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Campaign group calls for flexible season tickets to help green economic recovery – media briefing from Campaign for Better Transport

Wednesday 16 December 2020

Campaign for Better Transport is calling for flexible season tickets ahead of next year's 2.6 per cent fare rise. Paul Tuohy, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: 

“With an above inflation rail fare rise now confirmed for next year, passengers need urgent fares reform, including the introduction of flexible season tickets for part time commuters, to prevent people abandoning the railways all together post Covid. The Government is committed to decarbonising transport, which means getting more people to travel by public transport. Flexible ticketing, along with a simpler and more affordable fares system, is paramount to encouraging people to choose the train and helping the green economic recovery the country so desperately needs.”                                                                                    


See examples of 2021 season tickets costs for people travelling into London stations

See examples of 2021 season ticket costs for people travelling into regional stations

For further information please contact the press office on 020 3746 2235 or communications@bettertransport.org.uk

The current situation

On Wednesday 16 December the Government announced that regulated rail fares will rise by RPI+1% in March 2021, meaning a 2.6 per cent increase.

Campaign for Better Transport’s view

  • Without urgent fares reform, people will be priced off the railways next year
  • We need flexible season tickets for the millions of part-time commuters
  • We need people to use the trains to help reduce the number of cars on the roads to protect our health and the environment


  • Flexible season tickets

Currently, if you commute less than five days a week you can choose to buy a season ticket and lose money on the days you don’t use it, or buy expensive day return tickets. Campaign for Better Transport has called for flexible season tickets for part-time commuters for many years. The number of people working part time and flexibly has been trending upwards for years, even before the pandemic. 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 should expediate the introduction of these tickets on all routes and by all operators 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 and social costs of permanently diminishing the public transport system.

  • Regulated fares

Regulated rail fares, including season tickets and standard returns, make up almost half (45 per cent) of all fares and increases are set by the Government. Since 2014, fare increases have been capped at the previous July’s Retail Price Index (RPI) figure. Regulated fares rose by 2.8 per cent this January because this was the RPI level in July 2019.

  • Unregulated fares

The remaining tickets, including advance and peak long-distance tickets, can be increased at train companies' discretion so, looking at fares as a whole, the average rise was 2.7 per cent this year.

  • RPI vs CPI

The Government continues to use the Retail Price Index (RPI) to calculate annual fare increases, rather than the accepted and more accurate measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index (CPI). RPI over-estimates real inflation so consistently that the Office of National Statistics ceased using it as an official measure in 2013 and the Government has already switched to CPI for most other sectors. In July 2018, the then Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, indicated that future fare rises would be pegged to CPI, but gave no date for the switch. Had CPI been used to calculate next year’s increase, fares would be going up by two per cent instead of 2.6 per cent. This table shows the CPI figure in comparison to the annual rail fare increases from 2014.

  RPI figure % used for annual rail fare rises CPI figure % at that time
2011 4.8* 3.3
2012 5.0* 4.5
2013 3.2* 2.8
2014 3.1 2.6
2015 2.5 1.5
2016 1.1 0
2017 1.9 0.7
2018 3.6 2.6
2019 3.2 2.5
2020 2.8 2.1
2021 2.6* 1.0


*Fares rose at RPI+1 for these years

RPI and CPI figures: https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/inflationandpriceindices/timeseries/czbh/mm23


  • The ’Covid effect’

The effect of Covid-19 on transport has been seismic, but when the UK begins the process of recovery, the need for sustainable transport will only have strengthened. By supporting public transport, walking and cycling, the Government can not only improve our environment and our health, but also create jobs, tackle social exclusion and help the economy to recover. Reduced passenger numbers have had profound financial implications for public transport operators, and the continued need for social distancing will impact on fare revenue for the foreseeable future. In the longer term, passenger demand could be affected by increased home-working, public mistrust in the safety of public transport and the expected economic downturn. Reluctance to use public transport is its highest level in 18 years; nearly half (46 per cent) of drivers who don’t use public transport cite ‘high fares’ as the reason (RAC Report on Motoring).

In our recent report, Covid-19 Recovery: Renewing the transport system, we called for a new approach to fare setting on public transport, which should address future fare rises (or reductions) and how these are calculated. There should be a rapid move to simplified fare structures and account-based ticketing. Multi-modal tickets and zonal fares should be expedited for the cities beyond London as part of more devolved and better integrated transport and flexible season tickets should be introduced nationwide.

  • Decarbonising transport

Transport is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and the slowest sector to reduce emissions. Rail is the greenest major form of transport (releasing up to 85 per cent less carbon per passenger kilometre than cars), so enabling more people to travel by rail will be crucial to helping transport reduce its carbon footprint. Ensuring rail travel is affordable will help increase modal shift away from cars and reduce congestion, which cost the UK economy £6.9 billion in 2019. Cars make up around half of transport emissions, moving three quarters of these journeys to rail could reduce transport emissions by 38 per cent and total emissions by ten per cent.

Notes to Editors

  1. Campaign for Better Transport operates in England and Wales. Campaign for Better Transport's vision is for all communities to have access to high quality, sustainable transport that meets their needs, improves quality of life and protects the environment. Campaign for Better Transport Charitable Trust is a registered charity (1101929).