/ Travel & Leisure

Part-time commuters need flexible rail tickets

Recent figures show many part-time workers pay hundreds of pounds for rail travel they never use. The Campaign for Better Transport’s Sophie Allain explains why they’re calling for flexible tickets for part-time workers.

There are 7.9 million part-time workers in the UK making up nearly a quarter of the workforce, and many others who work from home for part of their working week.

As things stand, the vast majority of part-time rail commuters can only buy a full season ticket, or peak-time returns, meaning they could be paying hundreds of pounds over the odds.

If a three-day-week season ticket were available at 60% of the cost of a full season ticket and a four-day one at 80%, a typical part-time worker in the South East would save between £700 and £1,400 a year. This is serious money that would make a real difference to a family’s income.

A rail fares system that’s stuck in the past

The way we work is clearly changing, as transport minister Norman Baker explains:

‘We live in an age where new technologies and advances in communications are not just broadening our horizons; they are shrinking our world – so much so that they are reducing, sometimes removing entirely, the need to travel from A to B.’

Flexible working helps ease peak-time overcrowding, and working from home can shrink your personal carbon footprint too. Offering a part-time season ticket would create an incentive for more people to work flexibly.

After all, if I thought I could save the best part of a thousand pounds by working from home two days a week, I’d be much more likely to make the case to my boss.

Flexible workers need flexible tickets

But for many, flexible working isn’t a choice – it’s the only way they can juggle their family and make a living. It will be no surprise that almost three times as many women work part time as men, and women are more likely to be in low-paid work.

There are signs that the railway industry is starting to wake up to the fact that flexible workers need flexible tickets. Some part-time workers can take advantage of ‘carnet’ schemes, which can provide ten journeys for the price of nine, for example.

However, people can’t use them if they don’t know they exist. We uncovered 11 examples of such schemes, but we really had to dig around to unearth them. It was almost as if they didn’t want to be found. In any case, ‘carnets’ are not nearly as economical as season tickets.

21st Century rail fare solution

There’s a simple solution to this, and it already exists on a number of rail lines in Devon and Cornwall. The scheme offers the choice between either a part-time season ticket or the ‘ten for the price of nine’ carnet ticket option. This way you can pick the ticket that works best for your working pattern.

At the Campaign for Better Transport, we want to see this scheme, or something very similar, rolled out across the whole country. With the government launching a review of rail tickets and fares any day now, this is the perfect time to get the changes in motion.

The last Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, said trains are a ‘rich man’s toy’, and with rail fares rising above inflation year on year it can certainly feel that way sometimes. But if we want a railway that’s fit for the future we have to remember that trains are not a toy, but a vital link between people and the places they go to work, relax, and spend their money.

A railway fit for the future must mean tickets that make sense in the modern world – which is why we need more flexible tickets to match the way people work in the 21st Century.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from the Campaign for Better Transport – all opinions expressed here are their own, and not that of Which?

Martin Houston says:
21 February 2012

If a system like the London Oyster card is used to track actual use then rail companies could offer a sliding scale cost. If you make 10 trips in a calendar month the price for each would be something mid way between a day fare and a season price. If the price of using such a ticket for 20 days in the month was the same as a season it would be fair to everyone. If we could get such a system going in time for the Olympic disruption, when homeworking is being encouraged as a way past the severe disruption. I think the rail companies would get some much needed popularity.


As with so many good ticketing ideas, part-time season tickets would indeed be much simpler to run and could be more flexible with electronic smartcards, as you have described.

Other passenger friendly products that are easier to provide with smartcards include discounted rail cards, multi-operator tickets, and even tickets that can be used on buses as well, like the Oyster card in London.

We don’t just like the idea of smartcards, we want them to be up and running in the near future! You can see a full list of the package of measures that we think would make fares fairer, simpler and cheaper.

You will be pleased to know that there have already been positive noises from Government on smartcard provision outside of London. But the Department for Transport needs to act now to push train companies to set up electronic smartcard schemes. To help us press for these changes and more sign up.

Paul Goodenough says:
19 February 2013

Fight discrimination against part-time workers by rail companies’ season ticket pricing – e-petitions http://t.co/6qhmwtn1

Simon says:
21 February 2012

Could not agree with this more, it is a travesty that those of us who do not use our season tickets for 7 full days have to pay as much as someone who does. The only benefit to part-time commuting is one gets subjected to fewer days of poor service! Well done Which ? for championing this important cause.


I’m completely behind this as well – with rail travel as expensive as it is, this can help alleviate some of the costs off those that could do with having the money. I’m pleased it’s being highlighted.


I am currently working part-time (due to reconstructive shoulder surgery)

Yes, I have had to pay the full fares and I resent it, yet I cannot see how anything can change. Many people have many different ideas on how to make things better and cheaper for the passenger, yet no-one is listening. Why? Because most routes have a monopoly, you don’t have a choice, and the service exists to make TOC profits and NOT for the good of the passenger.

Just look at how car park charges have risen/appeared since privatisation meaning that the TOC’s were in charge of running the stations. Driving to a station and then commuting in used to be an affordable option, not any more


by the way, a representative English train would be a better option for the headline image though, not a German S-bahn train

oh the pedant 🙂

Jeremy White says:
21 February 2012

Fat chance of anything changing that would reduce the profits for the train companies.