We learned today that from March next year, rail fares will rise by 2.6 per cent. This is a real blow to passengers planning to return to workplaces in the spring who will be hit by the inflation plus one per cent increase.
The Government says it wants to recoup some of the money spent propping up the railways during the pandemic, but this is the wrong way to do it and is likely to be counter-productive by actually reducing ticket sales. Choosing to introduce a RPI+1% rise for the first time since 2013 would also seem to fly in the face of the Government’s decarbonisation targets which heavily depend upon increasing public transport and decreasing car trips.
Add to this the fact that many people will not be commuting five days a week in March, and many will never be commuting five days a week again. Even before the pandemic, part-time working and homeworking were becoming more prevalent. Last year, around 1.7 million people worked mainly from home, and a further four million said they worked from home at least part of the week, with 40 per cent of women in employment working part time. The number of people commuting part time is set to increase with more employers offers home working options.
With millions of people set to continue working from home for at least part of the week for the foreseeable future, if not permanently, the need for a more flexible approach to commuter tickets has only increased. Back in July, the Government announced that rail companies were to submit proposals for part-time season tickets, which could give people who work and commute flexibly or part time a fairer deal on train tickets for the first time. The Government must now introduce flexible season tickets as a matter of urgency on all routes and ensure that they give an equivalent discount to full-time season tickets; part-time commuters do not need a repeat of carnet tickets that offered little to no savings.
The Government must recognise that the needs of commuters have changed and ensure that the railway meets those needs in an affordable way or else we risk the long-term economic, social and environmental costs of permanently diminishing the public transport system.
Do you already commute part time? Or are you likely to start doing so? If so, please tell us your thoughts about rail ticketing.