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Flexible rail season tickets: ‘many passengers will be disappointed’

Part-time commuters can start using the new flexi tickets from 28 June 

Transport campaigners say the new flexible season tickets could turn out to be a “real missed opportunity” to entice passengers back to the railways. 

On sale today for use from next Monday, the tickets are aimed at passengers in England who commute two or three times a week or on certain routes. The tickets, for standard class only, will allow travel on any eight days in a 28-day period and for use between two named stations. 

Launched as part of the government’s “huge shake-up of rail services”, the flexi tickets are the “first step” of the reforms, said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. “They give us greater freedom and choice about how we travel, simpler ticketing and a fairer fare. The future of fares is flexible.”

The government says there are “big savings to be had”, the BBC reports. But rail expert Tony Miles has warned that commuters may need to do some “real heavy thinking” about whether the new system would offer them value for money.

How much will they cost? 

According to the Department for Transport (DfT), rail commuters can save “hundreds of pounds” with the new flexible tickets. The government says part-time commuters travelling during peak hours could save at least 20% on a monthly season ticket and it’s estimated that passengers could save up to £350 a year.

While the DfT says flexi season tickets will be priced below a monthly season, The Independent has found “extreme variations, largely because of the ratio between the cost of a monthly season and an anytime return ticket”. The paper says that on some journeys, a season costs only the same as four return trips; on others, it is more than 15.

The Guardian says that the cost for each flexi ticket journey on many routes appeared to be “more than double that of a full-time season ticket, making their value questionable”.

What has the reaction been to the launch? 

Millions of people could soon return to work once Covid restrictions are further lifted, but many employers are likely to introduce flexible working policies, says The Telegraph.

The flexi ticket marks a starting point where fair pricing is concerned, said Mike Cherry of the Federation of Small Businesses, but there remains “considerable work to be done”. “Under these plans, many commuters travelling two or three times a week will only be making a modest saving against their existing season tickets,” he added.

Alice Ridley, from the Campaign for Better Transport, believes that “many passengers are going to be disappointed” and there’s a danger that people will change the way they commute and start driving. “We wanted flexible tickets to encourage people back onboard trains. We don’t think these tickets are going to do that or provide the savings that people had hoped for.”

Norman Baker, also from the Campaign for Better Transport, said the projected growth in hybrid working has made rail tickets an “urgent issue” and to avoid an increase in commuting by car “we need to encourage people back on board trains”. “The test will be whether the level of discounts offered will entice people onto rail,” he added. “Sadly, we don’t think they will, except at the margins, so this could turn out to be a real missed opportunity.”

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