The launch of the Government’s ‘flexible season tickets’ backfired on Monday as it emerged that some users of existing carnet tickets will face price increases and one major rail franchise said passengers could need a second ‘smart’ card to use the product.
In addition, the low level of discount means that other passengers travelling three days a week will still find it cheaper to buy full-time season tickets.
The new tickets, which will be available on all Department for Transport rail franchises in England, are a nationally available product where passengers buy eight return tickets for use within 28 days – the ‘carnet’ model.
They are priced at a discount of around 10% compared to the cost of a daily peak time return ticket – up to a 12.5% discount, but sometimes less than 10% and therefore lower than some existing carnet products that offer 10% discounts.
Campaign group Railfuture described the launch as ‘one step forward, one step back’, recognising that it provides a nationally available product for the first time but pointing out that the withdrawal of earlier carnet products means that some passengers will now have to pay more.
For example, the existing carnet ticket from St Albans to London St Pancras worked out at £20.20 per day. The new ticket works out at £20.77 per day.
In other cases, where weekly or monthly season tickets offer a generous level of discount against the price of daily tickets, passengers travelling three days a week will still find it cheaper to buy full-time seasons,.
According to the National Rail price calculator, a commuter travelling from Alton to London three days a week for two months would pay £878 for three monthly tickets (£33.80 a day), compared with £876.00 for three flexi seasons (£36.50 a day for fewer days).
A commuter travelling from Bedford to London three days a week over two months would pay £979.20 for two one-month season tickets (£37.69 per day) compared with £966.00 for three eight-day carnets (£40.25).
In some cases, the lack of flexibility in requiring passengers to buy blocks of eight tickets – and therefore pay for more journeys than they make – inflates the daily price calculation on the National Rail price calculator.
A commuter travelling from Bedford to London three days a week over three months would pay £1,468.80 for three one-month season tickets (£37.69 per day) compared with £1,610.00 for five eight-day carnets (£44.72).
In this example, the new product works out only marginally cheaper per day than the £46 cost of an any time return.
In other cases, including those cited by the Department for Transport, daily savings are very low. Passengers travelling from Southampton Central to Winchester twice a week will pay £7.20 a day on a flexible season ticket, compared with £7.90 for an anytime return.
Two cards needed
Southern Rail has written to customer using its The Key smart card to advise them that if they wish to use the card for pay as you go travel and buy flexible season tickets, they will need a separate smart card for each function.
The rail operator, which is part of the huge Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise, said passengers would also need a different email address for each smart card.
Damned with faint praise
Reaction to the new product has been less than effusive. Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at the Rail Delivery Group, said: ‘We’ve worked with government to introduce the new Flexi Season ticket, which goes on sale today, to give commuters the freedom and flexibility to divide their time between home and the office.’
Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, described the tickets as ‘a positive step towards much-needed longer-term reform of how rail tickets are sold’ and said that ‘some passengers’ will welcome them.
‘The Association of British Commuters called the new tickets ‘an absolute insult to passengers’ and ‘just another pricing trap for the captive commuter market’.