I moved back to Kent after 20 years in London, to get a decent step on the housing ladder. Considering my options as I returned to work post baby, I was struck by the lack of flexible season tickets. Commuting from Ashford, and forced on to the high speed train due to unfavourable timetabling, I was faced with two choices. I could buy peak time returns, which cost around 50 per cent extra for each journey, or I could shell out over £6000 for an annual season ticket which I would only use three times a week.
I was lucky enough that my employer and I came to an agreement where I mainly work from home to get around the ridiculous costs of commuting part-time. I very much appreciated no longer having to pay such high travel costs, but I missed seeing my colleagues and being a part of office life.
Flexible working, smart working, agile working are buzzwords when it comes to employee engagement, and it’s refreshing to see so many companies begin to integrate these working practices into their cultures. However, many people who need to, or choose to work flexibly are penalised by the lack of a corresponding fair and flexible ticketing system for their commute. This hits part time workers with a pro-rata’ed salary disproportionately, and specifically working parents and carers who have to juggle this on top of childcare costs.
“Smart ticketing” initiatives announced with great fanfare by train operating companies are anything but smart: largely, ‘smartcards’ are simply plastic versions of a paper ticket and don’t offer price capping or ‘pay as you go’ travel. Train company c2c recently launched a flexible ticket schemes but with just a 5% discount and a time limit to use the discounted tickets in, it was largely tokenistic, failing to offer any significant benefit or incentive to commuters who work flexibly. Simply put, we need to come up with a way of fairer ticketing. Flexible working culture is slowly taking shape in our organisations and train companies have a role to #getustowork. Since moving out of London, I have had many conversations with friends who have decided not to return to work, or changed their career path to find a local job and avoid the travel cost penalty. Parents who want to work part time or flexibly are often already struggling with the costs of childcare, and higher ticket prices for commuting part time can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Anecdotally I was struck by an absence of women on my commute into London and felt that on a wider scale, the lack of affordable flexible ticket options was having a negative impact on talent, diversity and economic contribution. Whilst working parents or carers are disproportionately impacted by the lack of fair and equitable flexible tickets, this impacts anyone with a flexible working pattern, including people who commute part time for health reasons, or to study.
So I’ve decided to do something about it. New franchises can be a window of opportunity to make changes to a rail service. I use the South Eastern franchise, which is now up for consultation with views invited until 23rd May. I have been working with the Fair Fares Now campaign and commuter organisations to come up with the SouthEastern Charter, unifying the six key points we would like to see included in the next franchise, as well as a really easy way to submit views. Fair and equitable flexible fares are top of the list.
You can take action here http://www.bettertransport.org.uk/south-eastern
If you don’t use SouthEastern but want to support flexible season tickets, you can still support the campaign. We’ll be asking people to contact their new MPs after the elections and ask them to pledge to support fairly priced flexible rail tickets, as well as looking for affected women who may be interested in participating in a legal action to end fares discrimination.
We know that if enough people support fair and equitable flexible fares, we’ll be able to convince the Government that they need to specify that whichever train company wins the new SouthEastern franchise will need to give part time commuters a fair deal. Not only that, if enough of us shout about it, we can create a model for future franchises across the country to #getustowork and truly embed flexible working into our working culture.
Jo Rossi was fed up with having to pay extra to travel to work, just because she works part time. She campaigns with Campaign for Better Transport for a fair deal for those who choose to commute flexibly.