Published: 08:26, 16 December 2020
| Updated: 08:28, 16 December 2020
Commuters could be given the chance to pay affordable fares for their train journeys - but not until the end of next year.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has written to rail operators telling them to begin work on developing flexible season tickets, which give people who travel two or three days a week an alternative to paying pricey daily rates.
However, the government has instructed firms to introduce the scheme across England by the end of next year.
Meanwhile, the DfT has also announced that ticket prices will increase by an average of 2.6% from March 1.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said: “This fare increase makes it even more important that, when travel restrictions start to be lifted, the industry is able to attract people back by offering fares that match how we know people hope to live, work and travel in future.”
Jacqueline Starr, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, believes “passengers will be disappointed” with the hike.
She also insists the industry is committed to working with the government to make the fares and ticketing systems easier to use.
This comes after all but one of Kent's MPs wrote to Southeastern in the summer asking the company to launch flexible price schemes.
The letter read: "We write on behalf of our commuting constituents to request that you urgently introduce flexibility in ticketing.
"Many of our constituents will be returning to work in greater numbers, but a substantial number will themselves be flexi-working with companies either requiring or are sympathetic to a combination of office and work from home days.
"This means the value of a season ticket is removed and instead people are having to pay for the vastly more expensive peak day return tickets. This is not sustainable."
The 2.6% figure announced by the department relates to regulated fares, which make up around half of journeys and include season tickets on most commuter routes.
But operators are expected to match their rises in unregulated fares such as advance tickets because the government has taken on their financial liabilities.
The planned hike will be the lowest since 2017 - but it will be the first time in eight years that passengers will be hit with an above-inflation price increase.
Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris says delaying the annual fares rise from the first working day of January to March 1 “ensures passengers who need to travel have a better deal this year”.
He added: “By setting fares sensibly, and with the lowest actual increase for four years, we are ensuring that taxpayers are not overburdened.”