East Anglia: Flexible season tickets for part-time commuters could be available within two years
PUBLISHED: 06:00 11 October 2013
The region’s part-time commuters could benefit from a new flexible rail season ticket within the next few years.
The Department of Transport and rail operators are looking at ways of making travel easier and more affordable – and one option could be part-time season tickets.
An increasing number of commuters travel to London four, three, or even two days a week – other days they are in offices nearer home or work from home.
Anyone who regularly travels to London during rush hours more than one day a week at present would find it worthwhile buying an annual season ticket – which can be used seven days a week.
However a new trial being operated by the government – The South East Flexible Ticketing Programme – could lead to the introduction of season tickets valid fewer days each week.
Restricted-use season tickets would be cheaper and offer more flexibility to people who do not travel to London for the traditional five-day working week.
At present anyone travelling from Ipswich to London during the rush hours needs to buy a peak-price ticket, costing £76.70 return. An annual season ticket for the route works out a £124 a week – making it economic for anyone travelling to work two days a week.
Such a change in season tickets could be some years away – the first project that is going to be trialled on two rail areas is an “Oyster-style” multi-use ticket for rail and bus journeys.
There are difficulties with setting this up – but the Department for Transport is working with the rail industry in an attempt to solve these.
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, a leading member of the group of East Anglian MPs pressing for an improved rail service, is a keen advocate of flexible season tickets.
He said: “There are an increasing number of my constituents who work in London two or three days a week and at home or in other offices on the other days, yet they are forced to pay for journeys they do not make.
“I would like to see much more flexibility in ticketing – the industry still suffers from a ticket system that was designed for the 40s and 50s that does not reflect the way we live and work today.”
His call was backed by Witham MP Priti Patel. She said: “Many of my constituents work part time or work from home for part of the week as they make use of new technologies and flexible working arrangements.
“Unfortunately, season tickets have been so rigid these employers are left out of pocket by having to pay full price for their tickets when they may only commute into London two or three times a week.
“I hope flexi-tickets will be introduced on our services so that my constituents will benefit and only pay for the services they use.”
A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) said trials would soon be underway with rail company Southern as well as on some routes to the north of London.
The idea of flexible season tickets was something that could be considered as part of the programme, although it was not an immediate priority.
Jonathan Denby from Greater Anglia said his company would be watching the trials of the “Oyster style” cards with interest – but the idea of flexible season tickets had not been considered at this stage.
He said: “There is an assumption that people with season tickets get a considerable discount. If there were cheaper season tickets for those travelling fewer days a week we would have to look at the impact that would have on revenue.
“However we are aware that working patterns are changing – and that people are working three or four days a week in London rather than full-time.
“Commuter trains on Friday mornings are considerably quieter than those on other days of the week.”