Travel with a Rail Pass: How customer-friendly are they?
Our aim is to look at customer experiences with passes and see how these can be improved. For example – how well is the pass publicised? Do the customer-facing staff know about it? Is it easy to buy? Are the conditions simple or complicated?
Furthermore, is there good practice from which we can learn? For example, is there a particularly good and well-marketed pass in one country or area which could serve as a template for elsewhere?
For the purposes of this report, we define a “Pass” as being a ticket that gives unlimited travel over a certain period in a certain area. In the UK these are often called “Ranger” or “Rover” tickets and in some countries “zonal” tickets. On other occasions, in acknowledgement of the advantages of rail and other public transport, they are called “Environment tickets” or “climate tickets.”
INTERRAIL – Interrail gives remarkable flexibility to travel in one country or more countries and for varying periods from 5 days to one month. It has been improved in recent years – for example, by making it alsovalid for the first and final day in the pass holder’s own country (except for one-country passes); and by giving certain reductions on Eurostar. The disadvantage is principally that certain open access operators or franchisees do not recognise it, and sometimes their staff do not know whether or not it can be used on their trains. There may also be passenger rights problems, but generally no more than with ordinary tickets. In the case of franchisees in Germany, customers are advised to check on the website https:bag-spnv.de/files/bagspnv/downloads/2018-02- or indeed on the Interrail website www.myinterrail.co.uk .
The Austrian open access operator WestBAHN and Czech open access operators LEO Rail and Regiojet did not accept originally Interrail but now do so.
Interrail works on the basis that all participating operators receive a share of the revenue, calculated at least partly on the diaries completed by Interrail customers.
The versatility of Interrail enabled one customer making a business trip to Switzerland to fly to Zurich but then use a 3-Day one-country Interrail pass while there. This enabled him to save a considerable amount of time and money, as he would otherwise have had to buy tickets at walk-on fares. He comments, “For me, the main advance in Interrail is the mobile app, which will be really useful when it is fully functioning.”
Each Land (or federal state) has a ticket giving unlimited travel by train and other public transport for a day. In some cases, the price depends on how many people are travelling. The tickets are not valid on long-distance ICE trains, however.
The BRANDENBURG/BERLIN TICKET is ideal, valid on all trains and buses and other urban public transport and includes a few towns and cities just across the border in Poland.
In 2008 one customer wanted to book a day return from Berlin to Szczecin. He was pleasantly surprised to be sold a Brandenburg / Berlin Ticket, as it was the cheapest way to do the journey.
In 2017 three colleagues wanted to go from Berlin to Eberswalde and use the trolleybuses while in this town. All three were able to do this on one Brandenburg/Berlin Ticket.
The tickets can be bought from ticket offices or vending machines at any station.
MITTELTHURINGEN – There are some very localised rover tickets such as this one in the central part of Thuringia. One of our contributors wanted to go for a day trip from Weimar to Erfurt in the summer of 2018 – as many tourists visiting this area may want to do. He asked at the booking office for a day return but the ticket clerk sold him a VMT-Hopper-Ticket which was cheaper and gave up to 4 hours’ travel by public transport. This included unlimited use of the Erfurt tram network and – had he needed it – the town bus in Weimar on his return journey.
This pass is well advertised in the area, including on local trains operated by Abellio all the way from Leipzig through to Eisenach. In this case, speaking to a member of staff enabled the passenger to obtain the best deal.
Six of the nine states which make up the Federal Republic of Austria also have Laendertickets. The three which do not are Burgenland, Niederoesterreich and Oberoesterreich.
Unlike the German Laendertickets, Austrian ones are normally valid for one week. (though Tirol has a day ticket as well) The price is different in each Land and the outlets vary. All of them can be bought at station ticket offices while in Salzburg, Steiermark and Tirol they can also be purchased at ticket vending machines.
The tickets are for buses and trains, and in Salzburg and Tirol they can also be bought from bus drivers; while in Kaernten they are also on sale in bus company offices and in Steiermark at “various customer centres.”
In the city of Salzburg you cannot buy one from the trolleybus drivers or the vending machines of the city transport authority.
Kaernten also has a Freizeit Ticket (“leisure ticket”) giving a day’s travel for 11 euro – but it is only valid on local trains, not on InterCity trains.
PASSES IN GREAT BRITAIN
There are over 100 passes or ranger/rover tickets available in Great Britain and details can be obtained via the National Rail website (www.nationalrail.co.uk/times fares/rangers and rovers.aspx)
Here are two examples from different parts of Great Britain, from contrasting areas both attractive to visitors:
ANGLIA PLUS – This rover ticket has existed for two decades under three successive franchisees in East Anglia. In recent years it has not been well advertised – perhaps because operators wanted to sell more expensive return tickets for some journeys? Anglia Plus gives unlimited rail travel (not before 08.45 Monday – Friday) in the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and much of Cambridgeshire on the local and InterCity trains of Greater Anglia (but not on the trains of the other franchisees covering much of Cambridgeshire and part of Norfolk – with two exceptions ) and also on some urban buses. It can be bought from station ticket offices or on the train (but not yet from the ticket vending machines), giving good value and flexibility – for example from Lowestoft to Cambridge, enabling the passenger to travel by up to three different routes. There is a One-Day and Three-Day version, which are ideal for tourists to explore East Anglia – provided that they know about the ticket in the first place!
A considerable price increase in January 2019 has made the Anglia Plus less attractive for individual travellers but still very useful for families.
EXPLORE WALES PASS – This rover ticket is valid on all trains within the Transport for Wales network, for travel after 09.30 Monday – Friday and all day Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays. It is also valid on Virgin Trains between Chester and Holyhead and GWR between Newport and Carmarthen. The Pass is valid for four days out of eight on trains but on all eight days on the buses of four different bus operators.Like the Anglia Plus, the Explore Wales Pass is a very good value for money and can pay for itself on one long journey, such as Cardiff -Caernarfon which also includes a bus link. The passenger fills in the 4 dates him or herself – a procedure similar to that of Interrail or 3-Day Anglia Plus. However, there are complications, such as the validity time which varies from route to route. Passengers also have to convince some bus drivers and occasional train staff that the pass is valid. It is therefore advisable to carry a copy of the leaflet when you travel!
REGIONAL PASSES IN FRANCE
Several visitors to France have commented on the variety of regional passes, which have their own rules.
METROCEANE is an excellent example. A group of British visitors staying in St Nazaire in 2016 was advised by a French colleague to buy a Metroceane one-day pass for each of the two full days of their stay. They had travelled from London to St Nazaire by train.
This pass gave them excellent flexibility and value for money, on mainline and local trains in the department of Loire Atlantique, on urban and rural buses, trams in Nantes and the tram-train as far as Chateaubriant on the border with Brittany.
The only disadvantage was that it was not sold in the railway station at St Nazaire. It was necessary to queue in the office of the adjacent bus station to buy it.
GRAND DUCHY OF LUXEMBOURG
For many years the Grand-Duchy has had an Environment card giving unlimited travel by public transport for one day. A one-day ticket currently allows travel on all trains, buses and the Luxembourg city tram for just 4 Euro.
Dutch people nowadays make many of their public transport journeys using the stored-value OV Chipcard. A Day Ticket is also available for NS trains and the RET network in Rotterdam.
If you are a visitor to the country, however, a rover ticket, or pass, may be more suitable for you. Large Dutch stations (such as in Maastricht and Utrecht) nowadays have a combined rail and urban transport ticket office where staff can advise you.
The Holland Travel Ticket is publicised in four languages and can be bought at stations, including at ticket vending machines and gives a day’s unlimited travel on all public transport throughout the country. The only possible complication is that there is a peak and off-peak price. The passenger checks in and checks out in the same was as with an OV-Chipcard.
In Leiden, as a group of British visitors found in October 2018 the tourist office (VVV), just 50 meters from the rail and bus stations, has a public transport desk at which it is possible to buy a South Holland Tourist Day Ticket. This gives unlimited travel by all public transport (except the NS mainline trains) in the province of Zuid Holland, which includes the major cities of Rotterdam and The Hague. The British visitors had come to London to Leiden by train but found that they could hen visit a great variety of other sites by tram, light rail, bus and even boat using the day ticket.
Belgium caters for the tourist market in a different way, with the Go Pass and the Rail Pass which, for 77 Euro (2018 price)enables the holder to make up to ten separate train journeys in a day. There are also weekend zonal tickets. Some of these passes also include travel to and from the Dutch city of Maastricht. In the Brussels area, a JUMP ticket for one day allows use of all local SNCB train services, trams, bus and underground operated by STIB, De Lijn and TEC.
Most regional transport authorities offer zonal passes. Monthly passes for the island of Zealand (on which Copenhagen is situated) also offer unlimited travel but the passenger has to decide in which of 300 zones he or she wants to use it.
Some cross-border regions have developed very useful multimodal passes. A very good example is Euregio Maas-Rhein. It enables the passenger to travel by train and bus in a large part of the Belgian povinces of Limburg and Liege, the Dutch province of Limburg and the western part of the German Land of Nordrheinwestfalen.
Multilingual information is available. A day ticket is available and can be used on all trains except the long-distance international trains (Thalys and ICE) which serve Liege and Aachen.
A group of tickets enable multimodal travel between the Czech Republic and its neighbouring countries: the Elbe-Labe Ticket is considered very good by those who have used it and the Euro-Neisse Ticket quite good. A third possibility is the Egronet.
The Elbe-Labe ticket (“Labe” being the Czech name for the River Elbe) is valid on all trains in Usti county and those in the Land of Saxony (except international EuroCity trains) in the area of the
Verkehrsverbund Oberelbe (VVO)This includes cross-border local trains such as between Rumburk, Bad Schandau and Litomerice, the ferry between Schona and Hrensko and bus between Altenberg and Teplice. It also includes the franchisee trilex trains between Zittau and Rybniste. The ticket is also valid on heritage diesel trains operated at certain times on lines in this part of the Czech Republic. Information is available in German, Czech and English on leaflets and the internet.
The Euro-Neisse-Ticket caters for the Czech / German / Polish border region and has a website in Czech, German, Polish, Sorbian and Polish. The tickets are valid on all lines in the ZVON area of eastern Saxony as well as for many selected lines in Poland and the Czech Republic. The tickets are accepted on RE trains of DB-Regio AG and trains of the Vogtlandbahn to Liberec/Tanvald and DB Regio AG to Zgorzelec. The tickets can be bought from all train conductors of ODEG and the Vogtlandbahn and all bus drivers within the ZVON, at ticket vending machines on DB stations and at station ticket offices. The disadvantage is that they are not valid for all sections of all lines and not many people are aware of their existence.
The Egronet ticket is a one-day pass for the Egrensis region covering western Bohemia and selected districts of Bavaria, Thuringia and Saxony. It includes the cities of Bayreuth, Hof, Gera and Plauen and the famous spas of Karlovy Vary, Marienske Lazne and Frantiskovy Lazne. The official website has information in German and Czech while the website www/cd/cz also has it in English The ticket is valid for a group of up to five persons and includes free travel for up to three children aged 6-14 while bicycles and under-sixes always travel free. The tickets can be purchased from ticket vending machines or on trains from stations with no ticket office However they cannot normally be bought in advance or on line, apart from an arrangement in Germany where the customer books on line, is sent a bill and, after paying for the ticket, receives it in the post – a somewhat time-consuming process
Since the opening of the fixed Oresund link between Denmark and Sweden, Oresund trains operate from Helsingor down the Danish coast, through Copenhagen and serving the airport, and up the Swedish coast through Malmo to Halsingborg and sometimes beyond as far as Gothenburg. A very useful Oresund train also links Copenhagen to Malmo and Karlskrona at the southeastern corner of Sweden. It is possible to buy an Oresundkort for one day, but only for a round trip; or for longer periods (in which case a passport or ID is required). It can be bought at ticket offices and 7Eleven kiosks in Denmark.
BOOKING FROM OUTSIDE THE COUNTRY
It is ideal if the would-be passenger can book and pay his or her rover pass before leaving home – either in a package from the travel agent or via the internet. If this cannot be done, then at least it is helpful if the agent or website tells the passenger clearly what is available.
Rover passes often cover particular cities or their journey-to-work areas – such as the Copenhagen City Pass or the I am Amsterdam” travel card and similar passes for Nuremberg, Vienna, Dublin and Berlin. Many of these can be bought online and collected upon arrival at the main station – or, in the case of the Berlin Welcome Card, it can be posted at an extra cost.
NOT MANY PEOPLE KNOW THIS, BUT…
If you are travelling by train from England to Germany, it is possible to use a Eurostar ticket from London to “any Belgian station” which meshes seamlessly with a 5-day one-country Interrail pass at the border. One of our customers assures us that he has done this on more than one occasion and on-train staff have accepted the combination as valid.
There are many good passes or rovers, which can make it easy for the long-distance international traveller (even if he or she arrives by plane or ferry) to travel around his or her destination area.
We have tried to show good practise which could be adopted elsewhere, as well as warning against some factors which deter people from buying passes.
Even for experienced travellers, some standardisation or harmonisation would be welcome – especially in conditions and sales outlets – while it must be recognised that condition vary from country to country.and so “one size does not fit all.”
Staff training remains a key element so that the passenger can obtain personal advice on which is the best pass for them.
AERA has made every effort to include up-to-date information or customer feedback in this report but cannot be held responsible for any errors or changes.
Send new information or customer experiences to email@example.com.