As my Southern Rail train arrived at London Victoria more than 30 minutes late, I pleaded (at volume) with the 50-or-so fellow travellers to ensure they claimed back a portion of their train fare, because of the delay.
And with the latest round of rail increases announced today, this will only become ever more important to do.
When I made my plea, there were a few murmurs of agreement, thankfully, but also a whole lot of blank faces. I could see the meaning of my words rattling around: “What do you mean, ‘claim back the train fare’?”
You see, few but the most-hardened of commuters bother to take advantage of any transport company’s poor timekeeping.
Are companies bound to pay us?
The simple answer to this question is YES – providing the delay is severe enough. As Which? explains, all operators have different rules, but the fundamental right to compensation is laid out in the National Rail Conditions of Carriage, namely a minimum 20% of your single ticket, if you are more than 1 hour late.
As Which? says, all companies are different. For example, Southern Railways (with whom I travel) offer a partial refund on delays of 30 minutes or more.
Let’s do the math
As my ticket is an annual season, the complex calculations result in compensation of a mere £3.70 for a 30-minute delay.
However, imagine if every commuter made a claim. A single, 10-car Gatwick Express train has 692 seats. On a crowded journey, add on an extra 100 for those standing and – rounding up – you reach 800.
The chances of every passenger having an annual ticket is non-existent, but for argument’s sake, let’s say they do and they all come from Brighton. That’s a total train compensation of £2960.
Yesterday, pretty much every train for a 2-hour period was delayed (I have Twitter buddies who travel and feed me info). At the very least, that’s another 10 trains.
If we do the same calculations and then multiply by 10, you get a compensation figure from 1 morning and 1 route alone of £29,600.
I don’t keep a definitive log of train delays, but I think it’s fair to say that there’s at least one a month that can be claimed for, so multiplying our one-off figure by 12, you get £355,200.
That figure is based on every passenger claiming for just one 30-minute delay of 10 trains on a single route, once a month for a calendar year: £355k.
How many claims are there?
It’s difficult to get exact figures, but according to Kent News back in September, there are 100 claims per day for Southeastern Trains delays.
That sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Well, not if you read a bit more carefully.
John Nicholson, co-founder of Alliance of Kent Commuters, points out: “Not that many people are actually claiming; the forms are fiddly and the amount you get back isn’t always worth it.”
Even he doesn’t bother to claim every time: “I’ve only claimed once when I could have claimed half a dozen times or more. There are others I know who don’t claim either”.
Why don’t people claim?
The two overriding factors are simple: ignorance and difficulty.
In spite of their protestations (I’m sure), most rail companies clearly don’t make a huge effort to advertise their ‘Delay Repay’ schemes. Sure, there’s a shiny page on the website, but it’s not front and centre when they’re apologising the next day after major delays.
Most people also think it’s difficult to claim, too. Admittedly, the hassle of going to the ticket office and getting a form, filling it out, etc, might be a bit painful, but 5 minutes effort for ‘free’ money?
What’s more, with the proliferation of smartphones it’s easy to do it on the go. You can upload a photo of your ticket direct from your phone and, if you’ve registered with the website, they pre-fill your details.
Also, you can now cash in most vouchers for money now, rather than having to use them against your next ticket purchase. A small mercy 🙂
Prices still keep going up – get your own back
Let’s face it, we know that every January – in spite of howls of protest – all the operators will put prices up by more than inflation…
My journey will cost me 4.1% more next year, than it does this year – an increase of approx £13 a month.
I don’t claim to understand the justification for the increases. Southern, to take my operator as an example, increased passenger journeys in 2011-12 by 7.4%, but – and here’s the kicker for the likes of you and me – overall operating profits dropped by 4.9%.
The important thing to note here is not that there was a loss, just a drop in profits. Go-Ahead Group (Southern’s owners) still made an awful lot of money – just not quite as much as before.
Tube users can do it too
If you’re reading this in London and you think this doesn’t apply to you, then you’re wrong.
Transport for London also operates a rarely-talked about compensation scheme for journeys delayed by 15 minutes or more.
How many of you have ever claimed? Didn’t think so…
My point is, if you’re delayed make sure you claim your money back – it’s your right and not enough of us are doing it.
It won’t make any difference to the price rises, but it might make you feel a little better.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE!