I have a cynical supposition that the rail companies continue to talk about part time season tickets but never actually commit to introducing them because they believe it’ll cost them too much to set up or lose them too much money in lost revenue.
My particular issue with this is that all season tickets are based on 7 days of travel, yet in my experience, the majority of season tickets are used to commute to and from a place of work. The fact that these tickets are based on 7 days of unlimited travel along a particular route means that for many, the weekend days of travel are completely unnecessary and in effect any season ticket holders are subsidising the cost of those weekend travellers.
If you think that a typical commuter might only need to travel to and from their place of work on weekdays – ie Monday to Friday – then surely the rail companies should now be in a position to offer a season ticket that is 5/7 the cost of a full-week season ticket. For them not to do this smacks of profiteering in my mind.
The situation is further shown to be grossly unfair when you consider part time workers – and this can include flexible working individuals, return-to-work mothers, working parents, etc. and anyone else that maybe doesn’t work a traditional working week. In this case, they may not even need the 5 days of weekday travel that I was arguing for above, but have no option but to either buy individual tickets or a full week’s season ticket. They may work a fixed pattern of days and therefore should surely be able to benefit from a season ticket that fits that pattern.
In my own case, for example, working 3 days a week in London means it’s just not viable to buy a season ticket for the cost of this travel. Why can’t I be allowed to buy a ticket for those fixed 3 days of travel, instead of paying for 4 days of travel I’ll never use? With today’s mobile tickets, Oyster card system, contactless payments and other advances in ticketing and payment, I can’t believe there’s a valid reason not to offer this flexible approach to pricing.
A BBC report (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-25948876) suggested that flexible tickets and travel cards would be launched (in London) from January 2015, but I’ve seen no sign of these yet. And the Guardian also reported around the same time, with the Campaign for Better Transport calling on the government to “honour its pledge” to introduce flexible season tickets (http://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/jun/11/rail-season-tickets-part-time-commuters). Despite the news apparently suggesting something might be happening soon, there’s still no news about what might change.
Flexible and part-time season tickets aside, there’s also the enormous cost of travel that needs to be taken into consideration too. An annual season ticket from Chester to London costs nearly £13,000! And that’s before the cost of travelling to/from the station and home, and any onward travel once in London. The actual cost is £12,844 (at the time of writing) – use National Rail’s season ticket calculator here: http://ojp.nationalrail.co.uk/service/seasonticket/search to see the options. The calculator helpfully tells me the average journey price is £26.75 – but this wrongly assumes 480 journeys per year (2 per day), whereas in reality a part time or flexible worker working 3 days a week, would make ‘just’ 288 journeys. With this number of journeys, if we were able to use the same average journey price of £26.75 the part time season ticket would cost £7,706.40 – so whilst not cheap, it’s still over £5,000 less than the full-week ticket.
Without that flexibility, it means many just can’t afford to use a season ticket and instead have to go through a complicated process of attempting to secure the cheapest way of travelling to and from their place of work. In my case, I use the very helpful ticket splitting services from Money Saving Expert (http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/split-cheap-train-tickets/) that allows me to make some hefty savings on the cost of travel. But not every ticket can be split and then occasionally to see the look on some ticket inspector’s faces when you hand them a split ticket, you might think you’re personally pickpocketing them by the look of distate on their face (note – this isn’t every inspector, but some seem genuinely perturbed by the concept of a split ticket).
The system of pricing for rail travel compared to elsewhere in Europe is massively out of sync with other countries. The Telegraph produced a comparison report in 2014 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/road-and-rail-transport/11043893/Rail-fare-hike-Britain-vs-rest-of-Europe.html) that shows some distance and cost comparisons – and I’ve highlighted some below.
Rail fares 1-10 miles using a travel card:
– Britain £17
– France £9.60
– Belgium £7
– Italy £4.79
Rail fares 100-150 miles
– Britain £96.50
– France £29
– Belgium £16
– Italy £16
So not only are we paying more generally, the services are (over)crowded, the trains – particularly outside of London – are very old (I’m looking at you Arriva Trains Wales for the Chester to Crewe service here!), but we’re also being forced into a payment structure that fails to reflect the modern way of working today and penalises those who work either reduced hours or have flexible arrangements to support a better work/life balance.
This topic seems to be picked up every now and again but nothing ever seems to come of it. We see the annual ticket price rises being announced on the news, accompanies by the typical complaints in TV interviews with commuters at rail stations, but then everyone just seems to get on with it and pay the extra costs because there’s no viable alternative. We’re collectively a captive customer with no recourse for challenging the status quo because there’s actually nothing we can do if we don’t like it. But by writing this post, I at least want to express my dissatisfaction with what I believe is a genuinely unfair and antiquated system that is increasingly less fit for purpose than when it was originally designed and implemented.