Exclusive: Flexible rail season tickets by June to put workers on fast track back to the office

Christopher Hope
·4 min read
Rail passenger numbers have plummeted during the Covid panemic - Victoria Jones/PA
Rail passenger numbers have plummeted during the Covid panemic - Victoria Jones/PA

Commuters are to be offered flexible season tickets by June at the latest as part of the Government's plan to get workers back to offices.

The new flexi-tickets – which will save workers hundreds of pounds – will be introduced in time for June 21, when the Government is due to relax its "work from home" message.

The tickets can be used for two or three days a week and will be designed to fit in with the new expectations of millions of new home workers.

A Department for Transport (DfT) source told The Telegraph that the flexible rail season tickets will be available to buy at stations in England "in the first half" of this year.

Last week, Boris Johnson said commuting would be back "in a few short months if all goes according to plan", adding that Britons "will be consumed once again with their desire for the genuine face-to-face meeting that makes all the difference to the deal or whatever it is we're doing".

The news came as the head of the UK's train companies warned that daily rail commuting risks becoming a "discretionary activity" and home workers needed a better deal on ticketing to tempt them back.

The price of tickets rises by an average of 2.4 per cent from Monday – an increase delayed from January due to the pandemic.

Train operators were initially written to last year about the plans, and the DfT source said: "We have written to all rail operators to ask that they begin immediate work on developing a flexible season ticket.

"These new flexible season tickets, reflecting modern working lives, will be introduced across England this year, available to all operators overseen by DfT. Once introduced, it could save commuters hundreds of pounds on their fares."

The taxpayer has been propping up loss-making train operations because of a huge drop in passenger numbers during the pandemic, with £10 billion set aside since March.

Ministers are also developing what will be the biggest overhaul of how trains are run since privatisation in the 1990s in time for what could be a major return to office work in the second half of this year.

Writing for The Telegraph, Andy Bagnall, the director general of the Rail Delivery Group, backed the plans for new flexi-season tickets.

He said: "Commuters in every part of the country should benefit from a London-style tap-in, tap-out system.

"People automatically charged the best fare at the end of the week or month. No need for a crystal ball to know whether a daily, weekly or monthly ticket is going to be 'best value'. This, combined with rewriting the rail fares rule book, would create the opportunity for new deals, priced attractively to make two, three or four trips into the office each week work financially."

Mr Bagnall said rail operators wanted commuters to be able to travel for as few as two trips a week and so be allowed to sell more flexible season tickets to them.

"Commuters have grown used to considerably easier journeys (Route: Bedroom to Study via Kitchen). Business travellers are used to meeting clients virtually, not physically," he said. "Combined with residual concern about social distancing, if people are to choose to get back on a train they are going to want a great service.

"Train companies understand that the reasons people travel have changed fundamentally with the pandemic. They are ready to fight to win back passengers by providing them with a great service – because it matters, to revive the nation's high streets and to avoid a damaging car-led recovery.

"A new deal for passengers is needed. The rail industry is ready, and with the right government reforms we can unlock it."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "Passengers returning to the railway deserve punctual and reliable journeys at a fair price. This is the lowest increase in four years despite unprecedented taxpayer support for the rail industry during the pandemic of around £10 billion, and billions more being spent on new infrastructure.

"By delaying the change in fares, passengers who needed to renew season tickets were able to get a better deal, and we will set our further plans to offer cheaper, more flexible tickets for commuters in due course."