Reservations - the Why's and Wherefores

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AllWork

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As I travel to-and-fro on the railways I'm constantly amazed by people's attitude to seat reservations. In particular people seem to be unwilling to:

  • Sit in a seat that isn't reserved until later on (eg CDF->PAD but they are travelling CMN->CDF) - people seem to walk up and down the carriage looking for a seat with 'no ticket'
  • Sit in their reserved seat if someone is placed next to them - just this morning a gentleman walked up to the table seats I was at and remarked to the girl opposite "This is my seat [pointing to the empty one next to her]. Never mind I'll find another one", and off he went checking every ticket in the carriage
  • Move to a reserved seat after the station it is reserved from has passed (+ a few minutes if it's busy and people might be looking for their seats)
  • Kick people out of their seat (if they have a good reason such as there are no seats around, they have long legs or they reserved a table seat/power).
  • 'Upgrade' themselves where they have a reserved seat but a better one is empty (not-reserved) - in particular, I see people sitting next to a non-window airline seat with a table empty opposite.

I seem to do these things all the time! Maybe it's personal taste or maybe I'm misunderstanding the reservation system. To be honest, the whole reservation system is a strange beast at the moment. I'd like to see a few improvements which I think would dramatically improve the railway experience:
  • Allowing reservations (online, from a TVM or even by text) right up to departure, for free on reservable trains. I'd even lean towards compulsory reservations for some trains a la TGV.
  • Requiring TOCs to allow reservations on all (non-commuter) services - and require that they put out tickets/operate the electronic system. Possibly with a refund option for those who cannot use their reserved seat (even if they have another seat)
  • Putting out/collecting in tickets above seats at every stop (as they do in the USA?) - I know that this would require staff to walk up and down the train after every stop (or every few) but I'm not sure that that would be such a bad thing in general!
  • Announcments reminding passengers of the etiquette of reservations ("Please check to ensure that your seat is not reserved by someone else" etc)
  • In the absence of requiring reservations, keeping one/serveral carriages (<1/3 of the train?) as totally unreserved so people know where to go and don't have to check tickets
  • Allowing all table seats/additional value (extra leg room etc) seats to be reservable

Just my thoughts on the issue, it would be interesting to discuss how the reservation system/use of reservations could be improved.
 
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cuccir

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I think that quite a few of these can be explained by the fact that people feel like they don't/won't understand reservations if they look at them, even though they are usually quite simple. Here, the message that 'the railways are complicated' becomes self-fulfilling. So, people walk past every seat with a ticket, even if the reservation has finished, or has not been taken up!

[*]'Upgrade' themselves where they have a reserved seat but a better one is empty (not-reserved) - in particular, I see people sitting next to a non-window airline seat with a table empty opposite.

Not everyone would consider a table to be an upgrade! If I had a reservation for a long journey, I'd rather sit in that than move to a currently-empty table and risk (say) being surrounded by three blokes out drinking, or a mother with two kids. More broadly, as a bloke in his 20s in good health, I'd feel selfish taking a table seat. Bear in mind too that some (such as me!) prefer aisle seats - I'm a fidgeter and I have a fast metabolism so I like to wander around/use the facilities more than the average person, and don't like to have to climb over another person to do so!

  • Allowing reservations (online, from a TVM or even by text) right up to departure, for free on reservable trains. I'd even lean towards compulsory reservations for some trains a la TGV.


  • I don't like the latter. I think allowing reservations closer up to departure from the origin station is a good idea, but I don't like reservation-booking once a train is en route: it creates more complications.

    [*]Requiring TOCs to allow reservations on all (non-commuter) services - and require that they put out tickets/operate the electronic system. Possibly with a refund option for those who cannot use their reserved seat (even if they have another seat)

    Hmm.... there are certainly some longer distance Northern Rail services that I'd like to see reservations on (Newcastle-Carlisle, Blackpool-York, for example). Perhaps any train which has a journey length from origin to destination of at least 90 minutes?

    [*]Putting out/collecting in tickets above seats at every stop (as they do in the USA?) - I know that this would require staff to walk up and down the train after every stop (or every few) but I'm not sure that that would be such a bad thing in general!
    [*]Announcments reminding passengers of the etiquette of reservations ("Please check to ensure that your seat is not reserved by someone else" etc)

    No and no! You seem to be trying to solve problems that don't exist here? Putting out/collecting tickets just adds work for a guard, who I'd rather was selling tickets/carrying out health and safety duties! I've travelled on Amtrack in the USA and it takes an absolute age to load and unload the passengers at each station. As for the second point, passengers generally want fewer announcements, not more.

    [*]In the absence of requiring reservations, keeping one/serveral carriages (<1/3 of the train?) as totally unreserved so people know where to go and don't have to check tickets

    It would be good if it were clearer which part of the train is unreserved. As a regular traveller I know which carriages to go to, but it's clear that others don't.

    [*]Allowing all table seats/additional value (extra leg room etc) seats to be reservable

    Again, preferences vary so much that it'd be wrong to presume that people would rather have these seats!
 

David10

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In the absence of requiring reservations, keeping one/serveral carriages (<1/3 of the train?) as totally unreserved so people know where to go and don't have to check tickets
Virgin do this and on the extended Pendolinos one car is lettered U for Unreserved. XC also have Coach B unreserved on 5 car Voyager sets.
 

Tracky

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On Arriva Trains Wales Coach B is unreservable. Of course there is only a coach B on a 175 but its helpful to point out.

There are also un-numbered seats on the refurbished 158's. This has come about as the reservable seating layouts now match the 175's
 

stut

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Virgin do this and on the extended Pendolinos one car is lettered U for Unreserved. XC also have Coach B unreserved on 5 car Voyager sets.

I like this approach - maybe even extending it would work well.

The Japanese system on Shinkansen trains works well - you have a number of reserved and unreserved carriages, the proportion of which varies according to demand. If you don't have a reservation, you can see exactly where to queue to get on. On some of the non-Tokyo services, reserved carriages have what is effectively first class seating, as an extra incentive.

However, I do also like the flexibility of being able to reseat yourself if the train isn't busy, and you have a particular preference.

I do remember travelling on a EurostarItalia service where reservations were compulsory. It was hugely busy and crowded, luggage everywhere, noisy, etc. And then I discovered that the reservations had basically been done in simple sequence, and that only 2 out of the 6 carriages were occupied. These were full, and the others completely empty (yes, all the way to the destination)... This is not the way to do it!
 

SS4

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As I travel to-and-fro on the railways I'm constantly amazed by people's attitude to seat reservations. In particular people seem to be unwilling to:

Sit in a seat that isn't reserved until later on (eg CDF->PAD but they are travelling CMN->CDF) - people seem to walk up and down the carriage looking for a seat with 'no ticket'

Very little one can do with these are they're decisions the railway cannot make for the passenger.

[*]Sit in their reserved seat if someone is placed next to them - just this morning a gentleman walked up to the table seats I was at and remarked to the girl opposite "This is my seat [pointing to the empty one next to her]. Never mind I'll find another one", and off he went checking every ticket in the carriage

IMO not sitting next to someone can be treated as an upgrade in its own right and thus contrary to the last statement about "upgrading" seats.

Move to a reserved seat after the station it is reserved from has passed (+ a few minutes if it's busy and people might be looking for their seats)

Kick people out of their seat (if they have a good reason such as there are no seats around, they have long legs or they reserved a table seat/power).

Still think we're too polite to do that even when they're in the seat we've reserved.

'Upgrade' themselves where they have a reserved seat but a better one is empty (not-reserved) - in particular, I see people sitting next to a non-window airline seat with a table empty opposite.

All seats are equal but some seats are more equal than others :lol:. Like cuccir a table isn't always a good seat as you never know who'll be joining the train later and far better to move and let a family sit together than have them shouting and passing things over an aisle/carriage. Sitting in a single seat means nobody will sit next to you.
Granted power sockets are nice and so is a table if I fancy a drink en route.

To be honest, the whole reservation system is a strange beast at the moment. I'd like to see a few improvements which I think would dramatically improve the railway experience:

Allowing reservations (online, from a TVM or even by text) right up to departure, for free on reservable trains. I'd even lean towards compulsory reservations for some trains a la TGV.

I like the idea but do we have the technology to do so? Compulsory reservations would be good for the first few off peak trains IMO.

Requiring TOCs to allow reservations on all (non-commuter) services - and require that they put out tickets/operate the electronic system. Possibly with a refund option for those who cannot use their reserved seat (even if they have another seat)

That would be nice but would it be needed as reservation seem to be largely ignored already? A refund would be too impractical in sorting out who is chancing it and who isn't unless the guard marks the ticket but that comes with it's own impracticalities.

Putting out/collecting in tickets above seats at every stop (as they do in the USA?) - I know that this would require staff to walk up and down the train after every stop (or every few) but I'm not sure that that would be such a bad thing in general!

Embarking would take too long for our frequent services. I'm inclined to believe the reservation system works fine as is from a TOC point of view.

Allowing all table seats/additional value (extra leg room etc) seats to be reservable

IMO seats with extra leg room should be reserved for tall people in the same manner seats in the wheelchair area are reserved for wheelchairs. As someone who is 1.85m tall there is nothing more frustrating than kneeing myself in the chin whilst someone really short is sitting in the seat with massive leg room <(

I'd imagine the elephant in the room regarding paper reservations would be someone deciding to pull out a reservation slip and sit in a seat even if it was not reserved for them.

My apologies if I've come across as harsh, I didn't mean to and I do actually like some of your ideas :)
 

Pen Mill

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It's pretty straightforward to me.
I read the first vacant seat reservation with a card and if it's not reserved until a later station I'll take it and move late4r if necessary.
I am also quite happy to sit in a reserved seat if the reservee hasn't showed up which seems to happen quite often.
I wouldn't consider moving someone from my seat if there were plenty of others vacant nearby.

I think a degree in common sense is required !
 

David10

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Often if I have made a reservation but don't like the seat, provided my journey is the only one listed I take the reservation card with me and move to another seat. And there is always a proportion of no shows, particuarly as many open ticket bookings are made with a reservation.

Guards are never concerned if you are not in the wrong seat, unless of course there is a dispute as to the correct occupant. Checking the date, class, origin, destination and service where applicable is more than enough to occupy them.
 

telstarbox

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Compulsory reservations would be a backward move IMO. If I needed to travel long-distance at short notice I'd rather stand in the vestibule on a fully booked train than not be able to travel at all. It also means that if someone books a ticket which they then don't use, it deprives someone else of the opportunity to travel whereas at the moment, other passengers can and will sit in a seat if the reservee doesn't turn up.
 

317666

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It would be good to have the online booking systems sorted out so there's more chance of getting the type of seat you want, one thing I've noticed when reserving two tickets on a 390 is that Coach B Seats 1 and 3 are often allocated, which are one behind the other, despite a pair of seats next to each other often being reservable yet unreserved. There should also be a non-Quiet Coach option as well as a Quiet Coach option.
 

Greenback

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It's pretty straightforward to me.
I read the first vacant seat reservation with a card and if it's not reserved until a later station I'll take it and move late4r if necessary.
I am also quite happy to sit in a reserved seat if the reservee hasn't showed up which seems to happen quite often.
I wouldn't consider moving someone from my seat if there were plenty of others vacant nearby.

I think a degree in common sense is required !

I agree. I think that the reservations system generally works well, except when it is the elctronic system and it is not working!

Compulsory reservations would be a backward move IMO. If I needed to travel long-distance at short notice I'd rather stand in the vestibule on a fully booked train than not be able to travel at all. It also means that if someone books a ticket which they then don't use, it deprives someone else of the opportunity to travel whereas at the moment, other passengers can and will sit in a seat if the reservee doesn't turn up.

I fully agree about compulsory reservations. I am also against being able to reserve while the train is in motion! (I won;t reopen the old arguments in this thread though!).
 

CC 72100

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I agree. I think that the reservations system generally works well, except when it is the elctronic system and it is not working!

I'm looking at you XC and your voyagers! :lol:

Whilst I sympathise with some of the points made - and they are valid ones - I feel that that the current system is about as good as it could be. You can never please everybody and what we've got at least pleases most of the people most of the time. As Greenback points out, the worst thing about reservations is when they are not put out, resulting in chaos, arguments and confusion, with some TOCs more guilty of that than others :roll:
 
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AllWork

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Thanks to all for some really interesting comments on my somewhat sketchy ideas! Perhaps my personal preferences for table seats came across too strongly, but I think the principles apply to any particular seating arrangement that you might prefer :D

I think 317666 is right in saying that improving the booking system could provide more flexibility and a big benefit - it would be nice to have a similar system to the Eurostar (ie. choose your seat)... as well as being able to change reservations yourself (for free) online. Perhaps the most effective way to do this would be to divorce the booking system from reservations somewhat - using some unique ID from the ticket to allow you to reserve at any time (OK, perhaps anytime *up to* departure from origin station as several have noted).

For advances, this would mean that the ticket would have to include the specific train required or that you couldn't change your seat choice with an advance (something which, I think, is probably a fair compromise).

In terms of unreservable/reservable carriages - the Japanese model that Stut described sounds like a good one, some sort of standardisation would at least allow people to start piling in to the unreserved carriages as appropriate. In an ideal world we could have a bit more technology in the mix (such as lights above seats to indicate whether their reservation had expired or not (Red for reserved at this stop, Amber for reserved later in the journey & Green for not-reserved/reservation has passed). Hell, you could even show the number of empty seats per carriage on the outside of the trains if you put some sensors in the cushions ;)
 

Greenback

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I'm looking at you XC and your voyagers! :lol:

Exactly!

Whilst I sympathise with some of the points made - and they are valid ones - I feel that that the current system is about as good as it could be. You can never please everybody and what we've got at least pleases most of the people most of the time.

Ultimately, it's only the individual that cna choose whether to sit down or not, and if people don't like, or don't want to sit in an unoccupied reserved seat, that's up to them! I don't really see the need to change an otherwise workable system on that basis!
 

CC 72100

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. In an ideal world we could have a bit more technology in the mix (such as lights above seats to indicate whether their reservation had expired or not (Red for reserved at this stop, Amber for reserved later in the journey & Green for not-reserved/reservation has passed). Hell, you could even show the number of empty seats per carriage on the outside of the trains if you put some sensors in the cushions ;)

Not gonna lie, when I was younger I did think of something like that. Mine was more of an electronic board in the vestibule, which would show which seats were reserved/in use, so then people could make a decision on which coach to try for seats. You could even relay the current info to the next station where the train calls.

Oh, and don't worry about overstating the preference for table seats, I'm the same ;)
 

Badger

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I don't know if it is still the case, but Cross Country used to put out reservations on the Birmingham to Leicester train...

...only these didn't actually apply to this service at all, only when the train went to Leicester, came back again, and then went out as the Birmingham to Stanstead service, were the seats actually reserved.

The driver did tell everyone occasionally, but often whole rows of seats would be left unoccupied because they had a ticket in them.

Would easily be solved by putting TIMES on the reservation tickets, no idea why they don't do this.
 

Greenback

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I prefer airline seats myself. I do like the coloured lights idea. However, I wonder how often it would be out of order!
 

CC 72100

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Would easily be solved by putting TIMES on the reservation tickets, no idea why they don't do this.

I thought FGW did... :idea:

If I remember rightly, it says '10:06 PNZ - PAD 12/06/12' etc. at the bottom of the ticket.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
I do like the coloured lights idea. However, I wonder how often it would be out of order!

Depends who the operator and what rolling stock it is! ;)
 

AllWork

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Originally Posted by Greenback
I do like the coloured lights idea. However, I wonder how often it would be out of order!
Depends who the operator and what rolling stock it is!

I'm always a bit surprised at how frequently the tech on board trains fails - the reservation system in particular. My suspicion is that the design has been made too complicated and has too many opportunities for failure. The format on the XC/Virgin trains is all wrong as well (who would take a paper system which uses 'tall' rectangles and turn it in to an electronic system which uses 'long' rectangles!). The very fact that the screens scroll represents a huge usability failure on behalf of the suppliers/designers </rant>
 

PaxVobiscum

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Often if I have made a reservation but don't like the seat, provided my journey is the only one listed I take the reservation card with me and move to another seat.

Can't speak for other TOCs but East Coast and ScotRail both print a warning that unauthorised removal of a reservation card may incur a penalty of £200.
Doesn't say "except your own" (though I tend to collect mine as a souvenir at the terminus before they are binned).

And there is always a proportion of no shows, particuarly as many open ticket bookings are made with a reservation.

Agreed - quite a high proportion sometimes.

Guards are never concerned if you are not (my highlighting) in the wrong seat, unless of course there is a dispute as to the correct occupant. Checking the date, class, origin, destination and service where applicable is more than enough to occupy them.

Assuming you didn't mean to say "not" above, I can't agree to that blanket statement. I have experienced otherwise, and I am sure others will have too.
Depends a lot on the TOC I would imagine.
 

telstarbox

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On VT the Train Manager has info on the number of booked seats, as if it's a potentially busy service they'll say something like "there are 50 unreserved seats in Coach C, also the whole of Coach U is unreserved". Problem is people get on in the first carriage then don't move down, even though it only takes a few minutes and you could get a seat for hours!
 

chris89

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On VT the Train Manager has info on the number of booked seats, as if it's a potentially busy service they'll say something like "there are 50 unreserved seats in Coach C, also the whole of Coach U is unreserved". Problem is people get on in the first carriage then don't move down, even though it only takes a few minutes and you could get a seat for hours!

The one i had Yesturday on the 12:51 From Edinburgh till the Crew change at Preston did the same thing. (Tom was his name) Mentioning the amount of seats in Coaches A,B,C and in mine D (221)

Previous times have been lucky and the system has failed. A lot of the time the seats next to me are reserved but no one turns up to sit in them (Guessing don't want to be next to anyone) As a lot walk past at busy stations and then stand for the journey, yet a load of seats free.

I like the colour light system as well as sounds it could be very handy.

Chris
 
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