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Is this the end of the Monday-Friday commute?

Transport watchdog calls for urgent rail fares reform

Mark Moran
16 July 2020
The pandemic has changed the way we travel
The pandemic has changed the way we travel


With normal working patterns disrupted by the pandemic, independent watchdog Transport Focus is calling for rail fares reform.

Transport Focus’s latest Travel during COVID-19 survey shows people’s travel patterns have changed and suggests that they are unlikely to return to the typical Monday-Friday commute any time soon.

Half of people in the survey of 2,000 people expect to work from home more often in the future and more than a third (36%) think their job will be home-based with limited travel to their workplace.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic Transport Focus is thus urging the Government to reform the fares and ticketing system to offer better value. This could include more flexible season tickets or ‘carnets’ (which offer a discount for multiple journeys when bought upfront) for people returning to work part-time in the office and to suit the way people travel now.

Writing to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said, Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith, said: “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.”

In his reply, the Transport Secretary said: “As we move from the lockdown into recovery, it is important that we get the balance right in the short and medium term between managing demand and ensuring that we provide better value for money for passengers going forward. We continue to work with the Rail Delivery Group and the industry to ensure we collectively understand what is already available today for part-time commuters, such as carnets, and what steps could be taken quickly to make these as useful and convenient as possible for passengers.

“Once we have this clearer picture we would welcome a discussion with your officials.  We hope to publish a white paper based on the Williams Rail Review in the coming months. Both Keith Williams and I have been clear that better outcomes for passengers can be achieved by reforming fares and ticketing. We agree that fares reform is fundamental to the creation of a modern, customer focused railway and the review represents an essential step towards a major system change.”

Transport Focus said its research shows 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.

Transport Focus said over the past decade research has shown the need to modernise the retail offer from the railway. Many passengers see the fares structure as complicated and confusing and some passengers are not confident in their ability to buy the cheapest or best ticket.

The ‘Easier Fares’ consultation in 2018 with the rail industry confirmed an overwhelming desire amongst passengers for change with more than 80% people wanting the fares system overhauled.

Just one-in-three 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.

What passengers say:

  • Monthly ticket holder, South Western Railway: “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.”
  • Annual ticket holder, Southeastern: “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.”
  • Annual ticket holder, Northern: “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.”
  • Annual season ticket holder: “Being able to buy a three days per week season ticket, rather than full time, is important for me. I’d like more flexibility so I can work from home sometimes, or travel on different days of the week.”
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