Wednesday, 20 Jan 2021

Rail fare increases should be scrapped, says transport watchdog

Next year’s rail fare increases should be scrapped and more flexible season tickets introduced says transport watchdog

  • Transport Focus is demanding a radical shake-up of the ticketing system 
  • The watchdog has proposed a Head Out to Help Out scheme to drive footfall
  • It also called for an overhaul of season tickets, which it described as outdated 
  • Survey found two-thirds of commuters would continue to work from home 

Rail companies should freeze fares and offer discounts to encourage passengers back on to trains and ‘get Britain moving again’, a transport watchdog has said.

Transport Focus is demanding a radical shake-up of the ticketing system after alarming polling found two-thirds of pre-lockdown commuters would continue to work from home.

This should go ‘beyond a fares freeze, rather than the rise in line with RPI (Retail Price Index)’, which tomorrow is expected to hike next year’s ticket prices by more than one per cent. 

Drawing inspiration from the Government’s restaurant scheme, the watchdog has suggested a ‘Head Out to Help Out’ programme of cut-price deals and bundles.

The watchdog also called for an overhaul of season tickets, which it branded an outdated system from a bygone era of travel.

It urged rail firms to instead offer flexible packages for commuters returning part-time. 

Rail companies should freeze fares and offer discounts to encourage passengers back on to trains and ‘get Britain moving again’, a transport watchdog has said (passenger pictured in May)

Chief Executive Anthony Smith said: ‘The Government need 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. 

‘To get Britain moving again in the coming months, tickets that fit the way we live and travel now are needed, not just season tickets designed for city gents in the last century.

Transport Focus (chief executive Anthony Smith pictured) is demanding a radical shake-up of the ticketing system

‘Like the Government’s restaurant deal, we need a “Head Out to Help Out” campaign to help get the country on the move again, boost the economy and reduce traffic on our roads.’

The proposal mirrors Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme of covering the cost of half of restaurant bills to drive customers into income-starved eateries. 

Boris Johnson last month gave a clarion call to the nation to return to places of work to fire up the economy and rescue ailing high street stores which were shuttered for months.

But his rallying cry fell on the deaf ears of many employers and employees who have continued to operate from home. 

A report from Transport Focus released today underscores the shifting attitudes of the UK workforce, which is increasingly prepared to work remotely.

At the height of the pandemic in April and May, National Rail usage fell to as little as four per cent of usual passenger numbers (an empty Waterloo Station pictured)

A survey of 2,000 pre-pandemic commuters found two-thirds would continue to work from home more often in the future, and half believe their job will be home-based with only limited travel to their workplace. 

Mr Smith said: ‘People’s feelings about travel, and the way they use public transport, have changed. 

‘While the rail leisure travel may bounce back, our research tells us almost two in three former rail commuters expect to work from home more so we will probably now travel less for work, both commuting and on business.’ 

Department for Transport data revealed that last week national rail passenger numbers were only a quarter of pre-lockdown levels.

At the height of the pandemic in April and May, National Rail usage fell to as little as four per cent of usual passenger numbers.

Whereas motorists on the road have almost returned to the same levels prior to the pandemic, reaching 93 per cent of normal traffic.

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