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VR struggles with online demand for cheaper rail tickets

The new pricing system on Finnish railways VR, unveiled on Wednesday, has prompted strong demand from customers. Bargain-hunting passengers were keen to use the service, with VR’s web store suffering several breaks in service just after the new ticketing system opened. Ticket offices at stations were also busier than usual.

Asiakkaita Helsingin rautatieaseman VR:n lippuautomaatilla.
VR:n uudessa hintajärjestelmässä lippujen hinnat ovat ennakkovaraajille edullisempia. Image: YLE

YLE tested the service just after it opened on Wednesday morning. By 8am traffic from thrifty travellers was so great that users were having great difficulty buying tickets online. At some stations, for example, Tikkurila,Tampere, Kuopio and Kouvola, ticket sales had to be suspended for a time. A VR spokesperson said the on-line interest in purchasing tickets was as much as twenty times greater than usual.

VR says both on-line and station ticket purchasing should be back to normal on Thursday.

The new system offers strong encouragement to buy tickets in advance. Discounts can amount to more than ten euros for tickets purchased two weeks ahead of time. For example a ticket purchased for a Pendolino train between Oulu and Helsinki for travel on the same day will cost 78.71 euros, while a ticket for the slower Intercity service comes in at 72.91 euros. If passengers are able to book a week in advance, they could pay 69.04 euros for the faster train or 63.82 euros for Intercity travel. If they can plan two weeks ahead of time, YLE found tickets costing 65.21 euros for a Pendolino train or 60.28 to go by Intercity. These costs compare with the old prices of 78.40 euros for a Pendolino ticket or 72.70 euros for an Intercity one.

Passengers to benefit?

VR has said that the new system will benefit passengers. British transport commentator Christian Wolmar warns VR against making the system too difficult to use and understand, and says the availability of cheaper fares is the key to ensuring people have confidence in the system.

“It all depends on the level of fares, the availability of advance fares, the difference in price between advance fares and standard fares,” said Wolmar. “The devil is in the detail. This is broadly a good idea—if as they claim—there are going to be a lot of available cheaper seats, and overall the price might go down. So therefore it could be a good idea, but it depends on how they use it.”

The experience of rail users in Britain has been somewhat more frustrating for travellers. The British system involves so many penalties and restrictions, combined with eye-wateringly high walk-on fares, that passengers have little faith in fare transparency.

“In Britain it’s really got much too complicated,” says Wolmar. “What I would hope is that in Finland they don’t go down the route of creating a system that is so complex that it’s difficult for people to understand the system."

Finnish railways to unveil airline-style ticketing

Sources: YLE

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