Long-distance trains with very low load factors

Discussion in 'Fares Advice & Policy' started by Starmill, 21 Nov 2019.

  1. Starmill

    Starmill Veteran Member Associate Staff Events Co-ordinator

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    I wanted to comment briefly on the phenomenon of trains running on highly congested routes with large numbers of empty seats on them.

    I don't wish to pick on another user, but I thought that this comment in a recent thread deserved a little expansion:
    In many cases this is certainly already true, although there's an open question as to how effective that might be at the promotion of car alternatives.

    However, it's very frequently not true on the West Coast Main Line. Tonight, I'm on the 1740 London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly. I joined at the train's first call, Crewe. It's a 9 car train and optimistically there were 40% of standard seats taken from London. There was hardly anybody sat in Coach A, maybe 15 people. There were several unoccupied tables of 4 spread throughout the train.

    Of course, this isn't an especially large mystery. If we look at the prices on Thursdays of this train:
    28th November £175 (sold out, Anytime rate)
    5th December £91
    12th December £148
    19th December £91
    9th January £91
    Etc - to summarise it's close to impossible to get a ticket for this train is comparable on price with the 1900 and departures thereafter. For comparison, the price of the 1900 and later departures from London isn't more than £44.80 provided it is booked as part of a round trip, or exceptionally £88.60 if booked singly.

    Of course, the 1857 and especially 1900 on Thursdays have large numbers of standing passengers.

    To put it another way, the service is deliberately designed to carry only passengers paying very, very high fares after the 1500 and before the 1820 (the latter does have some £41 tickets usually, if you book very far in advance, but they all sell out). This implies they generate substantially higher ticket revenue from running empty trains than from optimising for a balance of sales and revenue.

    A very similar picture occurs with the 0755 Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston. I caught that last week to Tamworth (where I change for Birmingham). I appreciate the nice quiet journey, but even after passengers from Tamworth have boarded and there are no further stops before London Euston, only around 40% of seats are occupied - you can see that because the whole train has to draw past you as you walk along the platform.

    I'm not talking about Fridays or weekends as these are totally different. But I thought it was worth pointing out that, on at least one route, trains running at times when Off Peak tickets from Manchester to London aren't valid are very much not optimised for loading, but rather for revenue. I will be fascinated to see how the situation develops under the new franchisee.

    Final thought - have a think about how well loaded London Northwestern Railway trains are at around 1740. It seems to me that the passengers from the passengers from two Manchester bound services could probably fit into one 11 car train - say the 1700 and the 1720. If VT and their successor don't want to optimise for capacity, should they retain the right to these paths, which are afforded to them at an opportunity cost for London Northwestern Railway passengers.
     
    Last edited: 21 Nov 2019
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  3. some bloke

    some bloke Member

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    One concern is the effect on climate.

    Is it worth considering low passenger numbers in a context including local trains? The pricing issues and solutions may be different, but perhaps a sensible national policy would look at loading on both.
     
  4. Starmill

    Starmill Veteran Member Associate Staff Events Co-ordinator

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    It is certainly worth considering whether better government policy might be for the railway to carry the maximum number of people it can in a year, rather than currently for it to generate the highest fares revenue that it can.
     
  5. gazzaa2

    gazzaa2 Member

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    Yeah I agree with this post but London-Manchester 3 x trains an hour with 9-11 carriages is pretty well served capacity wise. It's still packed out and standing room only on many of the VT.

    Many of the other routes in and out of Manchester for example (Cross Country/Northern/TPE/EMT) really are packed to the rafters.

    Trains in and out of London are really only the ones that are well served capacity wise even though they're still often standing room only. That's not to say every train is full, it certainly isn't, but a lot of the trains are a lot fuller than is healthy. Make fares a lot cheaper and you're causing a lot more overcrowding.
     
  6. Djgr

    Djgr Member

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    This is what happens when trains are run for private profit rather than for the public good.
     
  7. Kite159

    Kite159 Veteran Member

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    I must have missed the time when British Rail didn't have peak time fares...
     
  8. Mag_seven

    Mag_seven Established Member Associate Staff General Discussion

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    I would bet that the 19.00 Euston to Manchester full and standing with discounted tickets takes in less money than the 17.40 which is only 40% full but with those on it paying substantially more than those on the 19.00. This implies that the TOC is only really interested in maxmising revenue rather than trying to spread demand out over the services. To use an extreme example if it could get away with running a train with just two passengers on it each paying £200,000 each it would!
     
  9. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    They did, but the markup was nowhere near as much as it is on Virgin Trains - it was more like the kind of proportion it's in on other lines. For instance an Any Permitted Anytime Day Return from MKC to Euston is £42.60, whereas an Any Permitted Off Peak Day Return (to use the middle one, as they have more fare bands than VT) is £26.50 - so the markup is roughly 1.6x, which seems reasonable. I don't know the figures pre privatisation but they weren't, if I recall, much different from this.

    By contrast, the Anytime Return from Manchester to Euston is an outrageous £350, and the Off Peak £89.60, a multiplier of 3.91. A more reasonable price for that ticket, on the above principle, would be around £150.

    That aside, one of the aspects of a clockface timetable is you do to some extent (unless you run short DMUs or EMUs so you can, like say Chiltern or LNR do, vary the formations to match) have to accept low loadings at certain times of day because a consistent pattern is more important. But that's low loadings, say, at 1pm on a Saturday away from London, not low loadings in the peak where people are artificially being priced off the trains and are either driving, waiting until later or staying in hotels because a train the night before plus a hotel is, even at London prices, significantly cheaper than a peak train ticket. There is no shortage of people wishing to travel at those times (unlike 11am-1pm on a Saturday northbound, probably the quietest time on VTWC) - they're just being priced off.
     
  10. yorkie

    yorkie Forum Staff Staff Member Administrator

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    I can assure you that the fare currently called an Off Peak Return (then Saver Return) would have been valid for passengers to return from London back to Manchester on the 1740 train in BR days.

    It very much was Virgin who caused the phenomenon described in the opening post.

    This is very true.

    On the "off peak" ones, yes.

    On Virgin Trains, for flows priced by them, Anytime fares tend to be required to use trains which are less busy. The busiest trains tend to be valid on Off Peak fares.
    Yes, such as the 1857 and 1900 departures, because the 1740 is rather empty because it's so expensive.
    Really? If you make the fare on the 1740 a bit cheaper, you will cause a lot more overcrowding? That's really odd because I would have thought that reducing the fare on the 1740, 1800, 1820, 1840 would reduce overcrowding on the 1857 and 1900 which are - as you admit - packed.

    If you can explain your logic, I'd be most interested to hear it! Or did you misunderstand the post you were replying to?
     
    Last edited: 21 Nov 2019
  11. JonathanH

    JonathanH Established Member

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    ...or the off-peak price of the Manchester ticket and the peak price of the Milton Keynes ticket have been controlled by fares regulation.

    Off-peak tickets in the South East are at a discount to the regulated peak fares. Peak fares on InterCity routes are at a premium to the regulated off-peak fares. That is why the ratios are out of line. Reflects the fact that short distance travel is "essential" whereas long-distance travel is less so.
     
  12. yorkie

    yorkie Forum Staff Staff Member Administrator

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    Richard Branson and others with similar mindsets (anyone remember David Mapp? :lol:) have been doing everything they can to bring about the abolishment of affordable flexible fares, going back decades

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/cheap-rail-fares-on-the-way-out-1146645.html (1998)
    Over 20 years later they were saying the same things: https://www.railforums.co.uk/thread...in-trains-plan-for-airline-style-fare.181623/

    If Branson, Mapp and their ilk had their way you'd not be permitted to step foot on a Virgin Trains service without an Advance or Anytime fare.

    Ultimately they have exited the industry having being defeated by ordinary people like us.

    That said, although Virgin Trains have now met their demise, there are other individuals and organisations who still pose a threat to those who value affordable travel options, and so we must be prepared to put up a fight again when the time comes (ie. proposals for fares "simplification" or "reform" from anyone who does not have passenger interests at heart)
     
    Last edited: 21 Nov 2019
  13. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    Indeed so. But that doesn't stop the fact that the markup is much more reasonable and much closer to what BR did.

    Oh, and the LNR Off Peak has no evening restrictions just like the BR version.

    As to VTWC abolishing the SuperSaver, something which they did in the end do - an upside of that has been that the remaining Off Peak fares (Savers) are much more reasonably priced on the WCML than on other lines, as when the SSRs went the SVRs were reduced to a rough average of the two - then became regulated at that level so couldn't be whacked back up.
     
  14. TUC

    TUC Established Member

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    Standard economic theory would say that that is exactly what businesses will seek to do naturally-find the point that hits the best balance between the price charged and number of customers that will will buy the product.
     
  15. TUC

    TUC Established Member

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    How so? I work in London, a couple of days a week, travelling from West Yorkshire. How is my long distance work travel less essential?
     
  16. PeterC

    PeterC Established Member

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    That is the difference between theory and practice.
     
  17. WesternLancer

    WesternLancer Established Member

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    very well put!
     
  18. Starmill

    Starmill Veteran Member Associate Staff Events Co-ordinator

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    Indeed. And in perfect competition that works. However, in real life, the railway is, with only very minor exceptions, a government-managed industry.
     

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