How the train companies are not helping you work from home.

One of the things the Government, the railway companies and Transport for London (TfL) all acknowledge is that the trains into London are frequently overcrowded and that investment is needed to improve this. Surrey County Council, for example, has recently commissioned a rail strategy to tackle what they state is an urgent need to reduce overcrowding. A key aim of this strategy will be to explore how overcrowding can be tackled.

One obvious strategy that could contribute to a reduction in overcrowding is the strategy of ‘working from home’. Admittedly, this approach cannot work for everyone as many people need to be present at their place of work to carry out their duties, but there are many others who usefully can carry out much of their work at home – some office workers, for example. Modern technologies exist that make it easy for an office worker to work securely and effectively from home and the practice has great benefits for the worker, his or her employer, the environment – and the transport infrastructure!

Typically, a home worker:
  • Has an improved work/home balance – they spend more time with the family
  • Is more environmentally friendly – they make fewer commutes, there's less traffic, they save fuel
  • Is more productive – there is less distraction, less stress and more flexibility
If everyone could work one day a week from home then at a stroke the passenger demand would fall 20% and this would greatly ease congestion – particularly while the Rail companies strive to upgrade their facilities. But these same rail companies don’t offer any real incentives to encourage commuters to work from home.

Let me explain why:

The commuter’s season ticket is meant to offer the poor commuter the chance to get to work for a reduced price. Annual Season tickets (at least on my service – run by Southern Rail) are based on a simple premise that you pay for 40 weeks travel and the remaining 12 weeks in the year are therefore ‘free’. This premise conveniently skips over the fact that of those twelve weeks, you are likely to have four or five weeks holiday and another week or so of Public holidays. This means that, while you are paying for 40 weeks of travel, you only effectively use the ticket for about 46 weeks of the year – the discount is therefore not quite as generous as it seems.

Now. Let’s say you buy a season ticket and are able to work from home. In this situation you actually LOSE money as a season ticket is costed on the basis of five return journeys a week and is based on a timed period of validity – typically weekly, monthly or annual. I can supply the workings but for my particular service, my annual season ticket costs about £2,500. On average, if I take into account my holidays and work a full five-day week, that costs me £11.14 per day (or £14.28 if I include the London Underground). If I work one day a week at home, regularly, then the daily cost jumps by 25% to £13.96 (or £17.89 with the Underground).

Hardly an incentive, is it?  Particularly when you're helping them out by not travelling.

What is needed is an alternative to the season ticket that gives you the ability to bulk-buy tickets in advance rather than the more common type of commuter tickets that allow unlimited travel between two dates.  This bulk-buy train ticket is sometimes known as a carnet.  The Rail Companies talk about these tickets but they're either restricted in use (First Capital Connect) or they just don't exist (Southern Rail) - although interestingly, I did find this snippet on Southern Rail's "Meet The manager" pages from March 2011:

Southern will be introducing a new way of ticketing called ITSO smartcards. These new plastic cards allow tickets to be loaded directly onto the card, similar to the Oyster card in the London area.
We will also be launching new season ticket products that will work on a carnet based system, therefore if you buy a weekly ticket which is valid for 7 days and you only worked 3 days a week, essentially you can use it for 2 weeks. (i.e. carry over the remaining days).
Initially these new products will be introduced as a pilot scheme across some parts of the Southern network from June 2011, and then over the course of the next 18 months, rolled out across our entire network.
By their reckoning the rollout should be finished now.... But nothing.  No sign of the ITSO smartcard, either.  Perhaps Southern could provide us with an update?

Transport for London (TfL) are just as bad.  You can, of course, use the Oyster card, the ideal technology to use for a Carnet, but there is no bulk-buy capability here even on Pay As You Go.  I even #askedBoris on Twitter:
  • @savcom - @MayorofLondon #askboris can I ask what can be done with season ticket costs for those who work from home one day a week? 

Regrettably no reply.... 

I'm not alone in wanting this.  I found that The Guardian Money Blog talks about Carnet tickets and the writer there expresses her dismay at how difficult these are to find.  More recently, Roger Evans of the Greater London Authority Conservatives has written a report (downloadable here) in which he calls for a step-change in TfL’s attitude to home working and flexible working.  He states that “One of the problems is that once people have paid for a Travel Card, there is no financial incentive to use it for less than 5 days a week".

The London Evening Standard covered the report in this article.  They lead with the headline "Part-time travelcards would ease Tube overcrowding, say Tories" and go on to state that "Commuters should be offered flexible travelcards and rebates on monthly tickets to help curb overcrowding on the Tube". To give you an idea of the scale of travel every Monday more than 3.4 million journeys are made by Tube and over six million on London’s buses. The capital’s population has increased by 12 per cent to 8.2 million in the past decade and is likely to reach nine million by 2018.  So things are only going to get worse.

Mr. Evans wants to see the introduction of a three-day per week Travelcard which, he says, would significantly help those who work from home.  While a three-day-a-week travel card may help, surely it is better to think in terms of a bulk carnet approach where a commuter who works two days a week from home buys a carnet of (say) 240 tickets in one go and then simply uses them as he or she needs to (if the commuter travelled into the office three days a week, they'll use those journeys up in 40 weeks - the same time as used for season tickets).  If the commuter has to or chooses to make more journeys their card will just use up the journeys more quickly and the commuter will need to recharge their card more often.  This may actually be a better way for ALL season tickets to be issued and should ensure we're all using and benefiting from the system fairly.

There is NO reason why the systems in place cannot be re-thought or re-coded to provide this flexibility as Oyster card and Smartcard technologies provide the ideal  mechanism for this to be achieved, so it’s now time for the Train Operators, the Mayor and TfL to make it a reality. 

Now it's your turn.  if you want something like this to help control the costs of your commute then you should all urge your Train Operators, Boris Johnson and TfL to adopt these proposals. Let them know that we want them to re-think the Season Ticket and to promote fairer ways of supporting the Work from Home movement and to encourage us all to make fewer journeys - after all, if you don't ask, you don't get. 

Let me know by comment if you've approached them and if you've had a response. I'll be doing the same.

1 comment:

  1. TfL are working on a new ticketing platform which once fully implement will have capping enabled this means that you pay for what you use but when you cross the thresh hold for a weekly or monthly ticket all other journeys will effectively be free. This will allow commuters to use the TfL network as and when they need as opposed to buying tickets which might not fit with what they want.