Flexible season tickets likely to disappoint - again

The Government’s new 'flexible' season tickets could see commuters paying up to twice the cost per journey compared to season ticket holders, while penalizing those whose working patterns change.

The carnet-style tickets could offer discounts as low as 10% compared to peak-time daily tickets.

The Department for Transport has so far given limited details of the scheme but Transport Network has learned that discounts could be as low as 20% off the price of a monthly full-time season ticket, meaning that commuters travelling two days a week could pay four-fifths of the monthly cost of travelling five days a week.

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The new tickets are based on the much-criticised carnet model, with passengers buying eight tickets in advance with a duration of 28 days.

Despite being described as ‘flexible’, the new tickets appear to involve a fixed purchase in advance on a set number of tickets, making little allowance for passengers whose travel patterns change.

A worker who planned to travel two days a week over a four-week period but used up all eight tickets in two weeks would have to buy another eight tickets for the rest of the period or return to daily tickets, depending on the number of further journeys needed.

In each case, overall costs would be likely to exceed the cost of buying a monthly season from the outset.

No smart ticketing capping system, as enjoyed by passengers on Transport for London's network, has been announced. 

Although the DfT has said the tickets are aimed at people travelling two or three days a week, it has declined to confirm that commuters using the tickets to travel three days a week be better off than buying a weekly season ticket.

This is the point where many commuters find it cheaper to buy season tickets, meaning that their price per journey is considerably higher than full-time workers.

Despite stating that it will only reveal details of the tickets a week before they go on sale next month, the DfT has given notional savings ‘when compared to the cost of daily tickets’. Existing carnet tickets already provide such savings.

The DfT said that commuters travelling from Southampton Central to Winchester twice a week buying multiple new flexible season tickets ‘could save’ over £60 a year when compared to the cost of daily tickets, or £90 if travelling three days a week based on 90 or 135 days’ travel respectively.

This is a saving of £0.66 per day. An anytime day return currently costs £7.80 or £7.90, meaning that the saving would be less than 10% of the cost of the ticket.

The DfT quoted similar savings for commuters travelling from Chippenham to Bath Spa, where an anytime return costs a very similar £7.70.

Another example given by the DfT is that commuters travelling from York to Leeds twice a week could save over £200 a year with the new tickets. Based on approximately 90 journeys per year, this would be worth around £2.22 per return journey.

The cheapest anytime day return between the two cities currently costs £15.90, depending on which rail company is used. A saving of £2.22 per day implies a daily cost of around £13.70, which would be a saving of around 14%.

This route is one where, unusually, passengers travelling three days a week do not save by buying a full-time season ticket unless buying an annual season. The weekly season ticket costs £49.00, more than three daily tickets.

The DfT said that passengers on this route would save ‘over £200’ a year, based on the annual season ticket. However, an annual full-time season ticket for the route costs £1,960.00. Again the saving is based on just 135 days’ travel a year (equivalent to 45 three day weeks).

Passengers travelling three days a week for 48 weeks could still find it cheaper to buy an annual season ticket.

A monthly season ticket for this route costs £188.20, which would see a carnet of eight tickets with a 20% discount priced at up to £150 – £18.75 a day – although the carnet would last less than a month.

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