The train’s not taking the strain in fare packages

postsupp_frank10''Modern South West Trains train pictured from Petersfield signal box, March 2009.''Picture by Frank Price
postsupp_frank10''Modern South West Trains train pictured from Petersfield signal box, March 2009.''Picture by Frank Price
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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Each week former trading standards officer Richard Thomson answers your questions.

Q. I’ve been trying to find out, with little success, the chepest railfare from Portsmouth to York. I phoned the station and was given one fare, but when my husband phoned, he was given another. I’ve also looked on the internet, but there are so many fare plans based on time and day of travel etc. that I’ve completely given up. Any advice please?

JE (Internet)

A. I can understand your frustration. The last time Which? the independent consumer magazine did an undercover rail fare check, the watchdog found that 59 per cent of station clerks, and 43 per cent of operators on the National Rail enquiries line, failed to tell passengers about the cheapest options.

I made four enquiries in order to try to get my hands on a value ticket to York from Portsmouth. My first attempt looked promising. The pompey ticket office said that a £45 ‘advance’ ticket had to be purchased over the counter, but when I set out to buy it a day later, I was told that particular ticket offer had ben withdrawn. It didn’t have to be bought over the counter either.

When I checked online, the best price I could get was £55.50. That involved a journey of 4 hours:40 with two changes of train along the way. If I forked out a whopping £106.70 for exactly the same journey, I could use a direct train but that would take 5 hours 40 to get there. The more you pay the slower it gets. The whole process was infuriating and time consuming.

I’ve long held the view the Government’s idea of using ‘regulators’ to oversee the denatioinalised industries was just a sop to public opinion.

Only this week ‘Ofgem’ the gas and electricity regulator, awoke from its sumbers to tell us what we already knew – we ‘re being ripped off by a rapacious bunch of energy suppliers.

The one thing all of the privatised industries have in common is a fiendishly complicated service tariff, that renders the customer impotent when trying to find the smartest deal.

Every regulator works on the theoretical assumption that the customer needs access to sufficient knowledge in order to make a competitive purchase. But all of them have let us down badly, No one in Government from whatever the side of the political divide, has seen fit lift a finger to put a stop to this shoddy form of selective pricing malpactice.

Until now that is. ‘Ofgem’ has at last thrown down the gauntlet, demanding that energy suppliers simplify their price structures to just four budget deals so that customers get a fair crack of the whip.

Perhaps it’ll be too much to ask that the telephone, broadband, water, and the miscellaneous band of hapless regulators get their act together and start standing up for the customer inseat of cow towing to ministers with their mindless messsage of what’s good for business is good for the country.

Q, I bought a washing machine from an online retailer. It broke down after 20 months. I took them to court. When noting happened it turned out their head office was in Paris and I can’t enforce the judgement. Any ideas?

LR (Internet)

A. Ring the UK European Consumer Centre on 08456 04 05 03 for practical help and advice.