As Labour demands rush-hour fares should be suspended “to avoid Christmas travel chaos,” The Independent can reveal that many services are more expensive in the middle of the day.
The four UK nations have announced that travel restrictions will be suspended from 23 to 27 December to allow families to be reunited over Christmas.
Up to three households will be able to mix in a bubble over the five days.
But the so-called “Christmas Ease” could place extreme demands on the rail network – especially on 23 December, which is a normal working day for many people.
The opposition has demanded the suspension of peak “Anytime” fares to minimise the risk of overcrowding. In normal times, the trains on either side of the peak hours are disproportionately busy.
Yet the pricing patterns by the two main operators on the West Coast and East Coast main lines indicate that most people intend to travel in the middle of the day on 23 December.
The Independent has looked at the prices for Advance tickets on that day for one-way journeys from London – the main direction for travel. Fares normally reflect demand.
On Avanti West Coast from Euston to Liverpool, the highest average prices are between 10am and 4pm – an average of £60 one way.
In contrast, anyone travelling before 10am is likely to pay around £30. The average for the evening peak is £56, while after that the average falls to £37.
The cheapest one-way trip all day between London and Liverpool is £23, for travel on the 5.27am departure from Euston.
Avanti has already declared that the last two weeks of the year will all be off peak.
On LNER from London King's Cross to Newcastle, the most expensive Advance ticket of the day on 23 December is at 3pm, priced at £107. By waiting until 6.30pm or 7pm, the passenger saves £50.
Other operators are closer to the conventional pattern of peak/off-peak demand.
On GWR from London Paddington to Swansea, the morning and evening peaks are priced at around £60 compared with £37 in the middle of the day.
East Midlands Railway from London St Pancras to Sheffield is highest during the evening peak, at £71, with middle-of-the-day services are priced at £58.
On long-distance coach operators, fares are fairly flat across the day. National Express is charging £21 for all its Birmingham-Manchester journeys on 23 December. But Megabus has a London-Leicester service for only £12 at 6.30pm, compared with £18 at 10.30am.