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Bewildering would be one way of describing the UK rail fares system. It seems that everyone you speak to is confused by one aspect or another - they may not be clear on how fares are set, or who the money goes to, or what it is actually spent on.
Within the industry, it is a constantly debated topic. Are fares really affordable to passengers? Is there a better way?
The flexibility of rail fares, compared with those on other forms of public transport, is part of what makes it such a confusing topic. You can turn up at any station, and buy a ticket that allows you to travel to your destination via any number of routes (and, subsequently, any number of operators).
Without some impressive telepathy, there is currently no way for train operators to track which of the available routes you will choose. So how does the money you paid find its way to the right operator?
In the days of British Rail, this wasn’t an issue - eventually, the money all ended up in the same pot. BR then developed a system called Operational Research Computer Allocation of Tickets to Services.
What a mouthful! But using some clever calculations, ORCATS (as it’s more commonly known) looks at the current timetable, calculates the likelihood of each option being used, and divvies out the cash accordingly, with the higher proportion going to direct trains and prime routes.
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