Britain’s ticketing system is structurally sexist – we need part-time season tickets now

Transport policy should reflect the government's support for flexible working


The need for part-time and flexible season tickets has never been greater. Over eight million people are now working part-time, with many more working from home or one or more days a week.

But the country’s ticketing system has not kept pace, and is still stuck in an outdated model of five-day-a-week commuting. While annual, monthly and weekly discounts are available, they are based on travelling five days a week.

Campaign for Better Transport’s Fair Fares Now campaign has been calling for cheaper, fairer and simpler train fares for years. So we welcomed the Conservative Party’s manifesto promise to introduce part-time season tickets, so that the millions of people who work part-time would be able to travel to work more cheaply.

Over a year later though, and little progress has been made. Part-time commuters are still having to pay through the nose for five-day-a-week season tickets they don’t use two days a week; or pay full whack for peak time daily fares. Part time workers get paid two thirds less than full time workers on average, and many must cope with the high cost of childcare. Why should we have to pay extra for travel too?

Women are getting a raw deal

This isn’t just a question of the cost of living. Four out of five part-time workers are women. The failure to offer part-time workers a fair deal means that disproportionately, women are getting a raw deal.

Around Europe, around twenty countries offer some form of flexible ticketing for people who commute part-time. While smartcards are one way to offer part-time commuters a fair deal, flexible ticketing doesn’t need to be high-tech. Offering carnets, or (as in Northern Ireland) a three-day-a-week paper ticket, are other simple solutions.

There’s no reason that train companies in England need to wait for the introduction of smartcards to bring in part-time season tickets.

Keep it simple

The Government has encouraged bidders for recent train franchises to offer a part-time ticketing product: a step in the right direction. But it’s vital that part-time commuters are able to access fair discounts, on a par with those that five-day-a-week commuters get.

Rail operator c2c which runs trains in Essex recently introduced a Flexi-season ticket, available as a bundle of ten tickets – but the discount offered is a mere five per cent on peak-time trains, compared to around a third for full-time commuters.

It’s also pretty complicated: the discount takes the form of a credit pot that passengers can use towards their purchase of the next book of ten tickets, there’s an expiration date on taking the discounted journeys. This just isn’t good enough – we are calling on the Government to mandate train companies to introduce simple, fair season tickets for part-time workers, tickets that give discounts equivalent to what full-time commuters get.

Having the choice to work from the office or from home is vital for productivity and growth, two priorities the Government doesn’t stop talking about. Our modern, flexible workforce now includes growing numbers of people who defy the standard 9-5, Monday to Friday pattern.

Our fares system disadvantages people who want to work flexibly, and acts as a barrier to going part-time. It exacerbates overcrowding and discourages people to leave their car at home.

If the Government is serious about supporting flexible working, they can start by making rail travel more affordable.

Lianna Etkind is a public transport campaigner at the Campaign for Better Transport

See also: Is modern work miserable and exploitative? Turns out workers don’t think so.

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2 Responses to “Britain’s ticketing system is structurally sexist – we need part-time season tickets now”

  1. Thomas Edmondson

    Whats the business case? Why would a company introduce a product that loses money as opposed to one that reliably provides a profit?

    Perhaps the difference between private and public transport needs to be defined before we decide how to pay for each.

  2. Fergus Robinson

    Surely the title that “the fare system is sexist “is sexual in itself. Whilst the majority of party time workers are female, not all are. And now that maternity / paternity are equal we are seeing that it is a female choice to stay out of work.

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