Sunday, September 27, 2009

I Am Not A User (Official)

One of the results of going back to university is that I'll be spending an awful lot more time on trains. While I am, as you'll have anticipated, not entirely unhappy with that, I am a bit miffed that officially, none of it will happen at all.

The recent proliferation of automatic ticket barriers notwithstanding, the railway industry actually has very little data on exactly what journeys are made on the network. While there's a wealth of ticket purchase data available, that isn't as reliable as you might think. Simple tickets from station A to station B are easy enough, but there's a whole range of tickets (rovers, London travelcards, metropolitan zonal tickets) that don't identify specific destinations or that can be used on trains but bought elsewhere.

Then there's the vexed question of station groups. In most places with multiple stations you can buy a ticket to each station individually or to the group destination, so a ticket to "Warrington" is valid at both Central and Bank Quay. For many years, all such tickets were attributed to an identified main station in the group, thus often penalising smaller stations in a group, particularly those without ticket offices where the guard was more likely to sell a group ticket rather than a named one.

Recently the modelling used to allow for all these effects has become much better (leading to some very odd effects like the apparent 127,000% increase in passengers at Thorne South in 2007/08) but it remains a model; the methodology alone runs to 22 pages. And there are still plenty of tickets that can't be attributed and which are thus not counted.

How does this affect me? Well I'll have to make two journeys regularly by train; Danescourt-Treforest and Treforest-Cardiff Central. Now I can make both those journeys with one season ticket, but season tickets are counted as an estimated number of journeys between only the two named stations. My purchase of a season ticket will therefore only benefit the numbers of the stations at either end and not those of Danescourt in the middle. As the councillor for Danescourt and for two other stations on the same line, I'd really prefer it if both the station and the line were credited with my custom; after all, the more passengers they have, the more important they will be to the train company.

And as an added bonus, because fares on the Valley Lines are zonal, my season ticket isn't to Treforest but to Abercynon; it costs the same and I'm sure I'll have cause to pop up to help Mike Powell become the next MP for Pontypridd. But it does mean that even Treforest station won't see any benefit from my becoming a student.

Of course, if we ever manage to stop seeing Oyster as something nice for Londoners but not especially necessary for everyone else, we could have real data for every station. Ieuan Wyn Jones has already announced something similar for Wales, but I'd be more convinced if the Assembly Government hadn't spent so long pfaffing about smartcard standards that Cardiff Bus has had to go it alone and launch its own system. Time will tell, but there's not a lot of breath holding going on around here...

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