The issue of ‘best value’ fares has been receiving increased attention recently, with a new code of practice which obliges operators to make the cheapest fares obvious to passengers. But buying more than one ticket can also cut the cost. Here we look at the legality of this practice.

Increasingly savvy rail passengers have discovered that ticket splitting can significantly reduce the cost of rail tickets, with websites and mobile apps being created to meet the growing demand. The basis of ticket splitting is that instead of buying one ticket for the whole journey, buying tickets for component parts separately can be cheaper.

The passenger can travel on exactly the same train as they would have done buying one ticket for the whole journey, and there is no requirement that they leave the train and get back on it between the start and end of the journey.

The train travelled on must call at the stations the tickets were bought for, not just pass through the stations. For example, if a passenger wishing to travel from Edinburgh to London buys one ticket from Edinburgh to York and one ticket from York to London, the train travelled on must stop at York.

Whilst it may seem too good to be true, ticket splitting is allowed within the National Rail Conditions of Carriage. Indeed, Section 19 of the Conditions is explicit in this regard, and provides that a passenger may use two or more tickets for one journey as long as together they cover the entire journey and the train calls at a station where the passenger changes from one ticket to another. So to what extent are train operators required to make passengers aware of cheaper split ticket options? Principle 1 of the Code of Practice on retail information for rail tickets and services (introduced in March this year) states that “Retailers 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”.

By failing to promote split ticket options, are retailers failing to meet the requirements of Principle 1? The answer is that it seems unlikely that they are.

Principle 1 sets out an indicative list of (fairly sensible) information which ought to be provided but this does not refer to ticket splitting options. Furthermore, although Principle 4 of the Code requires that retailers make it clear what tickets are or are not available at each sales channel (e.g. where ticket vending machines offer a restricted range of tickets), the information requirements relating to fares have not yet been extended to split ticket options.

Some may argue that if websites and app developers can promote ticket splitting, why can’t ticket machines and ticket offices? The argument from retailers has generally been that to provide someone at a ticket office with every single permutation to get from A to B would be both impractical and unmanageable in terms of booking office capacity. Also, providing a more complicated product in an already confusing environment may not be seen as progress.

Those with time to do so can book split tickets in advance, but those who turn up at a station may have to wait for practices to change.