West Midlands Trains overcharging when booking online due to wrongly implemented restrictions

Discussion in 'Fares Advice & Policy' started by Bletchleyite, 13 Feb 2018.

  1. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    I've touched on this elsewhere, but thought I'd give it a thread on its own.

    Presently, LNR (London Northwestern Railway, operated by West Midlands Trains) Super Off Peak tickets from the South East to the North West with restriction codes like LG, such as this ticket which I used at the weekend:

    http://www.brfares.com/#faredetail?orig=MKC&dest=LIV&grpd=0435&rte=42&tkt=OPR

    have an evening peak restriction from 1630 to 1930 inclusive based on the "origin station on the ticket" only, with the rider that:

    A connecting service can be
    used to complete a journey
    begun at a valid time.

    However, that easement is not implemented in the Journey Planners, as a result of which the ticket is incorrectly not offered on the 14xx and 15xx departures from Bletchley/MKC travelling via Birmingham, despite this being totally valid (and I was not challenged in any way as the guards and RPIs know it is valid, and the TVMs happily sell it). The ticketing sites will attempt to sell you the more expensive Off Peak ticket due to the departure of the connecting service from Birmingham being after 1630 but before 1930 (inclusive).

    This is an issue I have reported to LM before, and they acknowledged it was wrong. But I seem to recall that the reason is that the software actually can't implement an easement like that.

    Is that correct? If so, would they not perhaps be better implementing a set of separate restrictions for each flow basing it on the origin station only rather than trying to cram it into one?
     
    Last edited: 14 Feb 2018
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  3. Indigo2

    Indigo2 Established Member

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    I think you need to be a little bit careful what you wish for here. I suppose they could (especially now they're all part of Abellio) change it to be like the Northern and CrossCountry afternoon peak restrictions, where you specifically can't change trains during the evening peak.

    Technically, I don't think there's any way for them to apply a departure time restriction to the origin station only. Journey planners are all programmed to apply it every time there is a change of train.
     
  4. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    The problem with that is that it makes that ticket near useless (and heavily restricts the Off Peak beyond what was intended, too).

    TBH the most sensible thing to do northbound would probably be to restrict it to trains departing *Euston*, rather than any location, in that time range, which probably better represents which ones will actually be busy (and use a different code for any journeys starting/finishing at or north of Birmingham). I'm not sure what you'd do southbound, though; you'd possibly need one restriction per non-London destination to get it right, which would be hellishly bureaucratic. And, FWIW, neither the 1912 (which I didn't board as it wouldn't have been valid) nor the 1934 (which I did) was in the slightest bit busy, as the evening peak in Liverpool is way, way narrower than London.
     
  5. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    FWIW if you read the restriction, its implementation is *insanely* cack-handed, which probably comes from trying to do too much. In particular it seems to use time windows to stop the use of certain trains from MKC which aren't even mentioned in the text.
     
  6. alistairlees

    alistairlees Member

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    Just to help me understand this one a bit better, can you give a full example of a journey on which this ticket should be valid (but isn't) please? I'm just trying to get my head round it. Thanks
     
  7. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    Try Bletchley (rather than MKC, but it's the same fare and same restriction code) to Liverpool Lime St via Birmingham on the Saturday 1450 or 1550 departures, as those are the actual examples I found. All the online planners will quote you an Off Peak rather than the Super Off Peak on these despite the latter being valid.

    Or did you mean the odd time windows from MKC itself? Have a look on brfares.com via the link I provided to see what I mean, it may well not actually block any trains but it is really odd. These don't relate to the problem I reported, though, I just noticed them when I looked it up to check.
     
  8. TUC

    TUC Established Member

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    Well presumably the programming should be written to fit with the full range of possible ticket restrictions. It doesn't sound a complex task e.g. 'If restriction x applies, turn off all change of train restrictions' sounds very basic indeed compared to the range of tasks programming deals with these days.
     
  9. gray1404

    gray1404 Established Member

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    I think this is best left alone. Yes there might be some issues on the online journey planners for the reasons stated. We don't want them to "solve it" by making the restrictions more severe like XC have. Yes, it is not ideal but the fact it doesn't really matter for a number of reasons: It is not possible to reserve a seat on any of the trains concerned, the guards/RPIs accept the tickets at the correct time, the stations will sell them and it is possible still to buy on online by either selecting anther time or not selecting a train at all on some planners. I do stress though I think this is best left alone.
     
  10. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    I don't see any evidence LNR want to do that. It would be nice, though, if they would fix those tickets online so people aren't being overcharged unnecessarily. Northbound at least making the restriction based on departure of the train from Euston would handle it.
     
  11. yorkie

    yorkie Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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    I believe they were!

    However someone came up with an idea to introduce a concept for a restriction type that was not compatible with the system.

    Edit: yes, London Midland introduced additional evening peak restrictions in 2009.
    There isn't a "change of train restriction" as such; the restrictions apply to any train that is in the itinerary as departing/arriving at a barred time based on where the passenger boards/alights from the train.

    Evening peak restrictions can be a pain; it is easier if train companies restrict fares by morning peak only and allow any train in the evening. But where evening peak restrictions exist, it's far more common to specify either a blanket departure time restriction, or to list specific places (e.g. members London Terminals, Birmingham Stations etc) and bar particular trains from those locations.

    With the exception of departures from London Terminals (which are generally straightforward, or at least were!), evening peak restrictions didn't really exist (much, if at all) under British Rail, so this is a problem created by the privatised rail industry, who introduced further restrictions as a way of increasing the price paid by customers.

    But to get an idea of what is possible, look at the "unpublished restrictions" here http://www.brfares.com/#faredetail?orig=MUB&dest=PCN&tkt=CDR
    Code:
    Not valid to depart   any location   0001–0914   on any TOC
    Not valid to depart   EDINBURGH      1643–1756   on any TOC
    Not valid to depart   EDINBURGH      1758–1810   on any TOC
    Not valid to depart   HAYMARKET      1643–1800   on any TOC
    Not valid to depart   HAYMARKET      1802–1810   on any TOC
    Not valid to depart   HAYMARKET      1817–1818   on any TOC
    Not valid to depart   GLASGOW GLC    1643–1810   on any TOC
    Not valid to depart   GLASGOW GLC    1814–1815   on any TOC
    Not valid to depart   GLASGOW GLQ    1643–1810   on any TOC
    Not valid to depart   GLASGOW GLQ    1814–1815   on any TOC
    
    Not valid on the following trains:
    
    GR6420 1400 LONDON KINGS CROSS to ABERDEEN
    
    SR7034 1813 EDINBURGH to GLENROTHES WITH THORNTON
    except for
     boarding at ABERDOUR
     boarding at BURNTISLAND
     boarding at DALGETY BAY
     boarding at INVERKEITHING
     boarding at KINGHORN
     boarding at KIRKCALDY
     boarding at NORTH QUEENSFERRY
     alighting at GLENROTHES WITH THORNTON
     boarding at SOUTH GYLE
     boarding at EDINBURGH
     boarding at DALMENY
     boarding at HAYMARKET
    
    
    SR5081 1815 EDINBURGH to GLASGOW QUEEN STREET
    except for
     boarding at LINLITHGOW
     boarding at FALKIRK HIGH
     boarding at POLMONT
    
    SR5082 1815 GLASGOW QUEEN STREET to EDINBURGH
     
    
     
    Last edited: 14 Feb 2018
  12. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    I think the latter (departure times from London Terminals, Crewe and Liverpool Lime St) would probably be the way to cover this properly for these tickets. I don't think there are any trains on which they would be valid that don't originate from one of these three other than obscure cases that barely anyone would be interested in.

    I think they have been quite lazy in trying to codify everything in one restriction for all the ex-LM Super Off Peaks and come unstuck on things like this as a result.
     
  13. yorkie

    yorkie Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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    Whoever came up with this restriction code either decided to do something they knew would not work (unlikely) or simply did not understand how the system works.

    The current train company (West Midlands Trains) inherited this from London Midland. I am sure we've had threads on this before.

    No-one seems to have the power to stop train companies having unworkable restrictions. And some train companies lack people who understand how these systems work.

    I don't think anything will change unless someone who is overcharged and is refused compensation takes the matter to court, or they are hit by a class action lawsuit. Anyone have enough spare cash to take them on?
     
  14. Starmill

    Starmill Established Member

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    ND, BX and others are easy for journey planners to deal with - but in my view they create a real headache. Most Ticket Vending Machines, guards and booking offices will issue these tickets for immediate travel without the proviso that a change of trains is not permitted en route between the restricted times.

    I don't know why this is. Most ticket machines do not display this information, and I've never known a member of staff selling tickets explain this restriction. As such it's legally dubious to enforce it, in my view. Not a problem for online journey planners, but it is a big problem for the customer if they're sold a cheaper ticket and then advised onboard their connecting train that the cheaper ticket is now not valid when it was a moment ago.

    I agree. And in reality, unless they are done like H1, where boarding is not permitted at a predefined list of stations only between certain times, then all afternoon restrictions are basically unworkable in my view.

    So for example, ND would be:
    Not valid between 0429 and 0930. Not valid for boarding between 1600 and 1830 at:

    Manchester Piccadilly
    Manchester Oxford Road
    Manchester Victoria
    Deansgate
    Salford Central
    Salford Crescent
    Leeds
    Bradford Interchange
    Bradford Forster Square
    Sheffield

    This would be far easier to implement, and far easier for customers and staff to understand.
     
    Last edited: 14 Feb 2018
  15. TUC

    TUC Established Member

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    Surrly the restriction itself is workable. It's the IT that is failing to be sufficently flexible. To describe something that works in principle as unworkable because the IT is inadequate is the tail wagging the dog.
     
  16. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    I agree - effectively "no leaving the big city when it's busy", that most people would consider reasonable and understandable even if the whole thing *is* a money making exercise.

    These LNR ones are a bit more complex, but I've noted above how they could be changed to do roughly the same thing without breaking planners and still vaguely understandably - base it on when the first leg left $BIG_CITY.
     
  17. ForTheLoveOf

    ForTheLoveOf Established Member

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    Here's a question then - the restriction code says, when looked up, that "A connecting service can be used to complete a journey begun at a valid time." Does this mean that it's obligatory for the passenger to have begun their journey at their ticket's origin station, or is it possible to start later? I understand there are BoJ restrictions on this particular ticket, but it strikes me as rather unenforceable - so, if you wanted to travel during the evening 'peak' from N St it might be cheaper to get an Off-Peak ticket from somewhere further afield (like MKC or Bletchley) and then claim you had arrived into N St from that station?

    Of course this is thwarted at N St if getting on there due to the barriers, but that seems easily circumvented too, by buying a cheap throwaway ticket to Five Ways/Duddeston etc.
     
  18. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    I've usually taken the line that if you start short (which you can on the return half[1]) your choice(s) of trains have to be ones that would be valid if you had actually started at the ticketed origin.

    Could you use "dumbbelling" to get around it at New St? Yes, of course you could, but if caught doing so it's pretty obviously wilful so expect a RoRA prosecution coming your way. If they've got any sense, on occasions they will set the New St barriers, which appear normally to accept any in-date ticket regardless of origin or destination due to the complexity of things, to reject tickets from obvious nearby stations usable for that purpose, then a person can establish if any funny business has been going on.

    [1] In practice MKC barrier staff don't mind tickets from Bletchley being used there northbound, nor do they mind a cheeky "BoJ" to pop to Marks[2] between trains. As long as the mick isn't being taken.

    [2] The railway owns at least some of the forecourt, so depending on your definition... :)
     
    Last edited: 14 Feb 2018
  19. Starmill

    Starmill Established Member

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    I agree completely. I would say it actually damages their reputation to place restrictions on (as a random example) the 1653 Knottingley to Wakefield Kirkgate. That train is never going to be anything close to busy.
     
  20. Starmill

    Starmill Established Member

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    Yes you're right. So why haven't the TOC's organised the necessary IT upgrades to support their new or different products? Why would anyone else pay for that?
     
  21. ForTheLoveOf

    ForTheLoveOf Established Member

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    You can get a ticket that's for a fairly sizeable intra-West-Midlands journey from NS without paying very much (eg CrossCity North or South). That wouldn't raise much suspicion then. I guess the thing is - there's one set of staff who man the barrier (if it isn't automated), so who's then going to know you didn't get off a previous train when you board the Lime Street service, after all, it starts at New Street?

    I guess what I'm saying is that doing what I'm discussing is unquestionably illegal but also quite difficult to detect IMO. Of course it could only be done occasionally - doing it frequently would raise alarm bells.
     
  22. infobleep

    infobleep Established Member

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    Is this something the future rail Ombudsmen could deal with?
     
  23. yorkie

    yorkie Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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    They could, but will they actually employ any fares experts? Will the leaders be of a completely different mindset to those at Transport Focus?

    These are rhetorical questions; no-one knows!

    I'll believe it when I see it and I won't be holding my breath...
     
  24. tony_mac

    tony_mac Established Member

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    We have been discussing this here, on and off, since at least 2009.
    https://www.railforums.co.uk/threads/london-midland-super-off-peak-restrictions.37888/

    They told me then that they couldn't fix it as any fix would cause 'knock-on effects', and it seems that is very probably true. It's not just a website change, as it seems that the underlying data format which describes restrictions would need to change - hence all journey planners and other software would need to be updated to take that into account, which is obviously a large change for a relatively minor problem.

    Even if they can't fix the booking engine, they could probably manage to make the actual restriction text more obvious to the customer. But, if pressured, the easiest solution for them would probably be to just withdraw the ticket or increase the restriction.
     
  25. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    Neither of those is particularly likely. LM made a packet on cheap walk-ups as VT doesn't offer these. And changing the restriction to be based on the way it is implemented so you couldn't start *or change* from 1600 to 1930 would have the effect of directing people from travelling via Birmingham where there is plenty of capacity to travelling on some of the busiest 4-car Trent Valley direct services so would be a bad idea too. (Indeed, when the Saturday restrictions were first introduced they applied to the Trent Valley trains only and were genuinely implemented because of overcrowding).

    TBH, with yet more thought, the best fix for these tickets is probably to bar a list of specific trains at each end of the route i.e. specific trains out of Euston, and specific trains out of Liverpool Lime St/Crewe, by which you could implement something that was almost the same without the inconsistency when selling online. And "you can't board a train that left Euston or Liverpool Lime St/Crewe (depending where it starts) from 1600 to 1930 regardless of where you board it" is quite easy to understand and translate into times at other stations. And also relatively unaffected by people "working around" it using splits.
     
    Last edited: 15 Feb 2018
  26. Starmill

    Starmill Established Member

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    Returning to my earlier point it would be much, much easier to just have the afternoon restriction has not valid for boarding at London Euston between xxxx and yyyy times. Almost nobody will circumvent this by starting their journey at Harrow & Wealdstone instead, and the very tiny number who might try it will not affect the crowding.

    You could also encode the same thing at Milton Keynes if there were concern that trains departing MKC northbound would be full and standing. Not something I've ever seen on a weekday outside of disruption but could be possible. It would be tricky to encode so that only northbound boarding is barred though, so this is best avoided.

    As you say, a list that says 'Not valid for travel on the following trains' is perfect for journey planners (so long as the list is kept up to date at every timetable change) and as long as it is not excessively long (i.e. choose the trains which are the busiest only) is great for customers too. It causes a headache if it is not throughout though.

    As is, the majority of people don't seem to understand the restrictions. I once bought a Crewe to Bedford London Midland Only Super Off-Peak Return and asked the guard if I could come on their train from Stafford to Milton Keynes. Had I been going to London, said train would have arrived in London at a time not allowed by the restrictions. The online journey planner accordingly said that my Crewe to Bedford wasn't valid on that train, but the guard was perfectly happy to give me permission to travel, saying the restrictions were only for those going to London. Crewe guard though, presumably, who I don't think work to London.
     
    Last edited: 15 Feb 2018
  27. BigVern

    BigVern Member

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    I'm struggling to book West Midlands Trains only fares online.
    It is as though they are operating 2 companies, so a journey that starts on London NorthWestern and finishes on WestMidlands doesn't qualify for the ex-London Midland only fare.
    My example is Crewe to Hemel Hempstead, with a change at Milton Keynes.
    Travelling there and back tomorrow the £37 off-peak return should be available, but the booking engine returns N/A.

    Am I missing something?
     
  28. yorkie

    yorkie Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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    That's not correct. The train company is West Midlands Trains, but confusingly (like GTR) they use multiple brand names (unlike GTR they don't deny being one train company!)
    This is the fare http://www.brfares.com/#faredetail?orig=CRE&dest=HML&rte=42&tkt=SVR
    I don't know what time you are travelling, but Trainspit will offer the WMTRAINS ONLY fares if you click "Value" and "Flexible" without having to specify any via, or interchange points or restrict the search to a particular train company (you can optionally do this also).

    Most booking engines just search for the fastest route so they won't show these fares if it's quicker to travel on Virgin Trains.
     
  29. Hadders

    Hadders Established Member

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    Most booking sites will default to the fastest service which is usually to use Virgin between Crewe and Milton Keynes.

    Using a Webtis site (eg. GWR, SWR, TPE) click on show slower journeys and tick 'London Midland only' (GWR still says LM rather than WMT but you don't need to worry about this). The WMT trains fares then show up.
     
  30. BigVern

    BigVern Member

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    Thanks. I knew I wasn't losing the plot.
    I found the fare on Red Spotted Hankey but they ask a £1 fee.
    So I've taken your advice and booked via TransPennine.

    As a matter of interest I phoned the WestMidlands helpline to find out how THEIR site could sell me THEIR own fares.
    I was assured that if the site says N/A then there are no trains for the fare.
    Plus a lot of other pseudo fare jargon that I knew was rubbish.

    In the old days you could force an engine to provide journeys on 350s by specifying via Lichfield Trent Valley or the like.
    It doesn't seem to work now though.
     
  31. Hadders

    Hadders Established Member

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    You're always better off asking for advice on here rather than asking a train company.

    There's no need to purchase that fare in advance, it can be purchased from a ticket office on the day of travel for the same price.
     

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