machines or online booking options.
Just one in six of the 1,766 train stations controlled by the government has a full time ticket office, suggest industry figures and in 2022 around 150m rail journeys were made with tickets bought from machines.
For a comparison, Which? checked the price of 75 different journeys – at 15 ticket machines that were each owned by a different train operator – against the cheapest prices offered by the UK’s biggest ticket site Trainline.
Mystery shoppers found that for same day travel, the cheapest fares came from Trainline for 11 out of 15 journeys than when compared with ticket machines.
Among them, a journey from Holmes Chapel in Cheshire to London was found to cost £66 at a machine despite Trainline offering the same journey for £26.
While Northampton to Cardiff would set a traveller back £107 when buying from a machine, compared to £43 online.
Issues with the sale of advanced tickets, and the option to purchase off-peak tickets from machines during peak times, were also raised in the report.
Most ticket machines tried, says Which? also had no timetable information, including at the UK’s busiest station, Waterloo.
Here, says Which?, it was also impossible to make seat reservations and passengers could only buy fares up to a month ahead, despite tickets usually going on sale up to three months in advance.
Improvements to ticket machines were included among the plans to scrap ticket offices last year, with some operators pledging to use Treasury money to make changes as part of their closure proposals. The Department for Transport says it will still ‘seek to support the industry to modernise ticket machines’.