Uncharted Territory

February 23, 2009

£13.20 revisited: Cambridge Evening News asks the public

Filed under: Rail, Transport — Tim Joslin @ 7:37 pm

I love the polls that, every day or so, appear on the Cambridge Evening News (CEN) website.  Some seem designed to elicit a particular answer – one can hardly be surprised, for example, that 96.5% of 1552 respondents answer the question: “Can Cambridge sustain a population the size of Manchester?” in the negative. Perhaps the findings would have been a little different if they’d asked: “Do you think Cambridge could grow to be larger than Manchester by late in the 21st century?”

Other questions do seem to tap the wisdom of crowds. The 28.9% of 724 who selected the option “Bin bag” to the question “What is the Fen tiger?” may well have a point.

And “Would you use an Oxford to Cambridge rail link?” (63.9% of 781 say “Yes”), may well belong in a category of legitimate market research.

After my rant about the cost of a Day Return train ticket to London, I was pleased to see the CEN asking the public: “How much do you think an off-peak return train ticket from Cambridge to London should cost?” It’s not a brilliant question since, not only does it fail to make clear whether it is asking about a Day Return or (the more expensive) normal return, most passengers also pay less than the full price – my £13.20 was the full off-peak fare discounted by 34% with a Network card (£20). Infrequent and/or non-student, adult but not Senior passengers without a discount card would pay exactly £20. Obviously, if you have a discount card, its cost has to be spread over all the journeys you make in a year. It’s a shame CEN didn’t sacrifice simplicity for a little more clarity and add “for regular travellers with a Senior, Student or Network discount card” to their question.

Nevertheless, the CEN poll results imply that, based on a sample of 930 people, the Cambridge public believes it is being seriously overcharged: a large minority (42.4%) believe the cost of an off-peak day-trip to London should be £10, and only around a third (35.1%) think it should be more than a tenner. Of those 35.1%, 24.7% believe the price should be only £15. Since £15 is around the minimum you can pay, taking the cost of a discount card into account, it’s likely all but 8.4% of respondents to CEN’s poll believe they are being charged.

I wonder how many of those who answered CEN’s question believe, like I do, that the route is highly profitable, and that these profits are largely being used to subsidise the rail network in other parts of the country?

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