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End of the Monday-Friday commute? Transport watchdog calls for urgent rail fares reform

Independent watchdog Transport Focus has written to the Secretary of State for Transport calling for rail fares reform.

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

Half of people in the survey of 2000 people expect to work from home more often in the future and more than a third (36 per cent) think their job will be homebased with limited travel to their workplace.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic Transport Focus is 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 the Secretary of State for Transport, 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.”

Transport Focus 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.

For over a decade Transport Focus’s research has shown the need to modernise the retail offer from the railway. Transport Focus research shows that 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 eight out of 10 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.

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

What passengers say:

“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.” Monthly ticket, South Western Railway

“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, Southeastern

“Even when the office reopens I expect I will be going there fewer than 2 days a week. Unfortunately there’s no flexible ticket offering for regular part-time travellers.” Annual ticket, Northern

“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.” Annual season ticket holder

Notes to editors

Transport Focus’s letter to Secretary of State for Transport.

Travel during Covid-19 survey.

Transport Focus spoke to 2000 people between 26-28 June 2020. Data is nationally representative of the Great Britain population.

For further information please contact: Kieran Watkins, senior communications officer, Tel: 0300 123 0836 or email: kieran.watkins@transportfocus.org.uk

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