On the day of the biggest rail fare increase in a decade, we exclusively reveal the first-ever proof of the astonishing failure of ‘flexi-tickets’.
The main document is the Department for Transport’s impact analysis, dated November 2021, which uses ticket sales data to predict the impact of flexi-tickets. It shows that they are expected to result in just 1.1 million additional journeys in the first year – a 0.5% increase in commuter journeys. The document also reveals the shockingly low government investment behind the scheme, which has been designed to achieve ‘revenue neutrality’ at a mere 1% increase in commuter journeys. At a time when commuter numbers are at around 50% of pre-pandemic levels, this is the clearest proof yet of the lack of aspiration behind the policy.
The document also reveals the true pricing model behind flexi-tickets. The level of discount is around 20% off a monthly season ticket and a working level of 5% off the price of an Anytime Day Return (the highest priced daily ticket). This model fits our prediction since their launch in June last year; that flexi-tickets are a manipulative pricing strategy designed to ‘upsell’ passengers back to traditional season tickets. Flexi-tickets are a high risk purchase with no system of price capping – passengers can end up spending hundreds more than they would have done if they had bought a season ticket.
However, commuters should not lose hope – there is still a chance to get a better deal. The DfT has revealed to us that flexi-tickets are under a ‘formal one year review’, and it’s clear that they expect to update the policy in June 2022. For more information see their responses to our FOI request and Internal Review.
More buried documents on the flexi-ticket scandal
- The DfT’s impact analysis came heavily redacted, and we suspect it contains further evidence of our claim that flexi-tickets are designed to have an ‘upsell’ effect. We are now challenging their redactions with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
- There are several other important documents that the DfT is refusing to release. Of most concern is the Equality Impact Assessment, which they claim is still part of ‘live policy’. This excuse is completely inadequate when flexi-tickets have in fact already been launched, and are already pricing part-time workers even further off the railway. There are huge equality implications for women and other lower income groups, who are significantly over-represented in the part-time demographic.
- We’ve learned that extensive ‘quantitative and qualitative’ research was conducted prior to the launch of flexi-tickets. The DfT has refused to release these reports, and claims that they will be published at the end of February 2022.
- Flexi-ticket sales are run through the Rail Delivery Group, which claims ‘commercial confidentiality’ on behalf of their private train company members. It is therefore impossible to access the sales data; despite this being a government policy, where all costs and revenue lie with the taxpayer.
Take action on the flexi-ticket ‘One Year Review’
- The outrage over flexi-tickets will continue to grow as people return to the office. Passengers, campaigners, trade unions and employers should keep up the pressure from now until June; when they stand a good chance of affecting the policy.
- Commuters from our online community recently spoke out in the Financial Times as part of an in-depth report including new research on the poor value of flexi-tickets. To join our Facebook group and discuss these issues further, click here.
[This article was edited on 01.03.2022. for clarity around the meaning of the figures involved]