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Sunday, January 15, 2017

How to save money on train fares

Five top tips for saving money on ever-expensive train fares

Save money on train and travel fares
Southern, Thameslink, South-Western and, in fact, most train operators on commuter trains in and out of London have achieved something pretty special the past couple of years.

They have been able to run an ever-depleted service, with more lateness and cancellations than before, and still put the price of tickets up for the hapless commuters relying on them.

Today, for example, we have heard Thameslink excuses of: "signalling problems" and the driver has also blamed the underground strike. Which is a new one one me.

The other day, it was simply Southern's industrial action; a few days ago it was lack of stock... The list of daily excuses must be running short. I wonder if management at Govia, which owns Thameslink and Southern, just use an eight-ball every day to conjure up an excuse for their shoddy service.

"Can you afford to keep giving £342.80 away to TFL - especially considering the service you are getting from your train provider?"

The icing - a bitter, sugarless, hard-as-nails sulphuric icing - on this cake for commuters was the fare hike this January.

A monthly travel card from Zone 5 (where houses once used to be affordable) into Zone 1 (Central London) now costs £215.90. It was approximately £212.00 last year; that's a £46.80 annual price hike for those buying each month. This might not seem much, but when the service has been little short of Dante's fourth circle of Hell, even a £3.90 per month price hike is akin to a kick in the infernal regions.

So here are some tips to help minimise the pain and maximise your gain.

1) Time it right
Essentially, before the start of the new year 2018, find out on what day the train fares will rise. Start saving up now to enable you to buy your annual season ticket before the fares rise.

For example, in 2017 the fares went up on 2nd January; I bought on 1 January on the old prices and paid £2208.00 for my 2017 season ticket on the old prices. Had I waited until 2nd January when the travel fares rose, I would have had to pay £2248 - a saving of £46.

2) Buy annually not monthly
It always makes sense to buy annually - you essentially pay 10 months' worth of travel instead of 12 so it makes absolute financial sense to buy annually instead of buying monthly.

It might seem like a lot more money upfront but the savings are phenomenal. Let's break this down. An annual Zone 1 to Zone 5 travelcard in 2017 costs £2248 a year, which divided by 12 (the number of months) equates to a cost of £187.33 a month.

However, if you buy monthly, you will have to pay the 2017 monthly cost of £215.90. By paying monthly you end up giving Transport For London £2590.80. That's an extra £342.80 that you could use. That's a long weekend away in Paris.

Can you afford to keep giving £342.80 away to TFL - especially considering the service you are getting from your train provider?

3) Workplace travel loans
If you cannot save up c.£200 a month for a year to put aside towards your annual season ticket, and do not have the readies, ask your workplace for a year's travel loan. You basically make the savings outlined above on your train/tube fares, and the money comes out of your pay packet each month automatically. It's worth it for the savings.

I used our household account - transferred the money into my own account, then set up a Standing Order to repay it over the course of 18 months.

Overcrowded, underground, Wombling free?
4) Work out and walk out
One of the best forms of exercise is to walk - and in London, stations are so close to each other it might make sense for people living on the edges of certain zone boundaries to consider walking to or taking the bus to the next zone.

For example, I could walk to a Zone 4 station (or take the bus, as there are no zones for London buses) each morning, and walk home from it each night. It would take me 20 minutes to walk. However I am a mixture of lazy and romantic - lazy because I will make excuses for not getting up 20 minutes earlier, and romantic because I get to travel into and home from work with Mr Mermaid.

However, if I were not lazy or romantic, I would be saving myself a whopping £356 a year on my annual ticket. I might actually do that next year (and will encourage Herr Mermaid to consider this with me as a means of getting fit and having £360 or so more in our pockets each year).

Incidentally, one year (2010), I was not only made redundant but I did not claim any benefits while searching for work - so when I found a new job (basically my old one from 2006 back again at £8,000 less than I had been earning in 2010), I was flat broke. I ended up walking to London Bridge and back again for two weeks in a row until I got my first pay cheque. That was seven miles there and back from London Bridge to Streatham. Approximately two hours each way. I was fit as anything but unless it's summertime and you don't have any other responsibilities, as I now have, I would advocate not doing this!

5) Name it and claim it!
I feel hypocritical saying this because I only claimed once and never used the ticket, but I have started to do so this year each time the train is delayed more than 15 minutes. Which as we are using both Thameslink and Southern Rail (owned by Govia - pronounced 'Go-F-ya' in less polite circles), is quite often.

Mr Mermaid has been brilliant at this and has managed to claim back about £220 (approximately 10 per cent the cost of his annual travelcard price) for the past couple of years.

Heck, we let Govia get away with it day in, day out, by merely moaning on Twitter and never making them pay out. Hit them where it hurts - their pay cheques. Claim it back.

How much can I claim?

This depends. According to National Rail Enquiries, you can claim back 100% for the cost of a cancelled train if you end up not travelling as a result.

Each train company sets its own level of compensation, as set down by the company's Passenger's Charter. But usually the compensation level can be guesstimated by the following:
  • Single ticket, or return ticket if both legs are delayed – 50% of the price paid
  • Return ticket with delay on outward or return journey – 50% of the price paid for the relevant part of the journey
  • Season Ticket – details of arrangements for Season Ticket holders are set out in each Train Company’s Passenger’s Charter.
It's so much easier now to claim back than even two years ago, when many rail operators only accepted forms by post (which were laborious). Now you can do it online simply by scanning in your Ticket, your Receipt, and by taking careful note of how late the train has come in.

Southern and Thameslink now refund for a delay of 15 minutes - which on our average daily commuter trains so far means that they owe us for 6 delayed trains out of a total of 18 so far - 1/3 of all the trains in and out so far this year have been delayed over 15 minutes. Three of these were delayed over 40 minutes. Only four were actually on time. The rest were a few minutes out. 

If you consider how many times a week you take trains - 10 times a week in my case, there and back again - and extrapolate this into, say 11 months of commuting into work (assuming a month's holiday), then that's approximately 440 trains a year (assuming just four weeks each month for 11 months). 

Given current conditions, I can expect one-third of these 440 trains to be delayed more than 15 minutes. So I can claim back on 146 trains. Thameslink's passenger charter says I can claim back on an annual season ticket 1/464 x total ticket price. (This charter is subject to change). So approximately £4.75 for a 100% delayed journey or c. £2.40 for a 50% delayed journey.

Say all my refunds are about £2.40 on 146 trains - I could expect approximately £347.00 in refunds over the course of 2017, unless Govia suddenly improves its service standards, which we all very much doubt.

If everyone who was delayed made claims - to which everyone is entitled - Govia would have to start improving its service. I am ashamed it has taken me so long to get this sorted - and I have only committed to doing this because Mr Mermaid has helped me, and I have seen the financial benefits of him having been conscientious enough to do this over the years. 

Have you got any more tips? Please share them in the comments below!


Gorilla Bananas said...

How does the refund thing work if you've got an oystedcard? You can find your journey history online.

Mermaid of Moorgate said...

Works the same Gorilla. I have an Oystercard. Just keep your receipts and ticket, scan these in and make notes of the time and date of the delayed trains.

Electro-Kevin said...

All good tips. It's very embarassing for rail operatives. In part, fares are going up because state subsidy is being progressively withdrawn from the system - part of it is the wage bill too. Whether withdrawal of subsidy is the right thing to be doing or not I don't know - I am a capitalist by nature. But where people say "Oooh. Look how far you can get in Europe for cheaper !" they are usually pointing to places where income tax is high. One Daily Mail reporter even cited Russian railways to shame our own.

Claim away though. And I think one of the biggest flaws with privatisation is that the delay penalties stay within the industry. Network Rail claims for delays from TOCs and TOCs claim from Network Rail in tit-for-tat (or quid pro quo if you like) with tiers of non-operative professionals dealing with it. What goes out in penalties usually come back.

If the claims went out of the system (to the customers in hard cash) never to return again then it would be more of a punishment. But then we'd have to be a lot stricter on people who held doors or argued with staff and delayed trains too.

On the previous subject of DOO. I forgot to mention (having worked it for 8 of my 26 years service) that watching the signals and doors at the same time was never really a problem. The issue is train length and passenger numbers. A three car is usually manageable with one communicative driver - any more becomes a crowd control issue at times of delays and faults with your train. At least 30% of driver training is in fault rectification/system isolation as a train can be guaranteed to break down 50 miles from the nearest fitter who can't get to you by rail because you're blocking the track ! The favoured policy (if you can't rectify the fault quickly) is what we call cut-and-run. Isolate the system and run under degraded conditions (usually a speed restriction) to the nearest help/designated evacuation point. Presently guards on my trains fulfill secondary functions where there are brake isolations or reversing (propelling) moves to be done.

(A 12 car carries over 1000 people.)