July 15, 2020

The Future of Season Tickets: Flexible Ticketing

Update: The Department for Transport has asked train companies to submit suggestions for creating ‘part-time’ or flexible season tickets. Although no final decision has yet been made, industry insiders expect the Government to adopt the plans within weeks which will then be rolled out over the coming months.

Great Western Railway, for example, has suggested two types of flexible ticket: one with 3 days of travel within 7 days, and a second with 12 days of travel within 28 days. Meanwhile, the RMT Union (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) has called on the Government to introduce annual season tickets that are valid for 2, 3 or 4 days per week rather than 7 days (and priced pro-rata). 

A State of Change

As technology has made remote working a more realistic and productive option over the last decade, there has been a slow but clear trend towards more flexible working, with more employees working for periods from home or taking on part time roles. Then along came COVID-19 and remote working suddenly became a way of life for many under lockdown rules.

While plenty us will be returning to the office once it is safe to do so, there will be many organisations who realise maintaining a flexible working policy will be beneficial both for their employees' well-being and for their bottom line (fewer on-site employees = small offices = lower overheads). This means more workers coming into the office only 2 or 3 days a week or with no regular schedule at all.

Season tickets have always been a great way for commuters to get a better deal on their travel, and they still are, but only for people who travel into work 4 or 5 days a week. For example, a Zone 1-4 commuter can save up to £623 by buying an annual season ticket versus using contactless (which would cap at the cost of a weekly season ticket). But if the same commuter only travelled into work 3 days a week, their only option would be contactless.

So despite being a regular and loyal customer, the flexible worker has to pay top dollar for their travel and that doesn’t seem fair. Therefore, it is very important that the UK’s fare and ticketing system evolves to meet the changing behaviours of those who use it most.

In the Works

The good news is the Department of Transport has this issue on their radar; they have been running flexible ticketing trials with a number of train operators as part of a wider plan to modernise the railway system. While the trials are reasonably small scale and currently only operating on certain lines, there’s no doubt that the impact of COVID-19 should motivate an acceleration and scaling of the testing programme.

So what does flexible ticketing look like? Thameslink currently offer Carnet booklets which contain between five and ten single journey tickets valid for up to 3 months, giving a 10% discount. Meanwhile, LNER offer Business carnets – 5 tickets for the price of 4, valid for 3 months on certain routes into London. The crux of flexible ticketing is offering the ability to purchase multiple journeys at once at a discounted price that can be used up over a certain period of time. This means commuters don’t need to travel 5 days a week to access discounted travel.

In July, Transport for the North announced the launch of their own flexible ticket trial. Their smart card-based carnet-style ticketing product is valid for travel on Northern services between Leeds and Harrogate. Passengers are able to buy a bundle of 10 tickets, priced at the equivalent of 9 anytime day returns, each valid for a day of unlimited travel which can be used at any time during the next six months.


Looking to the Future

It is key that however the rail industry decides to pursue it, flexible ticketing is fully compatible and integrated with modern ticketing technologies like smartcards and mobile ticketing.

You can be sure Commuter Club will be at the forefront of this change – ready to provide our customers with the best value ticket to suit their schedule. For the time being though, if you are a regular commuter, you can’t beat the combined value for money and flexibility of our pay-monthly annual season ticket.