New flexible tickets go on sale for part-time commuters

Commuters at Leeds station

Commuters at Leeds station

New flexible tickets go on sale from Monday aimed at commuters in England who only travel to work two or three days a week.

The new tickets can be used for eight days in any month-long period.

The National Rail website will allow passengers to calculate savings and book the new tickets.

It is part of the government’s planned shake-up of rail services, but is being introduced immediately to cater to the trend for more home-working.

From 2023 a new state-owned body, Great British Railways (GBR), will set rail timetables and prices, sell tickets in England and manage rail infrastructure.

The flexible season tickets are being introduced separately, ahead of the structural changes, and can be used from 28 June.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the new tickets would offer “greater freedom and choice about how we travel, simpler ticketing and a fairer fare”.

The government estimates commuters could save between £60 and £350 a year on selected journeys.

However, Tony Miles, rail expert and contributor to Modern Railways magazine, said people needed to be cautious because the new system offers a finite number of journeys whereas a season ticket allows people to use the train as much as they want.

“These really aren’t season tickets,” he told the BBC’s Today programme. “This is a bulk purchase of tickets.

“A season ticket effectively gives you unlimited travel,” he said. “The big difference with this is you’re buying a fixed number of journeys at a discount price but if you decide at a weekend to do some extra journeys that will start ticking off your credit.”

  • Digital flexi-tickets can be used on any eight days in a 28-day period England without being required to select the days of travel in advance

  • They can be bought on rail websites and apps, as well as at some ticket offices

  • Tickets are paperless, so travellers will have to use a smartphone or smartcard

  • An online calculator will help passengers identify the cheapest option

  • Until the end of this year, passengers who book in advance will be able to change their bookings with no extra charge

  • The tickets are for standard class travel only

There was already reduced demand for traditional season tickets before the pandemic struck, but the enforced period of working from home has accelerated the trend. Dozens of employers have announced staff will be given the option to work from home at least part of the week after pandemic restrictions are removed.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said the changes would help persuade people to choose rail travel again.

“Our research with passengers showed us there was strong demand for a new ticket that suited people who expected to commute less frequently in future,” said Mr Smith.

“This is a positive step towards much-needed longer-term reform of how rail tickets are sold. We also welcome the waiving of admin fees for changing tickets, which will help rebuild passenger confidence.”

However, Transport Focus said it was important that passengers used the calculator to check the costs, as the new flexible tickets would not be the best option for everyone.

Rail ticket graphic

Rail ticket graphic

Mr Miles said commuters needed to do some “real heavy thinking” about whether the new system would offer them value for money.

“If you are definitely going to travel two days a week to work and no more, then these probably will be a good thing for you,” he said.

“If you think you are going to travel three days a week, you’d be very careful, and if you think your work will summon you randomly to pop in for extra days during the month, you need to be really careful because you will be using up that credit.”

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) which represents train operators said the rail companies would like to go further in reforming the fare system, if given the go ahead.

For example they would like to see more use of the tap-in, tap-out technology, used on the London Underground, which allows travellers to accumulate journeys and pay the price for a season ticket if they reach the threshold, without having to know their plans in advance and pre-purchase a season ticket.

Although the new flexible season tickets apply to National Rail operations in England, with rail operations devolved in other nations, they are available on cross border commuter routes, for example Bristol to Cardiff, or Berwick to Edinburgh.

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