This week Gatwick Airport finally became part of the Oyster smart ticketing network after years of delays due to wrangling between the Department for Transport and Southern Rail over prices.
Whilst it is welcome that getting to and from the airport will be more convenient with a 'tap in, tap out' system, sadly it seems that fares and ticketing will be as complicated as ever for tourists and travellers, with even the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin MP admitting the system is "complicated and needs improvements". The new prices are as follows (now bear with me)
Gatwick to London Victoria (Oyster Single Peak) = £14
Gatwick to London Victoria (Oyster Single Off-Peak) = £8
Gatwick to London Victoria (Oyster Single Gatwick Express) = £19.80
Gatwick to London Victoria (Paper Ticket Anytime Single) = £15.40
Gatwick to London Victoria (Paper Ticket Off peak Return) = £15.50
Gatwick to London Victoria (Paper Ticket Anytime Return) = £30.80
Gatwick to London Victoria (Paper Ticket Anytime Single Gatwick Express) = £19.90
Gatwick to London Victoria (Paper Ticket Anytime Return Gatwick Express) = £34.90
Same destination two different trains, eight different fares. Clear. As. Mud.
The introduction of Oyster to and from Gatwick has meant three new fares but passengers will question why the single Gatwick Express Oyster is only 10 pence cheaper than the paper ticket and why the anytime return paper ticket is £34.90 when two single Oyster fares work out to be £39.90. Also the off peak return paper ticket at £15.50 is cheaper than two off peak singles on Oyster at £8 each way whereas two peak time single Oyster fares at £14 each way are cheaper than the anytime return paper ticket at £30.80. Aarrgghh!
This is complicated even for me as a rail campaigner to understand, never mind if you are a tourist coming to UK for the first time and one of the first encounters you have is to navigate this absurd range of fares just to get to Central London. How many people also get fined after mistakenly buying a Southern only ticket and then getting on the Gatwick Express service instead of the cheaper, but not much slower Southern only service.
This baffling array of fares and ticketing options reflects badly on the Department for Transport and the Train Operating Companies involved, namely Southern which is already performing badly in terms of passenger satisfaction.
There is a wider issue here and the recent shambolic failure of the Department for Transport's flagship South East Flexible Ticketing (SEFT) programme has proven just how much work the DfT and the rail industry have to do. Rail Minister Claire Perry MP has seemingly admitted defeat with SEFT and has instead issued "a challenge to the rail industry to modernise and simplify the ticketing system" and roll out paperless ticketing by 2017 and we await details of exactly how the DfT and rail industry plan to do this.
Questions will need to be answered by the Government and rail industry on how the introduction of smart ticketing on rail has gone so badly wrong with smart ticketing and how almost £40 million of public money has been spent and delivered very little.
Most other European countries have had similar nationwide schemes in place for years, so the need to get the UK up to speed is becoming ever more important. Not least for the eight million plus part-time workers who would benefit from flexible part-time season tickets, after all the Government made a key pledge to deliver part time tickets in their 2015 Election Manifesto and the part time clock is ticking.