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Author Topic: Not offering the lowest price walk up fares, EXD to WAT  (Read 1928 times)
grahame
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« on: January 18, 2022, 08:48:28 am »

Ask for fares / tickets Exeter St David's to Waterloo - why are SWR» (South Western Railway - about) (on the SWR company web site) not offer you services on SWR trains, unless you *know* to say something like "via Tisbury"? Could it be because their trains are now all overtaken by GWR (Great Western Railway) services?   Typically it's more expensive via Taunton than via Tisbury, so the loss of options being offered on the company's own trains is in effect a price rise for the unwary.

I explained this poorly when querying it yesterday with SWR.  Explanation expanded as follows:

Quote
Example Scenario.

I'm wishing to travel tomorrow [written yesterday] from Exeter St Davids to London (Waterloo) at lunchtime and I visit your web site at https://www.southwesternrailway.com/ to find out train times and prices. I enter "Exeter St Davids" and "London Waterloo", I change the date to tomorrow and my departure time to 12:00. I am offered 7 journeys, at prices (single, no railcard for simplicity) of either £57.00 or £57.50. And that's where "Joe Public" would be, selecting his train.

But wait a minute ... wasn't there a lower fare last time I made the journey?

Amending my search, clicked on edit, and entered "Tisbury" into the "via" box, clicked on "Find Tickets at Prices" and now came up with a whole load of previously hidden journeys at £50.00, and one as cheap as £37.80.

Screen captures from the two searched above are at the end of this email.

My concern is that passengers who do not understand the intricacies of the fare system may make a reasonable assumption that coming to the SWR web site, and asking about a journey on an SWR route, will be offered SWR trains and tickets by default, especially where those services cost significantly less that the "Great Way Round".

I happen to know that putting in "Tisbury" - almost like a secret discount code - would give me a lower cost journey. Other probably wouldn't. Last week, they paid £50 for a direct train, this week their fare has gone up to £57. That's a rise of 14% for the same journey, and to add insult to injury they now have to change trains along the way. Holders of "Network" Rail cards will find the change even more alarming - via Tisbury the fare is £33, but without that magic knowledge your web site is suggesting only services at £57 plus!

Andrew, I do understand what's happened here - all your SWR services from Exeter to London are now overtaken by GWR trains, and unless instructed otherwise, your web site does not offer the (now) slower but cheaper journeys. I have often booked Glasgow to London tickets and been offered "via Birmingham" fares, with a clear indication that these are slower trains - but the prices have been clearly better, and it has been up to me to choose. Aren't all ticketing systems based on the same "engine" - could your folks simply switch that option on as a quick neat solution?

Hope that helps clarify the issue - agreed the fares have not changed, it's just that you're not offering journeys at the lower fares now, where you did in the past, unless people know about them and specifically search them out.

Default:




Having typed in "Tisbury" in the "via" box:


With both SWR and GWR being First Group companies, and with fare box income now goingto the DfT» (Department for Transport - about), there is no longer any real competition for business on this route, and (provided that it's not so expensive that it puts people off the the train) there's no incentive to keep prices down and the quality up.
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grahame
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« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2022, 09:25:49 am »

My example is a headline EXD» (Exeter St Davids - next trains) to WAT single fare up to £57 this week from against a headline of £50 (or up from £33 pounds for holders of Network cards) last week. I didn't expect a quick resolution - it's a complex issue and the people looking at it will need to ensure they don't fix one problem and create another.  So I'm happy to have received an initial acknowledgement, as follows:

Quote
Thanks for the further info – I agree having looked at it it is a bit of an oddity. It is of course a bit of a quirk due to the fact that we are now temporarily splitting services at Salisbury so that you can’t currently choose the direct train option.
 
Colleagues are currently looking at it and I’ll let you know what they come up with.

From a passenger perspective, putting up the price of your end to end journeys will feel much more significant than a "quirk" or an "oddity" - it will feel like fares are being inflated by 10.5% or 72% if you hold a network card ... and making you change trains somewhere along the way adds a further disincentive.

The journey ("flow") in my example is not an obscure one - it's the very one that the Competition and Mergers Authority were very concerned at  when First became the monopoly provider for rail journeys on various routes across the South West.

I have no evidence that anyone at SWR» (South Western Railway - about) even thought about the effect of their timetable changes on what a typical member of the public would be asked to pay. Thoughless.  If I am wrong and they did think it through, it might be a sinister / dirty little method of increasing income ...
« Last Edit: January 19, 2022, 09:33:23 am by grahame » Logged

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grahame
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« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2022, 09:29:38 am »

A week on, no further answer from SWR» (South Western Railway - about) on immediate / ongoing issues that my contact has promised to take a look at.  For members and readers, sorry, no substantive news but I WILL share my "chaser" to let you know where we stand, and to let it be seen here in public that we are letting SWR know of continuing issues.

Quote
Thank you for your prompt replies to my emails of 17th January, reporting current issues with services and tickets. You took the following two issues away to look at further, and I was wondering if you have an update before you head off on leave [my contact away in a couple of days, for a while]:

1. On 10th December, you withdrew all your services from Bristol, and the only concession / was an additional Westbury to Salisbury service in the late evening, connecting with GWR (Great Western Railway)'s 22:25 from Bristol / 22:39 from Bath Spa. A month later, you withdrew that train. It is not a duplicate - there is no late evening alternative, something you acknowledge by the very fact that you promised the replacement. Please re-instate this train as (I note) you have some others in recent days.

2. Your web site continues to default to offering Exeter St Davids to Waterloo singles at £57 where it was £50 a couple of weeks ago.  In your email, you describe this as an "oddity" and "a bit of a quirk" and you promise to let me know how your colleagues are going to deal with this. A 15% higher fare from one week to the next (72% for people who have bought a Network Railcard) on your main flow is not something that passengers feel is a "quirk" - it looks like opportunism. Please switch your own booking engine to offer your own trains where they are lower cost, even if your sister First group company is offering faster trains but at significantly higher prices.

You can't have failed to notice that South Western Railways is receiving considerable bad press at present. Fixing these two issues before you head off on leave, Andrew, will be a "good news" story helping you show that you really do care. We understand many of the issues you face, but small customer-sensitive adjustments such as these two will bring you goodwill far beyond the cost of providing them.
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ChrisB
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« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2022, 09:45:47 am »

Item 2 is just not reslistically possible in the time-frame that you suggest. It would mean wholesale changes to the programming which currenly selects journeys based on end-to-end duration, rather than price - & would ean every operator would have their journey s changed too.

Right way to go or not (& that is a network-wide discussion in itself before any agreement might be reached), is not relevant, but wholesale change to several booking engines will take weeks, if not months. And the DfT» (Department for Transport - about) would probably need to pay for it.
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« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2022, 09:50:23 am »

Item 2 is just not reslistically possible in the time-frame that you suggest. It would mean wholesale changes to the programming which currenly selects journeys based on end-to-end duration, rather than price - & would ean every operator would have their journey s changed too.

Right way to go or not (& that is a network-wide discussion in itself before any agreement might be reached), is not relevant, but wholesale change to several booking engines will take weeks, if not months. And the DfT» (Department for Transport - about) would probably need to pay for it.

Could a message be displayed when fares are listed on the relevant routes saying ‘cheaper tickets may be available by changing at Salisbury, please select via Salisbury when entering your search query’ in the same way you get a message about potential service disruption sometimes?
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ChrisB
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« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2022, 10:07:45 am »

That would be quicker, yes. But still not likely before the contact goes in leave.

All booking engines are based on a shared base program, and identifying SWR» (South Western Railway - about) journeys would take quite a large ‘If-then-else’ prigram addition to only display relevant journeys, and check that they aren’t SWR provision already.
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grahame
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« Reply #6 on: January 26, 2022, 10:14:55 am »

Item 2 is just not reslistically possible in the time-frame that you suggest. It would mean wholesale changes to the programming which currenly selects journeys based on end-to-end duration, rather than price - & would ean every operator would have their journey s changed too.

So how come that bookings made on the West Coast with their website do exactly what I have suggested?  My understanding is that booking systems all use the same "engine(s)" underneath and the individual TOCs (Train Operating Company) chose how to tune the offering.  My suggestion was for a practical change of settings not for reprogramming.  "Too much work reprogramming" looks like a convenient "get out of jail" card if SWR» (South Western Railway - about) play it.

Could a message be displayed when fares are listed on the relevant routes saying ‘cheaper tickets may be available by changing at Salisbury, please select via Salisbury when entering your search query’ in the same way you get a message about potential service disruption sometimes?

Makes sense, though I would suggest telling people to select "via Tisbury".  "via Salisbury" (and indeed the current default) offer some journeys changing at Westbury and again at Salisbury, at the higher "via Taunton" fare ... some (not sure if all) services via "The Mule" ARE offered if you say "via Salisbury" but perhaps better to select an intermediate SWR station west of Salisbury to make the new offering clean, and complete for that route.
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grahame
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« Reply #7 on: January 26, 2022, 10:16:36 am »

That would be quicker, yes. But still not likely before the contact goes in leave.

All booking engines are based on a shared base program, and identifying SWR» (South Western Railway - about) journeys would take quite a large ‘If-then-else’ prigram addition to only display relevant journeys, and check that they aren’t SWR provision already.

He's had a week already, so should be well into the process ... and I suspect he's not the only person at SWR addressing customer concerns  Grin
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ChrisB
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« Reply #8 on: January 26, 2022, 12:25:01 pm »

So how come that bookings made on the West Coast with their website do exactly what I have suggested?

Because the LNER» (London North Eastern Railway - about) services are always the fastest services on their route & are therefore self-selecting

Quote
My understanding is that booking systems all use the same "engine(s)" underneath and the individual TOCs (Train Operating Company) chose how to tune the offering. 

Not exactly - my understanding is that Trainline is different to the others & in fact, there is a third engine which I don't know the name of. Happy to be corrected. Every system is a stylised version of one of those three.

Quote
My suggestion was for a practical change of settings not for reprogramming.

Quite  so changes to 3 engines (not just SWR» (South Western Railway - about)'s system) which would need to be agreed by all users of those 3 (so every retailer!) before said change could be started.
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stuving
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« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2022, 02:38:16 pm »

Currently, SWR» (South Western Railway - about)'s planner offers both routes for dates from Saturday 29th onwards. Since it has no option to control whether overtaken trains are suppressed or included, I would expect them to be included. So that behaviour looks right.

However, for tomorrow the SWR trains are not shown. Since this is obviously not a feature of the JP software itself, it can only be something in the data fed to it. Not that I can imagine what that might be - the trains exist in the WTT (Working Time-Table).

The National rail OJP (Online Journey Planner), which is meant to set the reference standard for others, has a more serious issue. It always did have an option to include or suppress overtaken trains in its advanced mode. I'm sure that was changed not long ago, from "include overtaken trains" to "show only fastest trains". But it looks as if the default behaviour is still suppress overtaken trains! So the tick box does nothing.

If they really have not made that change, which is obviously required, it is inept. Inexcusably inept. And it leaves them (or RDG(resolve) acting for TOCs (Train Operating Company)) open to a charge of mis-selling. I have sent them a very rude "comment", and we'll see what happens.
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« Reply #10 on: January 26, 2022, 08:03:12 pm »

The National rail OJP (Online Journey Planner), which is meant to set the reference standard for others, has a more serious issue. It always did have an option to include or suppress overtaken trains in its advanced mode. I'm sure that was changed not long ago, from "include overtaken trains" to "show only fastest trains". But it looks as if the default behaviour is still suppress overtaken trains! So the tick box does nothing.

Similarly, I sometimes find that the Via/Avoid option on the NR» (Network Rail - home page) OJP is sometimes ignored. e.g. I might plan a route avoiding Clapham Junction but then find that every journey presented includes a change there.
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stuving
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« Reply #11 on: January 26, 2022, 08:14:56 pm »

The National rail OJP (Online Journey Planner), which is meant to set the reference standard for others, has a more serious issue. It always did have an option to include or suppress overtaken trains in its advanced mode. I'm sure that was changed not long ago, from "include overtaken trains" to "show only fastest trains". But it looks as if the default behaviour is still suppress overtaken trains! So the tick box does nothing.

Similarly, I sometimes find that the Via/Avoid option on the NR» (Network Rail - home page) OJP is sometimes ignored. e.g. I might plan a route avoiding Clapham Junction but then find that every journey presented includes a change there.

Certainly there is sometimes an issue with making sure changes to that box get added, and then the result updated (i.e. two further clicks needed). And I've just found the behaviour I was complaining about above, suppressing all overtaken trains by default,  has now changed. It now allows a few minutes of "overtakenness" at least.

I got a prompt reply to my input, saying that only showing fastest trains was "by design". (As noted, that's not 100% true). Even if a few minutes are allowed, I still think it's misleading to offer an option of doing what it always does anyway, near enough.

It was also claimed that "National Rail Enquiries is an information service provider, and we do not operate trains, retail tickets, or set timetables. The information displayed on our website is provided by Train Operating Companies in the UK (United Kingdom)." Which is unlikely to stand up in court, given that NR represents, and is owned by, the TOCs (Train Operating Company).

And of course I'd forgotten that this week's service is slower (than the current WTT (Working Time-Table) for next week), with no direct trains. That was not really part of the main complaint about NR's OJP, but does explain the difference. Whether it justifies suppressing that alternative is another matter.
« Last Edit: January 26, 2022, 11:47:51 pm by stuving » Logged
PhilWakely
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« Reply #12 on: January 26, 2022, 11:18:57 pm »


Could a message be displayed when fares are listed on the relevant routes saying ‘cheaper tickets may be available by changing at Salisbury, please select via Salisbury when entering your search query’ in the same way you get a message about potential service disruption sometimes?

Makes sense, though I would suggest telling people to select "via Tisbury".  "via Salisbury" (and indeed the current default) offer some journeys changing at Westbury and again at Salisbury, at the higher "via Taunton" fare ... some (not sure if all) services via "The Mule" ARE offered if you say "via Salisbury" but perhaps better to select an intermediate SWR» (South Western Railway - about) station west of Salisbury to make the new offering clean, and complete for that route.

If travelling from Exeter, there is already a recognised routeing 'via Honiton'. Obviously from stations east thereof would require the 'via Tisbury' option.
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grahame
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« Reply #13 on: January 27, 2022, 08:53:49 am »

If travelling from Exeter, there is already a recognised routeing 'via Honiton'. Obviously from stations east thereof would require the 'via Tisbury' option.

Coming to the SWR» (South Western Railway - about) website looking to travel with SWR on their regular Exeter St David's to Waterloo route, people really should not have to enter "via Honiton", "via Taunton" or anything else to get the services - especially when the SWR service are significantly lower cost than the ones offered!

SWR have offered me a further explanation

Quote
I have had some feedback on the SWR booking engine issue. It is a known piece of work to be done but it needs to be agreed across all First Group TOCs (Train Operating Company) as it affects us all, not just SWR. It is a bit more of a complex piece of work than it first appears and is certainly not about opportunism - it involves changing the built in rules about not showing overtaken trains. This means it will take longer to deal with than the expected short term duration of the emergency timetable - as you are aware it is the splitting of services at Salisbury that has caused the issue as you cannot select the direct trains option. The most effective measure in the short term is to add a note to the booking engine page to say to include 'via Salisbury' if you want to travel to Waterloo on SWR services

I really don't think you would have needed to enter "direct trains" in the past - the problem is caused by the slowing down of the journey and not by the withdrawal of the through service.  And that means the problem is much more serious than my correspondent undertstands, or acknowledges.

'via Salisbury' brings in some of the trains at the via Honiton / Tisbury fares, but at other times of day the offering is still routed Exeter - Taunton - Westbury - Salisbury to the exclusion of lower cost trains via Honiton
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stuving
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« Reply #14 on: January 27, 2022, 11:17:12 am »

Where are you finding this "via" option on the SWR» (South Western Railway - about) website? I can't see one, and of course you don't even get the "direct trains only" option until you ask for prices.

But I'm not convinced by that SWR "explanation". The search engine needs to know how to treat the various options it comes up with, and that can be based on a variety of factors. One approach is to say for departure at time x, how soon can I get there? But then you need to decide if x is the departure time entered, or the time of the next relevant departure. Then there is the question of whether to select on price or number of changes, or to offer that choice as alternatives in the search results. And that's not the whole range of option either.

Ignoring this week, for the moment, and looking at next week (which is "normal", or so it says), both SWR and NR» (Network Rail - home page)'s OJPs (Online Journey Planner) do show some overtaken trains as options. For example (the same pattern occurs in other hours):
SWR       dep 12:25   arr 15:49           
XC (Cross Country Trains (franchise))/GWR (Great Western Railway)  dep 12:27   arr 15:48

That one is overtaken (starts before, arrives later) but only by a total margin of three minutes. Now, as a programmer, do you really believe that margin is coded in and can't be easily changed? But what is the margin, anyway? It must be this big:
SWR       dep 11:25   arr 14:49           
GWR       dep 11:39   arr 15:43

That one is twenty minutes. Both of those examples are found by both OJPs. In fact they now seem to be doing the same thing. I'm sure they weren't yesterday, but that could be due to a range of other factors - one of them that the data feds may have changed, and perhaps not synchronously.

But I'm convinced all journey planners have an "overtaken by" limit that can be easily changed, up to a point - there needs to be some limit to how long a journey can take.
« Last Edit: January 27, 2022, 02:13:58 pm by stuving » Logged
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