New flexi-fares trialed to ease pain of part-time commuters

train tickets

Flexible commuter fares are to be introduced on some of the busiest rail lines as the average cost of an annual season ticket passes £3,000 for the first time.

A trial of three and four-day season tickets will begin this year in a move designed to better suit the demands of the modern workforce. The new tickets will be offered initially on Govia Thameslink Railway as an alternative to rigid week-long passes, which have slumped in popularity in recent years as more people opt to work from home.

In a separate move, the price of long-distance single tickets will be halved on some intercity routes. In the trial by the state-owned London North Eastern Railway (LNER) overpriced return fares will be abolished to allow passengers to find the best single tickets.

The trials are designed to respond to growing anger among passengers over the price and poor performance of train travel and the flexible working patterns of many employees. Fares are rising by an average of 2.7 per cent today despite about a third of trains failing to run on time last year. Research by Transport Focus, the passenger watchdog, shows that fewer than half of travellers believe that train travel represents good value for money.

The TUC said the price rises meant that regular passengers between Chelmsford and London were spending the equivalent of 16 per cent of their salary on rail travel and between Manchester and Liverpool 8 per cent.

Passengers in France paid 2 per cent of average earnings to travel by train each day and in Germany and Belgium 4 per cent, the TUC added. Yesterday Deutsche Bahn, the German state-owned rail operator, cut the price of intercity travel by 10 per cent.

Under the existing system, season tickets have to be available over a seven-day period. Figures from the Office of Rail and Road, the independent regulator, show that journeys made using season tickets dropped to an eight-year low in the 12 months to the end of June 2019, with the slump blamed on high prices and a lack of flexibility.

The Department for Transport said that Govia Thameslink would test three and four-day season tickets on some routes early this year. The LNER trial will start today on services from London to Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

The publication of a large-scale review of the railway in coming weeks is expected to herald further reforms.

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said: “Passengers can have total confidence that these trials will help provide the evidence needed to develop wider reforms to the fares system.”

Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said that the fare increase “shows that this government is not serious about supporting either public transport or tackling climate change, road congestion or air quality”.