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Call for flexible season tickets in wake of pandemic

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

The transport watchdog is calling on the government for rail fare and ticketing reform as workers’ usual commute is likely to alter in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

Transport Focus has written to the Secretary of State for Transport calling for a better value fare and ticketing system.

This could include more flexible season tickets or ‘carnets’ which offer a discount for multiple journeys when bought upfront for people returning to the office to work part-time as the pandemic alters the typical Monday-Friday commute.

‘A new railway needs a 21st century retail offer’

In the letter, Transport Focus chief executive, Anthony Smith, wrote: “Passenger views on the current structure are well known: complicated, illogical, expensive, low levels of trust. A new railway needs a 21st century retail offer, especially when it may need to stimulate demand and persuade passengers to return.

“Changing work patterns will increase demand for flexible season tickets. People working from home for two-three days a week will not want to pay for a traditional season ticket offer but will still expect some recognition that they are a regular, if less frequent, traveller.

“We hope that consideration can be given to accelerating the provision of carnet/flexible season style tickets. As well as improving the work life balance for passengers this could also help manage demand in the coming months when capacity is scarcer.”

The call comes after a survey conducted by Transport Focus revealed that people’s travel patterns have changed and are unlikely to return to the typical Monday-Friday commute any time soon.

Half of the 2,000 polled expect to work from home more often in the future and more than a third think their job will be homebased with limited travel to their workplace.

One South Western Railway commuter said:

“Changing work patterns will probably result in most of my job being based from home and trips to the office will be too infrequent to make a season ticket financially beneficial.”

Another passenger who uses Southestern, said:

“I want the plan for carnet type tickets to be brought forward with some urgency – not much point buying a season type ticket when we might be hotdesking or indeed working more from home.”

A Northern commuter, said:

“Even when the office reopens I expect I will be going there fewer than two days a week. Unfortunately there’s no flexible ticket offering for regular part-time travellers.”

Further, Transport Focus’ research showed that rail passengers want a fares system that is simple to use, easy to understand and is flexible enough to cater to how people work and travel today.

Just a third of commuters were satisfied with value for money of their ticket in Transport Focus’s latest National Rail passenger survey showing pent up demand for better value fares.

Fares reform will be key to helping people get back on public transport and making rail an attractive commuting option, the watchdog said. Getting people moving is key to kickstarting the economy as the country emerges from travel restrictions in place due to Covid-19.

‘Unwavering commitment’

A Department for Transport spokesperson, said: “While our top priority rightly is combatting the spread of coronavirus, we know long-term the outbreak will likely affect how we commute.

“We are still working at pace with industry to examine how we can help make sure part-time and flexible commuters are provided with better value and more convenient options. This builds on the plans announced earlier this year to trial new ticket types on some GTR services for flexible and part-time commuters.

“Our ambition before this crisis was delivering better journeys and value for money for passengers, and that commitment is unwavering.”