“You can’t go to the ticket office, you need a ticket.” ??!! Yes, a member of staff at Leeds railway station actually said that to me a couple of weeks ago. I had entered the station by the smaller south entrance to be confronted by a row of automatic ticket barriers and no obvious route to the ticket office. However, it seemed that I needed a ticket to get to the ticket office. Whatever next? Will we soon be needing a passport before we can go to the passport office to apply for a passport?
I thought about asking how much a ticket to the ticket office was and when was the next train to the ticket office due to leave. Was it a direct service or would it be stopping at the toilets, WH Smith and/or the Pumpkin Cafe? Where does the train leave from? Does Leeds have its very own platform nine and three quarters for this mystery train service?
I thought better of it but my mind raced on – imagine the announcements on this unique service:
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the 12.35 express service from Leeds station south entrance to the ticket office where we are due to arrive at 12.35 and 40 seconds. Bonjour mesdames et messieurs …….”
“As the train will not actually be leaving the station, we ask that passengers refrain from using the on board toilets for the entirety of the journey. If you are that desperate, you really should have gone before.”
“Due to the short platform length, would passengers wishing to alight at the passport photo booth please make their way to the door furthest to the front in the first carriage.”
Once I had got my runaway imagination in check, I just feebly and rather plaintively said: “But I need to go to the ticket office to buy a ticket.”
“Sorry, you can’t come through without a ticket.”
“How am I meant to buy a ticket?”
He adopted a smile and a look that shouted how stupid are you (if only he knew I was stupid enough to have once deep-fried my hand. I didn’t let on). Then he replied: “Over there,” nodding at the ticket machines behind me. Now I had noticed these machines when I first walked in but I had a particular reason for wanting to go to the ticket office.
“Can I buy a ticket from Chesterfield to Leicester over there?”. Ha! Got him. I knew the answer to this one. That wiped the smile from his face.
“Er, no….. But you still can’t come through. You’ll have to walk round to the main entrance.”
So off I traipsed round to the main entrance to find a very long queue at the ticket office and only two out of eight windows open. I waited for a bit but the queue moved painfully slowly and I knew I would miss the next train. The extra wait would virtually wipe out any benefit of using the ticket office. So why was this so important? Well, delivering cars and vans as a job entails frequent use of public transport and, since starting this work, I have been inducted into the inner circle of “split ticketers”. If you are already a black belt in tiramisu and a high priest or priestess of pilates, then learning the mystic art of splitting tickets is the next stage on your spiritual journey to a higher plane.
So what is it? Put simply, if you are going from A to C via B, then it may be cheaper to buy one ticket from A to B and another from B to C, rather than one through ticket from A to C. There is one rule to remember – the train must pass through AND stop at B but you do not have to get off or change trains at B (unless, of course, you can only get to C by changing at B). Here’s a real life example from my trip to Kent last week:
Ashford International to Leicester, standard single fare £106.70. Instead, buy a single from Ashford to Bedford (£46.50) and a ticket from Bedford to Leicester (£30.60) saving almost £30. To get from Ashford to Leicester you need to change at London St Pancras, ensuring that the St Pancras to Leicester train actually stops at Bedford.
The trick is knowing at which station (or stations!) on your journey to “split” your ticket and whether or not it is worthwhile at all. There are websites (e.g. splitticketing.co.uk and trainsplit.com) that purport to work it out for you but I have found them pretty useless. In my experience, they just tell you to buy one advance ticket for the whole journey. The Tickety Split tool in the Travel section of MoneySavingExpert.com seemed better. It does actually provide a split but in my Ashford to Leicester example, it advises that you split at St Pancras to save about £7. I split tickets based on tips from my driving colleagues and my own research, playing with the National Rail website or app.
Of course, you can save money by buying a ticket in advance but those tickets are for specific trains so you have to be sure you will catch that particular train at the given time. When I’m delivering cars, there are too many potential delays to risk buying an advance ticket. If you really want to go for it, then you may be able to combine advance tickets and the concept of splitting. If you are successful in this, then you will have achieved the status of supreme master splitter. Your training will be complete, Grasshopper, and you can move on to conquer new heights of mysticism in life’s journey to spiritual enlightenment (tantric knitting or learning to put the wheelie bin out on Tuesdays without fail).
Back to my situation in Leeds. I finally gave up on the ticket office and reluctantly went over to the ticket machines where happily (so I initially thought), there was a different type of machine that allowed you to change the starting point for your journey. So, I duly requested a single ticket from Leeds to Chesterfield, a single from Chesterfield to Leicester, hit “Pay Now” and …. “Sorry we are unable to proceed with your request”. Grrrr. With time pressing I admitted defeat and just bought one through ticket from Leeds to Leicester. Train companies 1, Colin 0. Is this all an elaborate plot to hinder and frustrate people splitting tickets? Requiring people to have a ticket to get to the ticket office, manning the ticket office with a skeleton crew, installing new ticket machines that give you the false hope that you can buy a ticket for journey starting at another station?Just so you know, I get my travel expenses reimbursed when I’m doing my driving work so I do all this for the benefit of the company I drive for but it’s an interesting little challenge!
P.S. I have since found out that if you split at the Pumpkin Cafe, you can save 8 pence on the normal fare from Leeds station south entrance to the ticket office.