‘Are Part-Time Season Tickets a Bung for the Rich?’ – a response
Like many in the transport industry, I have been very much enjoying Thomas Ableman’s new blog, Freewheeling.
I (we, at Esoterix) have spent a lot of time looking at and thinking about part-time season tickets because of work we’ve been doing over the past year.
And, on this occasion, there are some key points Thomas’ piece misses.
Netflix isn’t Transport
Firstly, comparisons between Netflix and transport are seductive but dangerous.
Apart from the fact that delivering SaaS video on the back of someone else’s (broadband) network is easier to scale than transport (I’ll come back to this), moving data packets and moving people are fundamentally different services with different purposes.
What’s transport for?
Sure, Netflix oils with wheels of small talk in an era when socially there is little else to talk about, but transport provides social value.
It gets people to work.
It enables them to visit loved ones or go on holiday.
It enables them to live life rather than watch someone else’s life.*
Transport delivers benefit to society that – with the best will in the world – Netflix never will.
Read our recent post by Vinita Nawathe
Season tickets were already in decline
Train operating companies were already alert to the fall in season ticket sales. Covid has accelerated work pattern changes not precipitated them.
Part-time season tickets aren’t a new idea
Although the call for part-time season tickets may seem sudden, Transport Focus has been calling for carnets for at least nine years – the date on this report is 2012.
Devising a workable part-time season ticket is in fact been a baton the government left sitting with operators’ a long time ago.
Because if you’re a part-time worker you probably already earn less. And if you rely on the train to get to work, you’re either paying for journeys you’ll never take 😡 or paying up to double for the same trip. 🤬
Judging by the graph above, even people who can, perhaps, afford the difference prefer not to pay over the odds.
Rather than framing a season ticket as a bulk discount, perhaps we should think of them as a loyalty discount.
And if you use the train every week to get to work, the deal you get recognises that loyalty.
Going back to my earlier point about scalability, the carte blanche approach stumbles when the network reaches peak capacity.
Technology can help by identifying who is travelling on which train and charging depending on when passengers use services. Incentives that can help smooth demand and increase revenue.
Technology could/can/will implement non-linear pricing that combines a loyalty and a bulk discount.
What about the K.I.S.S. Rule?
(‘Keep it simple, Stupid’, in case you were wondering.)
There is – of course – a pressing need to keep fare structures simple. And it doesn’t come much simpler than one price, as much as you like.
This is where David (our CEO) starts talking about Game Theory and traffic jams to show that unfettered access doesn’t always work out well for everyone.
Sustainable, elegantly simple solutions don’t come from over-simplifying the problem.
And although revenue is the main problem for the railways at the moment, it is not the only one.
An unnecessary bung for the already rich?
So, going back to Thomas’ blog: are a part-time season tickets an unnecessary bung for the already rich? Maybe.
Road building is also, arguably, a bung for the rich. Our taxes pay for that too.
The truth is the rich usually win, but flat rate season tickets bleed the poor.
… I absolutely agree that rail fares should be lower.
*That’s not to look down on watching box sets. I have a Netflix subscription.