Coronavirus season ticket refunds: keep passengers in the loop

01 April 2020

Commuters with season tickets and passengers with advance purchase tickets now have tickets that cannot be used. With unprecedented demand for refunds from passengers Transport Focus has looked at the information provided by transport operators to see how easy it is to make a claim.

Transport Focus has successfully pressed for refunds on Advance tickets. We were pleased Government and operators recognised these exceptional circumstances and changed the refund policy. While it is good that some train operators have waived the usual £10 admin fee for season tickets, the other existing terms and conditions for season ticket refunds continue to apply.

The Government’s travel advice and revised timetables has resulted in operators being inundated with refund requests from hundreds of thousands of passengers. Customer relations teams at operators are hugely stretched with fewer staff working due to illness, staff in self-isolation and introducing home working for staff.

Passengers will need to allow the rail industry more time than usual to deal with the record-high number of refund requests. However, some passengers with season tickets will worry that each day that passes means a reduction in the refund value. A consistent approach reassuring that season ticket refunds will be backdated to at least 17 March could remove some of the heat.

Some operators are coping better than others. In the West Midlands good clear advice about how to change your ticket or apply for a refund outlines that a new online process is being set up. This means passengers can avoid the need to go to the station and provides reassurance that refunds will be based on the date passengers stopped travelling.

Elsewhere, while it’s welcome Transport for Wales has waived the £10 admin fee, it’s clear refunds will take a long time. Transport for Wales has warned passengers to allow up to 56 days to receive the refund. Disappointingly, there is no clear commitment to refund based on the day passengers stopped travelling as the operator says it will calculate season ticket refunds ‘based on how much you used up to the date we receive it back. So please return your ticket as soon as you can’.

Across the different public transport modes Blackpool Transport is pausing all active monthly mobile tickets. This allows passengers to choose when to begin using tickets again by re-activating them. More good practice from Transport for West Midlands, it has developed a ‘pro-rata’ refund scheme, backdated to 16 March, for various ticket products including the Swift smartcard.

We all understand the logistical problems faced by many sectors right now. Good clear information to help establish realistic expectations is vital and clarity about season ticket calculations will help.

Check your own calculations before submitting your refund request – so you know roughly what to expect. The National Rail website season ticket calculator can help you do this. Transport Focus has produced a summary of what different transport companies are saying about ticket refunds. We will keep this updated as the situation changes.

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