‘Head Out To Help Out’: Are Train Tickets About To Get Cheaper?

Fare freezes and part-time season tickets are needed, say rail unions and watchdogs.

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Flexible season tickets for part-time workers could finally be on the cards, HuffPost UK has learned, as rail companies have confirmed they’re in talks with the Department for Transport to make it happen.

Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at the Rail Delivery Group, told HuffPost UK: “Train companies have been working with the Department for Transport on proposals to offer flexible season tickets as well as continuing to push for reform of the entire fares system to make it easier for passengers.”

It comes after multiple unions and the independent watchdog Transport Focus urged the government to reform train fares across the country. In proposals dubbed ‘Head Out To Help Out’, the groups said the government should support public transport, in the same way the ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme has boosted the hospitality sector.

Travel Focus is calling for affordable single tickets and new, part-time season tickets that reflect “the way we live and travel now”.

A survey from Transport Focus found two in three people who commuted by train before the pandemic expect to continue to work from home more often in the future. Although some rail companies have already trialled flexible season tickets, they’re not routinely available across the board.

“The government needs to get train companies to offer a combination of cut-price deals, carnet style ‘bundles’, flexible season tickets for commuters and better value for money fares across the board,” said Anthony Smith, chief executive of the watchdog.

Smith made the comments ahead of the 2021 fare increases announcement, which will be made on Wednesday. While Nesbit is in favour of flexible season tickets, he added that “regulated fare rises are a matter for governments”.

The Campaign for Better Transport has been calling for more flexible season ticket options for part-time workers since 2014. It has renewed these calls in light of the pandemic.

“Over the years, we’ve heard from hundreds of people who have been left out of pocket by the season ticket system and many whose job options have been severely impacted by the lack of an affordable commute,” the charity said.

“With many more people set to be commuting part time from now on, and the need to encourage people back onto the trains in order to avoid an increase in congestion and air pollution, to begin to kick start the economy post-Covid, the case for flexible season tickets has only grown.”

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has also backed calls for flexible season tickets. The union has published a breakdown of average savings on its site, showing how much the average commuter travelling from a suburb to a UK city would save if the tickets became available.

RMT
RMT

“There will be a massive drop in demand for conventional season tickets and unless the demand for more flexible and affordable tickets is met, commuters will permanently abandon the railway,” said RMT senior assistant general secretary, Mick Lynch.

Travel Focus dubbed the proposed changes to rail fares ‘Head Out to Help Out’. The idea seems popular on social media, with some pointing out that flexible tickets to support flexible working are long overdue.

HuffPost UK has contacted the Department for Transport to ask for details of upcoming plans and will update this article if we receive a response.