Evolvi: Average U.K. Rail Fare Paid In 2012 Increased For First Time Since 2005 - Business Travel News

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Evolvi: Average U.K. Rail Fare Paid In 2012 Increased For First Time Since 2005

January 28, 2013 - 10:55 AM ET

By Amon Cohen

London - The average ticket price booked through U.K.-based corporate rail booking tool Evolvi during 2012 increased for the first time since the system launched in 2005, rising 1 percent to £61.81, according to trade relations director Jon Reeve. Though regulated rail fares in the United Kingdom rise annually (soaring more than 50 percent in total between 2004 and 2012), Evolvi users previously managed to lower their average ticket price through such booking tactics as advance purchase and off-peak travel. Evolvi officials said the system in 2012 handled 55 percent of U.K. corporate rail bookings.

Speaking here at a media briefing, Reeve told BTN the cumulative effect of regulated increases has been responsible for reversing the long-term downward average price trend. The U.K. government in the past three years allowed regulated fares to increase at a faster pace than inflation, including a 6 percent increase in 2012. However, Reeve added that "smart ticketing is still offsetting fare increases, which is why average price only went up marginally.

Moving forward, lower average rail ticket prices may be hard to come by. "Government policy is to reduce its subsidy of the railways and you can't have that without an increase" in regulated fares, said Reeve. Meanwhile, some Evolvi users are close to optimizing the smart purchasing they can accomplish through the booking tool.

For 2013, U.K. regulated fares are 3.9 percent higher. However, Reeve said he has spotted a new opportunity to save, paradoxically through greater use of first class. Evolvi each year continues to sell fewer first-class tickets—falling to 8.3 percent of transactions in 2012 from 9.6 per cent in 2011. As a result, Reeve said he expects U.K. train operators this year to sell more heavily discounted first-class fares to increase overall capacity utilization, as standard-class carriages are often full.

Many organizations during the past three years, especially in the public sector, have downgraded their rail policy to standard class from first class. But Reeve urged travel managers to include some flexibility when rewriting their rules because first class increasingly is almost as cheap—if not cheaper—than standard class and of course provides increased comfort and productivity. Evolvi is refining its policy rules engine to allow customers to write in this kind of flexibility.

Evolvi also is working on an automated refund mechanism (around 7 percent of bookings are refunded) and plain paper and mobile ticketing. A trial allowing passengers to print tickets will begin with Chiltern Railways in February. However, Evolvi managing director Ken Cameron cautioned that the U.K.'s two dozen train operators are not creating harmonized standards for plain paper and mobile ticketing, and only when they work together "will we start to see some traction." For example, plain paper tickets currently cannot be used for journeys involving more than one operator, and they are only available for advance purchase fares.

Citing U.K. Rail Settlement Plan figures, Evolvi officials said the value of transactions handled by its system climbed to £341 million in 2012 from £286 million a year earlier, while the combined value of transactions throigh competing systems rose less dramatically, to £275 million from £268 million. Evolvi claimed it has 540,000 registered users who booked 5.5 million transactions in 2012.

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