Rail Season Ticket Usage Hits Record Low Amid Shift to Hybrid Working

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The use of rail season tickets in Great Britain has plummeted to the lowest level on record, driven by a significant increase in working from home since the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to figures from the Office for Rail and Road (ORR), the industry regulator, the number of rail journeys made by people using season tickets fell to 13% in the year to 31 March, down from 15% in the previous year. This marks the lowest figure since records began in 1986-87. Before the pandemic, in the year to March 2020, more than one-third (34%) of journeys were made using season tickets.

Season ticket income is a crucial component of railway revenue. During the pandemic, lockdowns forced office workers to adopt remote working, leaving city centres deserted. Since then, many employers have embraced hybrid working models, allowing employees to split their time between home and the office.

While some companies, particularly in the banking sector, now require employees to spend most of their time in the office, a recent study highlighted that hybrid working enhances employee well-being and productivity. Three-quarters of those working flexibly reported feeling less burned out compared to when they were in the office full-time.

The ORR reported that 1.6 billion rail journeys were made in Britain last year, marking a 16% increase from the 1.4 billion journeys in the previous year. Passengers travelled a total of 60 billion kilometres, up by 13% year-on-year. In the three months to March, passengers made 405 million journeys, a 13% increase compared to the same quarter last year.

Total passenger revenue rose to £10.3 billion, a 13% increase from £9.1 billion in the previous year, when adjusted for inflation.

In response to the rise in hybrid working, the rail industry introduced flexible season tickets, allowing travel on any eight days within a 28-day period. However, analysis by MoneySavingExpert found that part-time season tickets only offered savings for those travelling two days a week, with cheaper options often available.

Govia Thameslink Railway was the largest operator by passenger journeys in the year to March. The Elizabeth line recorded the second-highest number of journeys and the greatest year-on-year increase, up by 54%. This surge is attributed to the increase in services following the opening of the central section of the line in May 2022, with a full service commencing in May 2023.

The notable year-on-year increase in the number of journeys for several operators was also influenced by reduced timetables in the previous year. This includes ScotRail, Avanti West Coast, and TransPennine Express, all of which operated reduced timetables at some point between April 2022 and March 2023.

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