Five-day commute is over, says former Business Secretary

Laveta Brigham

Former business secretary Greg Clark has urged ministers to introduce flexible season tickets on the railways as the age of the five-day commute comes to an end. He told the House of Commons that it is “a ludicrous anachronism” to expect commuters to stump up for full-price season tickets when they are […]

Former business secretary Greg Clark has urged ministers to introduce flexible season tickets on the railways as the age of the five-day commute comes to an end.

He told the House of Commons that it is “a ludicrous anachronism” to expect commuters to stump up for full-price season tickets when they are not going into the office every day.

The Telegraph revealed last month that the Government was planning three-day season tickets to entice people back onto trains.

However, Treasury officials are understood to have opposed the scheme due to fears it could put Britons off returning to a five-day commute once a vaccine has been found, with devastating knock-on effects for cities such as London whose economies rely on massive footfall.

Many analysts believe that flexible working will become part of everyday post-Covid life regardless of whether ministers change ticketing or not.

Rail finances have been turned on their head during the pandemic. 

In a model that will be made permanent in years to come, taxpayers are funding the train network with a fixed fee paid to operators. This means that lower fare collections will put greater strain on the public finances. 

Mr Clark, who served as Business Secretary for three years under then-Prime Minister Theresa May, threw down the gauntlet to Transport Secretary Grant Shapp and urged him to take the fight to the parts of government that opposed flexible ticketing.

He said: “Ministers need not be captives of the machine – they can make a difference. And he will go down in railway history as one of the reformers if he is the minister who brings railway ticketing into modern times – and I urge him to do it.”

Meanwhile, Mr Clark countered Treasury concerns by adding: “The launch of a flexible commuting ticket is something that will be bought – actually increasing revenue to the railway and the taxpayer, while fighting Covid by supporting people not going into the office every day, and providing a long-overdue journey of the railway fares system to have a rendezvous with working life in the 21st century.”

The Treasury is also understood to be keen for the Department for Transport to stick to a planned rise in rail fares by the retail prices index in January despite passenger numbers languishing at around a third of pre-Covid levels.

Robert Nisbet, of trade body the Rail Delivery Group, said: “We submitted our proposals on flexible tickets for commuters in July, and we’re keen to work with the government to introduce them as soon as possible.”

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