May 11, 2017

The Season Ticket - Cutting the Cost of Commuting


Getting to work is expensive business. For drivers, there's the fluctuating cost of fuel and criminally high city centre parking fees, while for public transport users there's the never-ending hike in rail fares.

In London, it gets worse. A recent study shows London is the most expensive city in the world when it comes to travelcards, charging £135 on average (more than a third over Dublin, the second most expensive!). London is also the fourth most expensive for rent and reaches the top ten for gym memberships, cigarettes, hotel rooms, petrol and car hire. The problem is that earnings are not growing accordingly in Britain's capital city and that is really making Londoners be on a tight budget.

Even worse, transport fares go up every year having increased up by more than 200% since 1995[1]. While Mr Khan's Fare Freeze campaign brings some hope, don't be fooled - only PAYG or contactless fares are frozen - mostly benefiting tourists or infrequent commuters.

Savvy regular commuters who optimise by buying weeklies, monthlies or annuals saw the cost of their commute increase by 2% this year and will continue to see fare increases every January.

A recent survey by CommuterClub shows UK commuters spend an average of 15% of their hard-earned income simply to get to and from work. Finding a cheaper alternative is a must for anyone who doesn't want to spend their day in the office just paying off the cost of getting there.

National Rail season tickets are an obvious solution, giving you the equivalent of unlimited travel for a set period on a specific route. There is flexibility in the length of time you purchase a ticket for - anything from seven days up to a year - but there are drawbacks on pricing, as inevitably the shorter period tickets cost more. There may also be stipulations for what routes you can use and at what times of day, so check the options carefully to make sure they meet your requirements.

The annual ticket most often provides the cheapest option. For example, a Rugby to Birmingham New Street season ticket would be around £140 for the monthly option, or around £1400 for the annual. This means the annual ticket costs around £117 a month, clearly offering the cheaper option overall.

National Rail has a season ticket calculator where you can work out what your commute would cost.

So, you arrive to the conclusion that you will waste a lot of money buying travelcards that offer payment flexibility. On the other hand, even if annual tickets are cheaper in the long-run, they are way over the budget to be paid at once. Chances are you don't have a couple of thousand pounds burning a hole in your pocket, and you lose a lot of savings if you go for the monthly or weekly season ticket.

However, there are several options you can explore to make the annual ticket affordable:

Employer Loan

Some companies and employers may offer a scheme whereby they put up the cash for the annual ticket and you repay them directly out of your salary each month. Your employer may or may not charge interest, and the payment period may be 10 months rather than 12, so check with them to see what they could offer you. At CommuterClub, we believe any company should be able to offer such an important benefit to staff and work with SMEs to help them offer and manage season tickets.

Credit Card

An option, but not a great one. If you can get a credit card to cover the upfront cost of your National Rail annual ticket, you can make the repayments at your own pace, though obviously, it can become very expensive if you take longer or you can't get a 0% card to cover the period of the ticket.

Commuter Scheme

One new option for rail travellers is to join a commuter scheme such as CommuterClub which helps Londoners save on their commute with its flexible, low cost payment plan. This allows you to buy an annual ticket but pay for it in monthly instalments, though you still retain the savings of the yearly season ticket. The list of advantages goes on, as travellers only pay for 11 months overall, and the price doesn't go up along with National Rail fares increase each year. Because you're not locked into a contract, you could cancel your ticket after a few months if needed, and only pay for what you've used.

You can find out more about CommuterClub's National Rail annual tickets here.