How often do you get the train to work?

03 November 2021

Before Covid-19 most people rarely worked from home, if ever. Of course many still don’t. Office for National Statistics show that in October over seven days more than half of working people travelled to work and did no work from home. For others though working from home now feels normal. In October the number of commuter journeys by train remained at less than half of pre-pandemic levels. People are restarting commuting by train, but those that have a choice are still working out the right balance between going to work and working at home.

In August we asked rail commuters for their take on this balancing act. We asked how much they expected to commute in the rest of 2021 and about the appeal of the new flexi season ticket. We focussed on a specific subset of rail commuters, those whose work does not require them to physically attend their workplace all the time. These are the passengers that now have a choice and which the railway needs to win back.

In September we published Future rail commuting survey detailing our findings on commuting frequency. This confirmed commuters that can work from home still expect to commute much less frequently in the remainder of 2021 than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic.

A clear picture of an evolving hybrid working pattern emerged, with many still expecting to spend more time at home than in the workplace. More than half said they expect to work mainly from home and only travel into their workplace when required.

So, against this uncertain backdrop, what did these rail commuters think about the new flexi season ticket introduced in June 2021? The full report detailing our findings is here.

Half of the commuters said they had already looked closely at the flexi season and considered if it would be suitable for them. Only one in 10 had not heard about the flexi season at all, but there were clearly still many commuters that hadn’t looked at it in any great detail. To get passengers’ considered view we provided the link to the National Rail season ticket calculator and asked them to look at the flexi season in more detail.

The early signs were quite encouraging. More than one in three passengers that expected to commute two or three days per week said they would use the flexi season at least to some extent. This suggests the flexi season is finding its intended market amongst those passengers that plan to commute at least twice a week, but not often enough to benefit from a traditional weekly, monthly or annual season ticket.

So, a promising start, but what tweaks might improve the flexi season or broaden its appeal? We tested a few ideas, which all had some appeal to commuters. Perhaps against expectations, increasing the level of discount was not the top choice. Instead, commuters were drawn most to the proposals that offered a longer validity period or reassurance they would not end up losing out if they travelled less often than expected. The most popular idea was a ‘rollover’ option, where if another flexi season ticket is bought any unused day’s travel is ‘rolled-over’ with a further 28 days validity.

What should we take away from this early insight into the way the flexi season is being received by commuters? First, this is clearly still a very new product, finding its market at a time when many rail commuters still face uncertainty and are yet to settle into a new commuting routine. It doesn’t suit everybody, but we can see that the ticket is appealing to many of those expecting to commute two – three days per week. With some tweaks the flexi season could appeal to even more commuters in future. A good start in what will be a long battle for the railway to win back commuters!

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