Regular commuters who don’t use trains every day of the week are being short-changed. It’s time to modernise ticketing and make fares fair, writes James Cartlidge MP
We are supposed to enjoying an era of flexible working that values a better work-life balance. But anyone who wants to commute more flexibly will find the current system of rail fares conspiring to thwart them. The good news is that change may finally be on the way.
My South Suffolk constituency lies beyond what most people would imagine to be reasonable commuting distance from the capital, but the lure of London and its relatively higher wages means that many make the journey for at least part of the working week.
This has resulted in my receiving a mountain of correspondence from commuting constituents who travel to London three or four days a week to work, but find they have no option but to buy a full-time season ticket – effectively overpaying for an already expensive service.
Such was the frustration recounted to me that my first ever adjournment debate, held in March 2016, was on the subject of flexible ticketing where I was able to share publicly some of these personal stories.
“The system of getting to work should reflect flexible working patterns, rather than penalise them”
I read an email from Deborah of Sudbury who argued: “Flexible season tickets would encourage more people to work from home some days, which would reduce overcrowding on the trains, and would benefit South Suffolk, as more people would have time to spend their London wages locally. It is very old-fashioned to think that workers go to their office every day and we should not be penalised for flexible working.”
I also read out a piece from a constituent called Russell who had done the maths: “It is becoming increasingly common for people to work from home, yet we are still forced to pay the season tickets for the entire week, month or year. For me, that means paying for 365 days of travel, when in fact I only travel on 192 of these … On the basis of me paying £5,520 a year (£15.12 a day), this means I am really overpaying for 173 days a year – a full £2,615.76.”
Beyond the significant cost and self-evident unfairness faced by people like Russell, I believe this issue cuts to the heart of our productivity challenge.
The structure of the UK labour market is frequently, and quite rightly, lauded as one of our competitive strengths when compared with more rigid employment structures in nations that consequently fail to match our strong track record on job creation and low unemployment. If we are to raise productivity, surely the system of getting to work should reflect flexible working patterns, rather than penalise them?
Hence it was great news when the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, announced on New Year’s Day that his department would be trialling part-time season tickets. Better still, at his recent HS2 rail infrastructure statement I asked the prime minister to go further and roll out this trial nationwide, and he replied that this was the Government’s “intention”.
Yes, part-time season tickets becoming the norm would have a financial cost, but I am convinced that this change would unleash new opportunities for workers to return to employment who would not have otherwise done so, boosting both rail cashflow and the talent pool, and ultimately working with the grain of modern Britain.
James Cartlidge is Conservative MP for South Suffolk
Published by Politics Home.