Legal status of bugs in journey planners

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mtford

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I just noticed an interesting "feature" on the East Coast journey planner. Try searching for an open return from Ely to Kings Cross with a Network Gold Card on a Sunday evening in the near future (17 June, 1 July or 8 July, but curiously not 24 June). Apparently you can buy a Super Off Peak Travelcard (with railcard discount) for the last journey, which involves an overnight wait in Cambridge, then the 04:48 train from Cambridge to Tottenham Hale and the Underground to Kings Cross. If true, this is a very cost-effective way for people in Cambridge to reach London on a Monday morning - it lets you use an off-peak ticket during the morning peak, with a Gold Card discount before 10am, and even lets you use the tube with yesterday's off-peak travelcard! But surely it is a bug - it doesn't work with Off Peak Travelcards (only Super Off Peak), nor any sort of Single or Return to London Terminals. I can't verify it on the National Rail website, as there aren't any valid times for the return leg of the journey (the "feature" only seems to work with the outward half of a southbound return on the last train on a Sunday night).

So, assuming that this is a mistake, my question is: what rights/obligations do I have if I try to use this ticket? Are all train companies (and the Underground) obliged to honour the fares quoted by all other train companies' journey planners, even in error? (NB it's not an East Coast journey, and the Greater Anglia website won't sell travelcards without a valid return time). Would I have to actually buy the ticket from East Coast after selecting that ticket, or would I be entitled to use the ticket (purchased elsewhere) if I carry a printout from the journey planner?
 
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WelshBluebird

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While I am not sure of that particular ticket, I would say the legal case is pretty clear. If you are sold a ticket as being valid for that journey, then it is valid, end of argument. Anything else would be in breach of numerous consumer protection laws.
 

GadgetMan

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The correct way for it to be dealt with is. The journey you are making must be honoured as you've been sold that ticket as being valid with that itinerary. However it should be withdrawn by revenue staff and a zero fare ticket given to you so you are not inconvenienced and can continue your journey. The original ticket will then get forwarded to the revenue department of which ever TOC withdrew it for further investigation.

However it would not surprise me in the slightest if a member of revenue staff insisted on charging an excess or selling a new ticket to a customer making that journey.

Also note, that once you have been advised by a member of staff that the ticket is infact not valid for that journey, then you must not make that journey again on that ticket because you would then get reported for making a journey without paying the correct fare and you'd no longer be able to plead ignorance.
 

transportphoto

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There has recently been a major error in booking engines such as East Coast's which meant 1000 mile journeys could be made with a ticket for a 5 mile one. The tickets were honoured as sold as the problem became well known. If you buy a ticket with the associated itinerary, it is valid IMO. End of.
 

34D

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I will put forward a view that is different to the three preceeding posts.

If you buy said ticket, you have created a contract between yourself and East Coast for you to travel as per the booked itinerary.

However, in my opinion, you would be guilty of the strict liability offence of failing to show a valid ticket for your journey.

I do not believe that this ticket (nor the 1000 mile journeys for the cost of a 5 mile one) would constitute a 'valid ticket' under the NRCOC. Yes, you may receive the benefit of the doubt from a guard, but this doesn't change the fact that a ticket isn't valid. To quote from NRCOC:

22. Inspection of tickets
You must show and, if asked to do so by the staff of a Train Company or its agent, hand over for inspection a valid ticket and any relevant Railcard, photocard or other form of personal identifcation in accordance with Condition 15. If you do not, you will be treated as having joined a train without a ticket and the relevant parts of Condition 2 or 4 will apply. If an Electronic Ticket cannot be displayed, you will be treated as if you were unable to hand over for inspection a valid ticket.
 

yorkie

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But if that's true, the contracts formed on all booking sites are effectively meaningless, and the wording "valid by the route and operator shown" is meaningless. I find that difficult to believe.

If any of the booking agents refuse to honour bookings, then they should be exposed so people can use alternative booking sites.

However, to my knowledge, no booking agent has refused to honour a booking, including some really crazy ones that have cropped up.
 

34D

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But if that's true, the contracts formed on all booking sites are effectively meaningless

Now the contract isn't meaningless.

However the traveller can comply with a contract AND still be found guilty in the magistrates court.
 

DaveNewcastle

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But if that's true, the contracts formed on all booking sites are effectively meaningless, and the wording "valid by the route and operator shown" is meaningless.
No. That conclusion doesn't follow at all.

34D's interpretation simply implies that the automated systems running on Ticket Booking sites can, exceptionally, generate an error.
As human ticket sellers can, exceptionally.

All that we would want to know, in such exceptional circumstances, is how the parties handle the situation once an error has been identified.
 

IanXC

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Also note, that once you have been advised by a member of staff that the ticket is infact not valid for that journey, then you must not make that journey again on that ticket because you would then get reported for making a journey without paying the correct fare and you'd no longer be able to plead ignorance.

What about if it later transpired that the member of staff was wrong to say the ticket was not valid? Should the passenger always travel with written confirmation of validity from the TOC?

Also what if the member of staff takes no action other than warning that the ticket is not valid via said route, even though booking engines still accept it?

I accept that these are likely to be relatively rare situations!
 

GadgetMan

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What about if it later transpired that the member of staff was wrong to say the ticket was not valid? Should the passenger always travel with written confirmation of validity from the TOC?

Also what if the member of staff takes no action other than warning that the ticket is not valid via said route, even though booking engines still accept it?

I accept that these are likely to be relatively rare situations!

If the member of staff was wrong then they would be told so when the TIR is submitted. As it is unlikely that it would be the same guard the next time the passenger travels, by then word will have got around and clarification sorted so it shouldn't get to the point where numerous staff get it wrong and the passenger further inconvenienced.

I'm not going to pretend we all get it right all of the time. I'll happily admit to making a gaff once in a while, but I will always try and get clarification from a more reliable source whenever possible before withdrawing tickets unless I am absolutely certain I know the ticket is invalid.
 

mtford

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No. That conclusion doesn't follow at all.

34D's interpretation simply implies that the automated systems running on Ticket Booking sites can, exceptionally, generate an error.
As human ticket sellers can, exceptionally.

All that we would want to know, in such exceptional circumstances, is how the parties handle the situation once an error has been identified.

Right, but how is 34D defining an "error"? If the booking site is wrong, this implies that there is some other higher authority to define the validity of a ticket. As far as I know there is no authoritative document listing all of the trains on which every off-peak ticket can be used, especially where the journey involves travel on more than one TOC's services. First Capital Connect has PDF timetables showing the off-peak ticket restrictions on their services, but the restrictions don't necessarily apply to off-peak tickets sold by other TOCs for a longer journey (E.g. the booking engines tell me that the return half of a Cambridge - East Croydon Off Peak Day Return cannot be used on the 18:14 service from Kings Cross to Cambridge, but the return half of a Cambridge-Eastbourne Off Peak Day Return is valid on that train. What authority is supposed to define this, other than the online booking engines? If there is no such authority, how can the booking engines ever be deemed "wrong" in a Magistrates Court?)
 

button_boxer

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Right, but how is 34D defining an "error"? If the booking site is wrong, this implies that there is some other higher authority to define the validity of a ticket. As far as I know there is no authoritative document listing all of the trains on which every off-peak ticket can be used, especially where the journey involves travel on more than one TOC's services.

The "higher authority" is a combination of the Routeing Guide (to determine which routes are valid) and the specific restriction code for the individual ticket (to determine what time trains are valid for that ticket). Some restriction codes are simple - "valid at any time" or "valid from 09:30" - and some are more complex, based on departure times from the origin, arrival times at the destination (common for tickets to London), and possibly with differing restrictions for different routes if the ticket is valid by several.

Different booking engines can have slightly different interpretations of the Routeing Guide. In my experience they tend to be more consistent regarding valid times from the validity codes.
 

DaveNewcastle

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Right, but how is 34D defining an "error"?
Hopefully the answers which button boxer and John @ Home have given will help you here.

I must say I took a different approach, by referring to your thread title which explicitly states that we're dicussing "a bug" and this from your opening post: "So, assuming that this is a mistake, . . . ", I felt quite at liberty to persist with your pre-supposition that we are only discussing errors.

What authority is supposed to define this, other than the online booking engines? If there is no such authority, how can the booking engines ever be deemed "wrong" in a Magistrates Court?
I hope that the last part of my post (to which you're responding) would help:
DaveNewcastle said:
All that we would want to know, in such exceptional circumstances, is how the parties handle the situation once an error has been identified.
I for one would be surprised if the parties dealt with "a bug" and "assuming this is a mistake" in front of a Bench of Magistrates.
Very surprised indeed.
 

Wolfie

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In other words, nobody knows for sure. I certainly wouldn't want to be the first one to be taken to court for exploiting a bug in a booking website.

I suspect the issue of who's booking website it is comes into this. A TOC might not have many concerns about taking legal action against say a Trainline user but would likely have big concerns about doing so against someone who had bough a ticket from its own website.....
 
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