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Passengers to sue two London rail companies for £93million after cheaper fares loophole was ‘hidden’ for years

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A group of passengers has been given permission by a London court to sue two of London’s biggest train operators as they believe cheaper fares available to them were effectively hidden.

If successful at trial, they could claim up to £93million from Southeastern and South Western Railway (SWR) due to the higher fares they claim to have been offered instead of the hidden cheaper ones.

The dispute is over ‘boundary tickets’. These are tickets which enable you to travel from the edge of a TfL fare zone to somewhere beyond it without having to get off the train at the boundary, buy a new ticket again and continue your journey. Crucially, they avoid someone who already has a valid Travelcard for part of their route paying twice for the same journey.

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The problem is, at Southeastern and SWR, you cannot buy these ‘boundary tickets’ on their websites, over the phone or at ticket machines.

Instead, you have to go to a staffed ticket office counter and ask the colleague for a ticket to or from ‘Boundary of Zone 6’ (or whichever zone you require).

The passengers, who are represented by Justin Gutmann, a commuter of 40 years on these services, say that not making the tickets easier to buy is an abuse of the train operators’ ‘virtual monopolies’ and effectively breaks competition law.

Mr Gutmann told MyLondon: “We’re not seeking damages to punish them, we’re seeking to get back what is rightfully ours, £93million in revenue we, the passengers, have already paid out.”

SWR and predecessor South West Trains are the other defendant in the case which covers fares sold since 2015

The figure of £93million results from independent research commissioned by the legal firm Mr Gutmann is working with (Charles Lyndon). It found that around 3 million people would have likely purchased more expensive fares for their journeys than they actually needed since 2015.

The Competition Appeal Tribunal gave permission for the passengers to go ahead with a class action proceeding on behalf of all of those estimated 3 million people, meaning that anybody who can prove that they too were overcharged by Southeastern or SWR would be entitled to a share of the compensation in the event the Mr Gutmann wins.

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The court would decide how the £93million would be shared amongst the passengers though, not Mr Gutmann or the passengers themselves.

In addition, the Tribunal confirmed that the claim was serious and substantial enough to be pursued and that the research presented was thorough enough to go from a preliminary case to a formal one.

The lawsuit has taken over two years to reach this stage, and is expected to go on for perhaps two more years before a final judgement is awarded unless an out-of-court settlement is negotiated.

If you own a Zone 1-6 Travelcard, and are travelling from Waterloo to Guilford a boundary fare from “Boundary of Zone 6” to Guilford would cost only £13.50 (Anytime Day Single on SWR).

However you can only buy such a ticket at a ticket counter if you ask specifically for it. Online, at a ticket machine or over the phone, you would have to buy a ticket from Waterloo to Guildford £24.80. (Anytime Day Single on SWR)

This journey is almost twice as expensive if boundary fares are not made readily available.

Mr Gutmann, who has held several senior positions leading customer satisfaction teams throughout his career explained to MyLondon. “Yes it has been time consuming but I am passionate about customers, I am passionate about transport and I am passionate about things being done properly.”

“It’s terrible that this [class action proceeding] is the position of last resort for us consumers, but at least we have it; and whilst we have it, and whilst powerful profitable companies continue to exploit consumers, this is a good backstop and I am proud to be leading it.

“[The boundary fares] are a recognised fare under the terms of the agreement between train operators and Transport for London.

Boundary tickets are cheaper for Londoners who already have Travelcards and want to take day trips out of London, such as here to here in Hampshire. A boundary ticket means you would not have to buy a ticket all the way from Waterloo as your Travelcard suffices until the boundary of Zone 6

Boundary tickets are cheaper for Londoners who already have Travelcards and want to take day trips out of London, such as here to here in Hampshire. A boundary ticket means you would not have to buy a ticket all the way from Waterloo as your Travelcard suffices until the boundary of Zone 6

“I would say to Southeastern and SWR, why don’t you pack it in and stop this case now and settle. Let’s deal with your customers, who use your railways, every single day going in and out of London, put the situation right, make the boundary fares widely available, publicise them, and pay the damages they have caused over the past few years. That would solve the problem quickly, easily and save everyone a lot of time and trouble.”

Mr Gutmann used to work for London Underground for eight years so understands the significance the case could have on the railway sector and its passengers across London and the South East.

Boundary fares do exist on other London train operators’ routes such as Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern, Greater Anglia and GWR. In the event the lawsuit is successful, a huge precedent would be set for fares all across London.

Boundary tickets also save time as well as money. A boundary ticket from

Boundary tickets also save time as well as money. A boundary ticket from “Boundary of Zone 6” to Tonbridge would allow this person to take a fast train which went through Zone 6 but did not stop there. However, if they did not know to ask for it at a staffed station and just used a ticket machine, they would have to take a slower train to Knockholt, the last station in Zone 6, and get a return from there, taking up to double the time

An SWR spokesperson responded: “We are committed to providing customers with the best range of fares and ticketing options – including online, via mobile phones, in person and over the phone. We believe that all of the ticket options available are in line with legal and regulatory requirements, and we will continue to defend ourselves robustly in this case.”

A Go-Ahead spokesperson (representing Southeastern before it was taken over by the government due to financial irregularities equating to £25million ) added: “Go-Ahead will be considering the Tribunal’s judgment in detail but continues to consider the claim against LSER to be flawed and unsustainable.”

The case continues and Mr Gutmann is inviting anyone who thinks they could prove they were overcharged by SWR or Southeastern too to go to boundaryfares.com and register their interest in the case. Once registered, as the case progresses, the website will inform affected people how to make a claim and seek damages if his claim wins.

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