Tickets please! And make them flexible.

In this guest post, Martin Abrams of the Campaign for Better Transport explains the new campaign for cheaper train travel for part-time workers.

Today we are launching a campaign for cheaper train tickets for part-time workers. Together with a broad coalition of women’s groups, charities, and NGOs including Working Families we are sending a loud and clear message to the Government that we need cheaper rail travel for the country’s rapidly growing part-time workforce.

The need for flexible tickets is greater than ever. Over eight million people are now working part-time, and almost 75 per cent of these are women. Many part-time workers will ask why they too cannot enjoy the fares savings that full-time workers receive. With around half as many women working full-time as men, the lack of flexible ticketing options currently available is not only a cost of living issue, but has now become a gender equality issue that must be put right quickly. At the same time, when shared parental leave is introduced in April 2015 more men may want to take advantage of flexible rail tickets, so this really must be addressed quickly to give people what they want: greater work-life balance.

Working from home is also on the increase, with Office for National Statistics (ONS) statistics out last week showing that there is now a record 4.2 million UK home workers, amounting to 14 per cent of the workforce. Having the flexibility to choose to work from the office or from home is vital for a productive society but some people do not have that choice and are forced into irregular working patterns on zero-hours contracts. These contracts are rapidly on the increase, with the ONS estimating that at least 1.4 million people on these contracts, which do not provide a guaranteed minimum number of hours of employment and demand that workers are flexible. Having the option of more affordable rail tickets would be huge boost to many people on these contracts.

Part-time workers actually travel more than full-time workers, often because of integrating child care commitments. Families are a valuable asset to the economy but this lack of flexible ticketing can mean parents cannot afford to take up part time work, and are in effect being priced off our railways and out of work. Overall, commuting distances are on the increase, which has the result that more of these journeys are undertaken by rail. This rapid change in working patterns must be reflected with flexible fares and ticketing options available to all rail commuters.

The Department for Transport began consulting on fairer ticketing in March 2012, and in October 2013 pledged to trial part-time season tickets on a London commuter route. Although the trial was originally intended to run in 2014, no date has been set for it to begin and no line has yet been agreed. Since then there has been no news of when or where this trial will take place. As we approach the last year of the current Parliament, we are becoming increasingly concerned that this Government will run out of time and that the promised trial may be at risk of happening altogether.

Our research shows part-time workers would save hundreds of pounds if Government honoured its pledge to introduce flexible part-time tickets to Britain’s railways. Those commuting to part-time jobs in London from the South East would be an average of £1500 a year better off. Part-time commuters to Birmingham would save around £600, with those commuting to part-time roles in Manchester and Bristol saving £460 and £765 respectively.

Cheaper tickets for part time workers would really help those who’ve been hard hit by the recession. For example, young families already struggling with housing and childcare costs would get a real shot in the arm by making it cheaper and easier to get to work. The better flexibility part time tickets offer would be a boon the economy more generally, too.

London Mayor Boris Johnson and Transport for London have pledged to introduce flexible ticketing in early 2015. It is clear that our labour market has changed ,and will continue to change. It is now time for the Government and the rest of the rail industry to stop dragging their feet, and catch up.

You can support the campaign by writing to the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughin MP, using our quick and easy action tool on the campaign website.
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