Commuter budgets are soon to be dented further – with just one month to go until yet another rail fare rise kicks in. Those who frequently travel by train need to look at ways of easing the burden of paying for a ticket.
‘Regulated rail fares’ are due to rise by an average 3.1 per cent in January. This includes season tickets, many single and return tickets, plus anytime fares around cities.
It is a particular hardship for the millions who rely on trains to get to work and have no other option. Some will have to pay out hundreds of pounds extra.
All aboard: ‘Regulated rail fares’ are due to rise by an average 3.1 per cent in January
Season tickets are still the most cost-effective way to commute but few people can afford to pay an upfront sum in one go.
Many employers provide a loan to pay for a season ticket. These are repaid from already-taxed income – but are interest free. Repayments are deducted from salary and spread over up to a year.
There is also CommuterClub, a specialist company that will provide a loan for a season ticket. It charges 11.6 per cent annual interest, but is still cheaper than buying daily or weekly tickets, thereby saving hundreds of pounds. A loan for a £1,200 season ticket would incur £67 of interest, with the total repayable over a year.
Interest-free credit cards are an option. To check if you are likely to be accepted without affecting your credit score – which lenders look at to judge how risky you are – use the Eligibility Checker tool via comparison website MoneySupermarket.
Season ticket customers also get a free Gold Card that grants further discounts on many train journeys. Discounts extend to up to three adults and four children travelling with the card-holder.
A gold card is usually given to commuters whose season ticket covers a trip that starts or ends in London.
Holders can buy a National Railcard – for £10 instead of £30 – which chops a third off most rail ticket prices countrywide. The range of railcards includes one for those aged between 18 and 25, one for couples travelling together, families travelling together and both senior and disabled rail users.
A new one for people aged 26 to 30 will be on sale shortly. Visit railcard.co.uk to find out more.
Meanwhile, a small proportion of commuters could save hundreds of pounds a year – and cancel out any price rise – by starting their journeys at a different station.
Quirks on some train routes mean people choosing a station just a couple of miles further down the track could save big sums.
For example, annual season tickets from Leamington Spa to Birmingham are £2,108. Travel from Warwick instead – which is under three miles away – and save £540.
Choosing slower or restricted routes can also save huge sums.
Aside from commuters being advised to buy tickets in advance, up to 12 weeks early, and to travel off-peak, the ‘cheapest fare finder’ tool at nationalrail.co.uk is a useful way to identify best deals.
Finally – given the disastrous service experienced by millions of rail users this year thanks to strikes and timetabling chaos – customers should claw back every pound owed because of delays and cancellations.
Darren Shirley, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, says: ‘This year things went terribly wrong on the railways. Botched timetable changes and bad weather led to the worst punctuality figures for more than a decade.
‘We heard from many passengers whose jobs and health were under severe strain, and others for whom missing their children’s bedtimes had become the norm.’
Most train operators use the ‘delay repay’ scheme for compensation – for which forms can be picked up at most stations or a claim made by visiting the individual train company’s website.
To join a campaign for change and a freeze on future rail fare increases visit bettertransport.org.uk.
Shirley adds: ‘Rail passengers have endured enough this year and should not be asked to pay more for their journeys next year.’