With flexible season tickets for travel being introduced, our popular columnist Steve Herbert considers whether employers should look at introducing more flexibility too.
The UK’s pandemic experience has changed many things, and one positive outcome is that employers and employees alike now appear to better understand and appreciate the benefits of flexible working than they did prior to the crisis.
But for the UK to truly embrace flexible working practices then more structural changes will be needed. And in particular an alteration to public transport pricing policy is certainly required.
And happily the first stage of such a change has now been announced as part of a wider review of rail travel by Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport.
“Flexible” season tickets
It is proposed that from the 21st June (the date when COVID-19 restrictions are expected to be lifted across England) there will be a new payment option for the commuting rail public – that of “flexible” season tickets. The new tickets will allow the purchaser to travel for any 8 days in a 28 day period.
These flexible season-tickets will help bridge a long-standing problem for flexible and part-time workers on the rail network. For although a “traditional” annual season ticket usually represent a significant cost saving over the equivalent daily cost of travel, that saving does require the commuter to travel for most days of the week, and indeed most weeks of the year too.
Of course those with the option of flexible working are unlikely to meet the above criteria, and therefore on the occasions that they do need to travel by rail, their costs are often disproportionately high, particularly as the cost of a peak-time, day-return ticket can be eye-wateringly expensive in some regions.
It should also be noted that such high daily travel costs can potentially force occasional commuters off the rail network altogether, and then on to less environmentally friendly forms of transport. Not good for the planet – or indeed a nation committed to carbon neutrality over the next 30 years.
So this move is likely to be welcomed by many semi-commuting employees in the months and years ahead. Employers should also benefit as it will help reduce any financial barrier to employees attending the physical workplace as and when required to do so.
Yet it remains to be seen on which routes these new “flexible” season tickets will be initially offered, or indeed how competitive the discounts will be when compared to (say) a traditional weekly or monthly season ticket. And at present there seems very little clarity on either of these key factors.
And it will also be very interesting to see if other transport options – in particular the bus, tram and underground networks across the nation – also follow a similar approach, and if so how long such a process will take.
In reality, the introduction of flexible season tickets will probably take some time to implement, and there are bound to be a few unexpected delays along the way too. But it’s a useful step that does help bring the reality of post-pandemic flexible working another small step closer for many employees.
Finally, and not least, it’s worth mentioning that this again illustrates some of the subtle – but still important – differences between location and home working too. Employers should review all of their workforce requirements and employee benefits to ensure that every policy and offering is as relevant to a remote worker as it is to an employee based at head office.
The flexible working train is now certainly gathering pace, and it’s time for HR professionals to jump aboard too.
Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing