The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has warned train operators that further action is needed to fulfil their obligations of providing passengers with adequate timetable information.
An agreed industry code says timetables should be confirmed 12 weeks in advance of service, allowing passengers to plan ahead and to make informed choices on where and when to travel.
This is also a necessary step for people to buy cheaper advance tickets which are generally only available when timetables are confirmed.
Currently, timetables cannot be confirmed as far ahead as usual, due to the impact of Covid-19, which means that timetables have been changed more often than usual.
Although journey planners continue to show 12 weeks of timetables, not all the times are correct – with some changes only being shown a few weeks in advance.
The rail regulator has discussed with Network Rail its plan to get back on track to finalising timetables 12 weeks in advance and is monitoring progress against this, though recognises that this will take some time.
But in the meantime, train operators and independent rail retailers must do more to make it clear that information provided now may still change before travel. This will help them meet their obligations of providing appropriate, accurate and timely information, as set out in train operators’ licence conditions and by consumer law.
Train operators and independent rail retailers need to bring clarity and consistency by ensuring:
- Clear warning messages are displayed on websites for people planning journeys or buying tickets ahead of the period where the timetable is confirmed;
- Should train times change for a ticket already bought, every effort should be made to contact the passenger to let them know and a refund offered if the new time is not acceptable;
- Availability of advance tickets is clear; and if they are not yet available, information on when they are likely to be released should be provided, along with the facility to register interest and to receive an alert when they go on sale;
- Jargon-free information is consistently used across all information sources such as website journey planners, ticketing outlets, apps and on National Rail Enquiries; and
- Extra effort is made to keep all travellers, whether regular or infrequent, well-informed on the impacts of planned engineering work, especially when this affects services at peak times.
Stephanie Tobyn, Deputy Director, Consumers at ORR said:
"With changes to timetables and travel advice happening more often than usual, the current pandemic has amplified just how vital it is for passengers to have consistent information which helps them plan and make journeys with confidence.
"We know it is a challenging time for train operators but it remains as important as ever that operators are open with passengers about the difficulties faced.
"They need to update journey information frequently across all channels so that there is ‘one version of the truth’, and provide clear information about the availability of advance tickets."
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- ORR issues licences to all train operators to allow them to run services on the rail network. One of the conditions requires them to keep passengers informed so that people can plan or make their journey even when services are disrupted. We expect them to follow the Industry Network Code of Practice that sets out how this should be done.
Condition 4 of the Passenger Licence and GB Statement of National Regulatory Provisions: Passenger (Information to Passengers) requires train operators to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information to allow passengers to plan and make their journeys with a reasonable degree of assurance, including when there is disruption. Train operators must do so to the greatest extent reasonably practicable.
Consumer Protection (from Unfair Trading) Regulations 2008 (the 'CPRs') also prohibit unfair and misleading commercial practices.
A commercial practice may be misleading if it omits or hides material information. The information that individual passengers need may vary depending on the type of ticket they are buying, the purpose of their journey, or the individual requirements of the passenger. Train operators should ensure that passengers are provided with all the information they may need to enable them to choose, buy and use the most appropriate ticket for their journey.
There have been four sets of timetable changes in 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic: the move to the reduced timetable in March and uplifts to services in May, July (August in Scotland) and September. Two timetable changes are usually made every year, however in the six months since lockdown the industry has delivered four sets of changes.
The changes have been made within 6-8 weeks of the previous change, rather than through the standard 16 month process that allows the industry to plan for future improvement work as well as ensure staff rotas are in place in advance.