"A flexible approach to season tickets will be essential in 2021 and beyond. If it's not offered then I won't be returning to the office." That’s what commuter James told us about how his travel patterns are likely to change after the health crisis - and he's not alone.
The number of people working part time and flexibly has been trending upwards for years, but the pandemic is likely to set a rocket under that number. More than a third of workers hope to split their time between the workplace and home after Covid. But those who commute by rail will face an unappealing choice: buy a season ticket and lose money on the days they don't use it, or buy expensive day return tickets.
We've been talking to commuters*, and many have told us that this just isn't feasible. They will have to stop commuting altogether - or get in their cars instead.
"I currently pay tax and insurance on a car which I barely use, but that may change if part time season tickets aren't available"
- Nick, commuter
We've been calling for flexible, part-time season tickets for many years, but the need is about to become much more urgent. If large numbers of rail commuters switch to driving when travel opens up again, roads could become clogged and air pollution and carbon emissions soar. And if people stay off trains in the long term, the effect on ticket revenue could be disastrous.
"Flexible and better value rail season tickets are needed more than ever if people are to be encouraged back to public transport"
- Catherine, commuter
By introducing flexible season tickets now, the Government could avert this danger while also addressing longstanding issues of fairness and equality. Many people who commute part-time have caring responsibilities; others have health conditions that make commuting every day impossible. Forty per cent of women in employment work part time. These people deserve affordable travel.
“I've commuted by train part-time ever since I was in my twenties, due to a mixed pattern of working from the office and working from home. It helps with caring responsibilities and it's the only pattern that makes doing my job possible while living with chronic illness. Now that many more people are adopting similar work patterns due to the pandemic, I really hope that flexible season tickets can finally happen... hopefully before I retire!”
- Andrew, commuter
It’s vital that a new ticketing structure is ready to go as soon as light appears at the end of the Covid tunnel. There are various ways that flexible season tickets could be implemented, but it's crucial that they offer equivalent discounts to those enjoyed by full-time commuters (we don't want to see more carnet tickets that are just a few per cent cheaper than one-off tickets).
"On a visit to Germany, a long time ago, I was impressed with one season ticket which gave the passenger a certain number of journeys in a given time. Why not introduce a ticket that gives you four journeys a week, or eight in a month or whatever?"
- Oscar, commuter
"I found it very inefficient to have to buy a ticket daily when I was working on two different sites in London and Brighton. Smart ticketing is much more possible than it was and it should be easy to charge a commuter for only the journeys taken. We are having to be flexible so why not have a transport system that can be flexible too?"
- Helen, commuter
Part-time commuters need a fair deal... rail companies need passengers to return when the health crisis is over... and we all need clean air and a stable climate. The time for flexible season tickets is now.
*We’ve changed the names of some of the people we talked to, but all of their quotes are real.