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Old July 5th, 2011, 08:29 AM   #1
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MISC | Last-minute fire sales on high-speed long-distance trains - a viable pricing strategy?

Faced with increased costs, airlines have embarked more and more on fire sales to fill empty seats at the very last moment.

This makes me think: on routes/services where reservation is compulsory and ticketing is train-specific, wouldn't be an opportunity for railways to attempt a similar strategy?

On the short term, the marginal cost of carrying additional passengers is not that high (the average net weight/seat ratio for HS trains ranges from 450-1100kg per seat, and conductors' job is easier if everyone is required to have tickets before boarding). Therefore, if high-speed trains could attract additional passenger paying deeply discounted fares at the last minute, it would still make more money.

There is always the risk, on such strategies in other markets, that the offer of cheaper seats at the last minute shifts price-conscious costumers from advanced purchase to gamble their chances postponing the trip (this is common on hotel industry).

Still, maybe some middle ground could be found on international long-distance trains with knockout fares, like € 15 Bruxelles Midi-London St. Pacras 2h before departure if there are still seats available, online purchase only (you don't want a queue at the station lurking around discounted fares).

In Italy, average load factor of HS trains (including mixed HS-traditional services like Roma-Venezia and Roma-Reggio Calabria) is around 44%. If they could increase those numbers to 60%, they could make more money, enough to cover some loss of revenue from advance purchase. Maybe a steeper price gradient could work, so that very advanced buyers know last-minute fares will never go below the price they paid, or they will be entitled a discount (but only for really advanced purchases, 7-10 days or more before date of travel).

As HSR caters for a wider competition than normal rail (both short-haul flights and long drives), it has the opportunity to put smart pricing in place.
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Old July 5th, 2011, 12:33 PM   #2
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I don't see much trouble with this, save for the logistical reason why it doesn't happen already. That is, the huge downsizing in terms of personnel of railway ticket offices recently. And hiring more people for this kind of fire sale would quickly eat up all the profits.

I also don't think it's the price-conscious consumers that will switch from advance purchase to fire sales, but rather the people who are not that time-conscious. Given that HSR is regularly scheduled, if I knew these fire sales would happen for every train, I'd just go to Brussels and wait for a fire sale. Advanced-ticket purchasers who mind waiting for ~2-3 hours for €50 savings wouldn't switch.
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Old July 5th, 2011, 12:35 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Suburbanist View Post
In Italy, average load factor of HS trains (including mixed HS-traditional services like Roma-Venezia and Roma-Reggio Calabria) is around 44%. If they could increase those numbers to 60%, they could make more money, enough to cover some loss of revenue from advance purchase. Maybe a steeper price gradient could work, so that very advanced buyers know last-minute fares will never go below the price they paid, or they will be entitled a discount (but only for really advanced purchases, 7-10 days or more before date of travel).

As HSR caters for a wider competition than normal rail (both short-haul flights and long drives), it has the opportunity to put smart pricing in place.
The biggest problem with your proposal is due to a very important difference between rail and air. On trains normal price flexible tickets carry a price that most passengers are willing to pay. People buy plane tickets in advance because they can't afford normal price flexible tickets. This is not the case for rail travel.
As a result a large proportion of passengers travel with tickets bought on the day of travel. (In many countries near to 100%) And on most routes there are always some seats available, even on the moment of departure. This is due to another property of rail travel: On a well run railway line an average load of 30% is enough to turn a profit.

If you were to offer steep discounts to last minute buyers people would quickly find out that they could thus save money without foregoing flexibility buy doing what they have been mostly doing anyway: Buying the ticket just before departure. Thus completely defeating your price discriminating strategy...
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Old July 5th, 2011, 01:47 PM   #4
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The biggest problem with your proposal is due to a very important difference between rail and air. On trains normal price flexible tickets carry a price that most passengers are willing to pay. People buy plane tickets in advance because they can't afford normal price flexible tickets. This is not the case for rail travel.
I don't think average airfares are not-affordable. We don't have consolidated data for EU markets, but for US, the average price of domestic air travel in 2010 was around US$ 0.184 per mile (sure, there are many costs not proportional to distance traveled). That would mean $ 140 for a New York-Chicago flight, for instance. Most intercity railway services in Europe have an equivalent €/km fare higher than that.
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Old July 5th, 2011, 01:59 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by krulstaartje View Post
I don't see much trouble with this, save for the logistical reason why it doesn't happen already. That is, the huge downsizing in terms of personnel of railway ticket offices recently. And hiring more people for this kind of fire sale would quickly eat up all the profits.
.
That's why I mentioned online-purchased tickets only

Another possibility would be to introduce even lower fares, like the € 15 for Eurostar, with longer advance-purchase requirements. The bottom lines: is it possible to induce travel on long distance trains if they manage to get fares low enough to entice people who'd otherwise not travel to take the train, in a similar fashion to what Ryanair and Easyjet did for air travel (routine weekend getaways in the other side of Europe for people working in London were not common, but extremely expensive up to the mid-1990s).
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Old July 5th, 2011, 02:07 PM   #6
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I don't think average airfares are not-affordable.
But that's not what I said. I said that the equivalent of a standard flexible rail fare is unaffordable for most people.
"Economy Flex" on a Swiss flight from Zürich to Brussels is about 500 euro. A normal price train ticket for the same route is about 160,-

As a result you won't find many people on board an airplane that just drove to the airport, bought a ticket and boarded. However, on trains a large fraction of the passengers just does that. If you are offering people the opportunity to save large amounts of money without having to accept some added inconvenience or limitation you are going to end up earning less.
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Old June 22nd, 2012, 07:51 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by K_ View Post
But that's not what I said. I said that the equivalent of a standard flexible rail fare is unaffordable for most people.
"Economy Flex" on a Swiss flight from Zürich to Brussels is about 500 euro. A normal price train ticket for the same route is about 160,-

As a result you won't find many people on board an airplane that just drove to the airport, bought a ticket and boarded. However, on trains a large fraction of the passengers just does that. If you are offering people the opportunity to save large amounts of money without having to accept some added inconvenience or limitation you are going to end up earning less.
True, but walk-up fares are rising many places Europe. In France a walk-up TGV ticket can easily cost the same as a walk-up flight ticket.

I think society needs to talk more about mobility considering local, regional and long-distance aspects, and really debate about if we want to keep on the path of not pre-booked long-distance mobility (except by car) costing more and more, and becoming prohibitively expensive for poor people. Granted, this is the way things are going in Europe, and if we're going to do it we might as well have a systems that is at least as efficeint at reaching capacity as the best air travel systems.

Last-minute booking is certianly a part of that. Since this thread was last active DB has started with ltur, though the international offers are especially limited.

In the UK there have been some attemps at this including Virgin Trains offering last-minute seats through megatrain. They've changed the offer quite a bit since they first started but still have tickets about two weeks to a few days in advance for just a few pounds between cities like London and Liverpool.

I'm quite curious to see what italo's load factors will be like (the first private high-speed train in Continental Europe).
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Old June 22nd, 2012, 10:10 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SpatialCadet View Post
I'm quite curious to see what italo's load factors will be like (the first private high-speed train in Continental Europe).
Today, with an uncomplete service, around 45% as far I know.
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Old June 22nd, 2012, 10:39 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Coccodrillo View Post
Today, with an uncomplete service, around 45% as far I know.
45% is not bad... though what appears to be happening is a total bomb of the Club service class, except for the small private/group compartments.

Crisis time, maybe corporate clients are not willing to fork that much for the premium seats.
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Old June 23rd, 2012, 12:02 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by K_ View Post
As a result you won't find many people on board an airplane that just drove to the airport, bought a ticket and boarded. However, on trains a large fraction of the passengers just does that. If you are offering people the opportunity to save large amounts of money without having to accept some added inconvenience or limitation you are going to end up earning less.
I don't believe it is true. It sure is on trains that still use kilometric fares and
no reservation policy. But on lines with compulsory reservations and yield
management, this is not the case. Finding tickets at the last minute on
Thalys and Eurostar is often quite difficult. Most seats are sold one day or two
in advance. With trains with compulsory reservation, even if people can afford
the money, they do not run the risk of not getting a seat.

So I think that yes, last minute sales could make a lot of sense. And I would
not be surprised to learn that it already happens. Probably not louldly announced
just to avoid having people starting to count on it. But I think that's how I
got a first class ticket that was way cheaper than a second class one...
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Old June 23rd, 2012, 11:55 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MarcVD View Post
I don't believe it is true. It sure is on trains that still use kilometric fares and
no reservation policy. But on lines with compulsory reservations and yield
management, this is not the case. Finding tickets at the last minute on
Thalys and Eurostar is often quite difficult. Most seats are sold one day or two
in advance.
Finding _cheap_ tickets at the last minute is indeed difficult. But Thalys will always sell you a ticket. It doesn't often happens that all seats are sold (average occupancy is about 70%) and even when this does happen they will still sell you a ticket that will have no seat reservation printed on it.
You then just pick a free seat, or sit on one of the fold out seats near the entrance.
And don't forget that normal fare tariffs usually allow you to take another train than the one you reserved, often without even having to exchange your ticket first. So the railways don't have that much control over how many people will be on a particular service as the airlines have...

So walking to the station and getting a full price ticket is always possible. If railways started to give last minute reductions like the airlines do they would most likely lose revenu.
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Old June 23rd, 2012, 01:10 PM   #12
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Something like that already exists in Poland, in some train lines. Although not in the fastest line (Katowice-Warsaw)

From Wroclaw to Katowice we have 180km and 3 kinds of trains doing most of the transport between these cities (excluding international trains, night trains, etc):

*PKP Intercity - TLK train - Supposed to be the main cheap train, but currently has the highest price in this line: 43zl for an adult (10 euros) - 3 hours
*Przewozy Regionalny - InterRegio train - A competing company owned by regional governments runs the oldest trains for the smallest fare - 33zl for an adult (7 euros), but each subsequent adult in a group up to 4 persons pays half! - 3 hours
*PKP Intercity - InterCity trains -> A little bit faster and has only very new trains and offers free coffee. The full price is very expensive for poles, something like 115zl = 30 euros - finishes the route in 2h40

The most expensive train has a discount called LastMinute in which if you buy 30 minutes before departure and there are many places still available it costs only 33zl, just like the cheapest train. Ok, it is still a little bit more expensive for me, since I am always with my wife, so we have a group discount in InterRegio. But the train is newer, faster and we get a free coffee =)

The discount is pretty much always available, never failled me. I think they as a company probably loose money on this, as if the discount wasnt available I would take the TLK train which is more expensive then the discounted InterCity ... but I could also go with the other company for an even cheaper fare =)

Students don't get their 50% discount in this LastMinute fare (probably don't get in the InterCity trains at all)
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Old June 23rd, 2012, 09:53 PM   #13
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Taiwan High Speed Rail offers "unreserved seating" at a discount price on 1/3 of the train. Those carriages are almost always jam-packed, with people standing in the aisles, hallways, and doorways. I'm not sure if that qualifies as a "fire-sale" when the prices are only slightly cheaper (less than $1), but for somewhat reason they're insanely popular here.

Seems to me that THSR has fluctuating ridership, with stuffed trains at rush hour and near-empty ones during off-peak (heck, they used to offer 40% discounts during off-peak.)
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Old June 23rd, 2012, 11:01 PM   #14
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Standing passengers on a high-speed train detract from the passenger experience of the seated passenger. It makes more difficult to move across carriages and, if people are standing in the aisles and what else.
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Old June 24th, 2012, 10:08 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Suburbanist View Post
Standing passengers on a high-speed train detract from the passenger experience of the seated passenger.
Not if the unreserved seats are in special unreserved cars, like on the Shinkansen.

Quote:
It makes more difficult to move across carriages and, if people are standing in the aisles and what else.
OTOH reserved seats mean there will be more movement from on carriage to another needed. A lot of people board the wrong car, and it does slow down boarding at the stations too.
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Old June 25th, 2012, 11:59 PM   #16
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Quote:
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Standing passengers on a high-speed train detract from the passenger experience of the seated passenger. It makes more difficult to move across carriages and, if people are standing in the aisles and what else.
High speed train passengers are increasingly commuters. They want to get from A to B quickly, and won't be turned off by standing passengers detracting from an "experience". Permitting standing passengers is an easy way to increase revenues without the costs. In China, virtually *all* long distance trains are jam packed like sardines even outside high seasons, and no one complains about the detracted experience. Besides, if they really want experience, they're free to pay extra to use the first class carriages.
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Old June 28th, 2012, 05:07 AM   #17
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High speed train passengers are increasingly commuters. They want to get from A to B quickly, and won't be turned off by standing passengers detracting from an "experience". Permitting standing passengers is an easy way to increase revenues without the costs. In China, virtually *all* long distance trains are jam packed like sardines even outside high seasons, and no one complains about the detracted experience. Besides, if they really want experience, they're free to pay extra to use the first class carriages.
In China, HSR is not a commuter train yet. The prices are way too high for the average worker to afford. There is a lot of intercity travel because these cities have huge populations, hence the trains easily fill up even with high frequencies.

HSR is out of reach for the manufacturing workers, where they take home an average of 1348 yuan a month per the following Economist report :

http://www.economist.com/node/16693333

Considering a 30-40 minute ride from Shanghai to Suzhou on a slower D train costs 25 yuan already, the whole month's commute would basically cover 74% of income. Back to the bus they go ...

Among the white-collar workers, the picture also looks unaffordable :
http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/20...t_11793302.htm

But then, a trip every now and then for a holiday is still probably do-able.
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Old June 28th, 2012, 10:22 AM   #18
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In China, HSR is not a commuter train yet. The prices are way too high for the average worker to afford. There is a lot of intercity travel because these cities have huge populations, hence the trains easily fill up even with high frequencies.

HSR is out of reach for the manufacturing workers, where they take home an average of 1348 yuan a month per the following Economist report :

http://www.economist.com/node/16693333

Considering a 30-40 minute ride from Shanghai to Suzhou on a slower D train costs 25 yuan already, the whole month's commute would basically cover 74% of income. Back to the bus they go ...
Not from 250 km/h lines. See:
http://documents.worldbank.org/curat...erging-program

The prices of 250 km/h lines range from 29 to 31 fen/km, while buses are around 35 fen/km.

350 km/h lines are more expensive at 42 to 48 fen/km.

On Changchun-Jilin line, 111 km, the tickets cost 32 yuan. Roughly as much as bus.

When the HSR opened, the bus service was nearly eliminated - the 28 daily HSR trains caused the frequencies to shrink from a bus each 5...10 minutes to 1...2 buses per day going via intermediate towns.

On Beijing-Tianjin (117 km), the high speed train costs twice the price of bus (55 yuan) - but still halved the number of bus passengers

How do the prices of buses in Yangtze and Pearl River Delta compare? On similar distances - like Shanghai-Suzhou, Shanghai-Wuxi, Shenzhen-Guangzhou?

How have the bus frequencies been affected by opening of high speed railways (July 2010 Shanghai-Nanjing, December 2011 Longhua-Guangzhou)?
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Old June 28th, 2012, 11:05 AM   #19
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Not from 250 km/h lines. See:
http://documents.worldbank.org/curat...erging-program

The prices of 250 km/h lines range from 29 to 31 fen/km, while buses are around 35 fen/km.

350 km/h lines are more expensive at 42 to 48 fen/km.

On Changchun-Jilin line, 111 km, the tickets cost 32 yuan. Roughly as much as bus.

When the HSR opened, the bus service was nearly eliminated - the 28 daily HSR trains caused the frequencies to shrink from a bus each 5...10 minutes to 1...2 buses per day going via intermediate towns.

On Beijing-Tianjin (117 km), the high speed train costs twice the price of bus (55 yuan) - but still halved the number of bus passengers

How do the prices of buses in Yangtze and Pearl River Delta compare? On similar distances - like Shanghai-Suzhou, Shanghai-Wuxi, Shenzhen-Guangzhou?

How have the bus frequencies been affected by opening of high speed railways (July 2010 Shanghai-Nanjing, December 2011 Longhua-Guangzhou)?
Long-distance commutes are not common in China. Factory workers live in-house, as factories provide housing as part of their pay package. They would not be able to afford renting out anyway. City workers have little incentive to bus into the large cities from far in the first place. Their wages are high enough to sustain themselves in the city. Moving out will reduce the rental cost but that's more than offset by the additional transport costs. The key reason why bus frequencies have fallen is not because commuters are switching to HSR. There are few such commuters to begin with. In fact, as observed during the Chinese New Year holiday rush, the working classes tend to go for the non-HSR trains since the CRH is out of their affordability.

The Shanghai-Suzhou (81km) price quote I gave is on the D trains that travel below 300 km/h, and from that analysis, it is not affordable already.

Shanghai bus fares (http://www.ctnz.net/selectLanguage.do?languag=English) and [D train price]
1. to Suzhou 38 yuan [25 yuan]
2. to Wuxi 53 yuan [35 yuan]
3. to Nanjing 105 yuan [90 yuan]
4. to Hangzhou 68 yuan [54 yuan]

The price discrepancy in the Yangtze River Delta does not replicate in the Pearl River Delta. Shenzhen - Guangzhou distance-wise is similar to Hangzhou - Ningbo, but the first fare is almost double that of the second (80 vs. 44 yuan for D trains). Shanghai - Hangzhou is an even longer distance but the fare is still cheaper at 54 yuan.

Guangzhou-Shenzhen by bus, for example, costs 65 yuan (http://www.yxnz.com.cn/) vs the CRH D train price of 80 yuan. Per the bus schedules, there are still a lot of frequencies although I don't have the pre-HSR picture to do a comparison.
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Old June 28th, 2012, 11:37 AM   #20
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Long-distance commutes are not common in China. Factory workers live in-house, as factories provide housing as part of their pay package. They would not be able to afford renting out anyway. City workers have little incentive to bus into the large cities from far in the first place. Their wages are high enough to sustain themselves in the city. Moving out will reduce the rental cost but that's more than offset by the additional transport costs. The key reason why bus frequencies have fallen is not because commuters are switching to HSR. There are few such commuters to begin with. In fact, as observed during the Chinese New Year holiday rush, the working classes tend to go for the non-HSR trains since the CRH is out of their affordability.

The Shanghai-Suzhou (81km) price quote I gave is on the D trains that travel below 300 km/h, and from that analysis, it is not affordable already.

Shanghai bus fares (http://www.ctnz.net/selectLanguage.do?languag=English) and [D train price]
1. to Suzhou 38 yuan [25 yuan]
2. to Wuxi 53 yuan [35 yuan]
3. to Nanjing 105 yuan [90 yuan]
4. to Hangzhou 68 yuan [54 yuan]
Yet people do travel in China. On Beijing-Tianjin, about 10 million people per year used to travel - 8 millions by slow train, 2 millions by bus (the said World Bank source). When high speed railway was introduced, about half passengers remained on both these services - 1 million by bus, 4 millions by slow train - and besides the 5 millions who transferred to high speed line, 20 million high speed rail passengers were either new created demand or shifted from private cars and minibuses - the combined demand expanded from 10 to 30 millions by adding the HSR. On Changchun-Jilin, about 6 million people per year used to travel - 4 millions by slow train, 2 millions by bus. When HSR was added, buses basically shut down, all passengers shifted to HSR - amd just one quarter of slow train passengers did. The other 7 million HSR passengers were a new created demand, and adding HSR raised the total demand from 6 millions to 13 millions.

As you pointed out, people do not undertake daily commute in China over 100 km distances, because whether by bus or HSR train, the prices like 25 or 32 yuan are too much to pay twice a day. Then who are the people who travel in massive numbers and buy those 55 yuan tickets Beijing-Tianjin?

Roughly which prices CAN the Chinese workers afford to pay twice a day?
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