By Trevor Clawson.
The Romance of the railways. For anyone enduring the privations of a sardine-packed commuter carriage moving at a snail’s pace through a succession of malfunctioning signal scenarios, that phrase may ring more than a little hollow, but the away from peak time urban journeys, the train offers a hugely enjoyable way to traverse the British landscape.
Assuming, of course, that you can afford the price of a ticket. According to Government data, unregulated rail fares have risen 28% since 1995 and with the cost to commuters set to jump by more than 3.0% in January, it doesn’t seem likely that travellers will see a levelling off of prices any time soon.
But there is some good news for millennials – or to be more precise, those between the age of 26 and 30. From the end of this year, a new app-only railcard will be available, offering a wallet-friendly 30% off the price of off-peak tickets across all the major train operators.
A Staple of the Industry
Discount railcards are, of course, a staple of the rail industry offer. As things stand, students and other young people can take advantage of the 16-25 railcard, which costs £30 a year and delivers a one-third saving on fares.
Similar deals are available for senior citizens – those aged 60 and above – and the disabled. For parents with children, there is also a family railcard which offers a 60% discount on fares for children aged 5-15 when they travel with their parents. In addition, there is a Two Together Railcard, which extends discounts to people who regularly travel together as a pair and a more limited Network card for travellers in the South East.
Overall, the Rail Delivery Group estimates that four million Britons collectively save £600m a year on transport costs by using the range of discount cards,
But arguably there was a strong case for extending the benefits of cheaper travel to the millennial generation who are struggling with high housing costs and student debt. The new 26-30 railcard is designed to fill that gap.
Cheap Travel at a Price
So what does it offer? In common with other railcards, users will pay an upfront fee of £30 per year or £70 for a three year period, in return for roughly a third off non-peak travel. And importantly it will be accepted across the rail network by all the train companies.
Commenting on the launch, Jacqueline Starr, Managing Director of the Rail Delivery Group, said:
“It means more young people can explore Britain for less using our trains and benefit from saving a third on rail travel, making it cheaper to get out and enjoy the seaside or visit family and friends.”
As Starr went on to explain, the scheme was originally piloted in East Anglia at the end of 2017 and that trial was extended to the rest country for a limited period starting in March, with just 10,000 cards on sale. Such was the initial demand that the website crashed as travellers tried to get their hands on the available cards.
In addition to gauging the potential popularity of a full-scale rollout, the pilot also provided an opportunity to test whether such a scheme would deliver benefits to the target audience.
An analysis of those taking part in the pilot suggests users of the scheme stand to make savings that are well in excess of the £30 per annum fee.
“Those taking part in the trial took approximately 6 leisure journeys a month, covering an average of 400 miles,” said Starr. “if this trend continues then National Rail 26-30 Railcard holders will save themselves an average of £125 a year when they travel by train.”
And for some rail users at least, the launch of the new discount will help cushion the shock of losing out on student and young person’s travel privileges. Joseph Moore, formerly a user of the 16-25 card is a case in point.
“I was gutted when I was no longer eligible for the 16-25 Railcard. I relied on it for travelling back home from university to see my family, plus going to explore new places with my friends. I used it to save money on getting the train for job interviews, and for staying in touch with people after I left university,” he said,
Without the benefit of discount travel, Moore added that he was travelling less and, therefore seeing not so much of his friends and family. After taking part in the initial trial, he says he intends to travel more when the scheme is officially rolled out at the end of the year.
Anyone familiar with the current family of travel cards will know them as driving licence style passes, complete with a photograph but the new card will be somewhat different.
Perhaps in deference to the Millennial preference for all things digital, the ‘card’ will be available via https://www.26-30railcard.co.uk/. Once downloaded it can be incorporated into the Railcard App and used immediately. Those who would prefer to use a physical card, however, will be disappointed. The Rail Delivery Group has declared it the first “all digital” discount solution.
Any opportunity to travel more cheaply by train is bound to welcomed – not least by financially hard-pressed millennials who would like to spend more time on the move around the country. On the other hand, the admittedly comprehensive range of discount schemes that are currently available do little to take the strain of commuters and those who must use the rail system at peak times, either for business or leisure purposes. Or to put it another way, grumbling about rail fares is unlikely to end, especially at times when trains are regularly cancelled or delayed.
The Rail Delivery Group has not put an exact date on the national rollout, other than promising it will be before the end of 2018. Those who are interested in taking advantage of the scheme are advised to follow @_Railcards on Twitter.