The potential for off-peak overcharging

Southeastern are potentially complicit with passengers thinking they are being charged for an off-peak, when in fact their journey is recorded as being in the peak period.

I stumbled across this purely by accident last Friday evening.

Read on for more…

Railway time

Railway time was invented in 1840. The idea being that all trains can be kept running to one particular time, instead of the various variations across the country.

That’s 1840, 176 years ago, when the time was standardised

When does off-peak start?

That’s the question that I asked to the helpful lady at the customer service desk at Charing Cross Station.

I was just wondering if the system was clever enough to register that I wanted the 1902 service – the first off-peak service out of Charing Cross that evening – if I touched in before 1900. My logic being that I could get to the end of the train and have a window seat.

I had a few minutes to idle, so I set my phone recording audio – the objective being that if I did get charged peak based on any advice of touching in early, then I’ll be able to appeal.

What happened next was very interesting

Cubic time

I was advised that it was more than just touching in to Pay As You Go at 19:00:00.

There was a notion of ‘Cubic time’

Why is it called that? Cubic are the company that manufactures the ticket gate system across the Tfl network and a lot of our railway stations.

I know them more as Westinghouse Cubic from when my Dad worked on the underground and we did a little bit of investigation into the paper tickets, but that story can be kept for another time…

What time is it?

All credit to the lady I spoke to, she got up off her seat behind the counter, and asked me to follow her to the gateline! There was still a few more minutes before 1900, so why not.

She called over to the member of staff on the other side of the station to read out the time on the screen that shows the operation of the gateline.

It was 20 seconds behind the time displayed on the platform clock.

20 seconds.

But…Southeastern staff were aware of this discrepancy, and were more than happy to inform me of it.

The advice was that he’ll call over to me once the clock ticked over to 19:00:00 so I get an off-peak charge.

We had a little conversation about this as I waited for 1900, all recorded.

19:00:00 (Cubic time)

As the station clock ticked past 19:00:20 I was advised I should touch in. I made the train on time, and a later check on my ‘Oyster’/TfL account showed the journey was recorded as off-peak.


Why is it so hard to have the correct time?

Indeed. If, 176 years ago, railway time could be standardised and is meant to be the point of reference to the time, then how are Cubic’s systems 20 seconds out?

How do Southeastern staff know about this discrepency without any remedial work being taken to fix this?

How many customers have unwittingly waited for 19:00:01 on the station clock and touched in to get an off-peak fare and got charged the full peak fare?

What will Southeastern do about this at their stations?

Next steps

I have a bunch of Freedom of Information requests filed in this area…which will no doubt return on the 28th day (as required) – so I’ll see that on May 9th.

I’d also like to invite Southeastern’s comment on this – they can contact me on the usual email address should they have something to say.

In the meantime, I’d allow 30 seconds past the peak-time (or allow 30 seconds before off-peak goes to peak) to ensure you’re not being overcharged.

Oh, and when I have time to edit the audio I’ll post it up too – if you’re a member of the Press and want to follow up on this story, together with audio, then let me know and I’ll prioritise the audio edit higher in my ever growing list of things to do!

Posted in Dartford permalink

About Phil Rogers

Co-founder of Dartford Rail Travellers Association. A weekday commuter into London Charing Cross, since 2001, and campaigner for better services for Dartford Rail users. Makes occasional appearances on radio and the local press.


The potential for off-peak overcharging — 4 Comments

  1. Isn’t this an issue for TfL rather than Southeastern?

    Southeastern’s own rail-specific fare structure only recognises the morning peak – you can use a off-peak return at any time in the afternoon or evening.

    By contrast, TfL’s Oyster/Contactless fare structure has both a morning and an afternoon peak. Their system is run by Cubic.

    We’d agree that a fare valid from 19:00:00 should be valid from that time according to the UK time reference of atomic clocks at the National Physical Laboratory, and one would expect a sensible service provider to give a few seconds margin in the customer’s favour to avoid any doubt (20 seconds in the customer’s favour would hardly break the bank!).

    • Indeed, and most likely – hence the FOI requests I fired off last night related to it – one of which asks for the actual time the system counts off-peak, to see if it was dead on 19:00:00 (Cubic time)

      I stand by my assertion that Southeastern are complicit in this activity, given that the staff knew about it and easily volunteered the information when asked – she was careful to make sure I waited for the Cubic system to tick past 19:00:00 before I touched in.

      However, I don’t expect Southeastern to do anything about it as with anything else that doesn’t affect ‘their gift’…

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