Campaigner Jo Rossi, a part-time commuter, wrote this blog about how discriminatory rail fare structures affects her - and thousands of other women and men too. This campaign features on Mumsnet.
Whilst I was on maternity leave we moved back out to Kent, after 20 years in London, for a chance to get a decent step on the housing ladder. When it was time to return to work, I was struck by the lack of flexible season tickets, and the penalty this imposed on part time and flexible workers. Commuting from Ashford, and forced on to the high speed train due to unfavourable timetabling, I was faced with the choice of buying peak time returns, which cost around 50% extra for each journey, or shelling out over £6000 for an annual season ticket which I would only use 3 times a week.
My employer, like so many others, was open to flexible work patterns, but the train company I relied upon did not offer any options for commuters in my position, not even a half-hearted scheme purporting to support part time workers which I have seen elsewhere. As a result, my travel costs were disproportionately high in relation to my pro-rata’ed wage, which already is cushioning childcare costs. In the end, I was lucky enough that my employer and I came to an agreement where I mainly work from home to get around the ridiculous costs of commuting part-time. I very much appreciated no longer having to pay such high travel costs, but I missed seeing my colleagues and being a part of office life.
Since moving out of London, I have had many conversations with friends who have decided not to return to work, or changed their career path to find a local job. Parents who want to work part time or flexibly are often already struggling with childcare costs, and higher ticket prices for commuting part time can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Anecdotally I was struck by the absence of women on my commute into London and felt that on a wider scale, the lack of affordable flexible ticket options was having a negative impact on talent, diversity and economic contribution. We are literally being priced out of our careers. Of course it’s not just working parents or carers who want to or need to work flexibly, but we are disproportionately impacted.
So on top of settling back into a demanding job after maternity leave, and enjoying life as a mother, I’ve decided to do something about it. New franchises can be a window of opportunity to make changes to a rail service. I use the South Eastern franchise, which is now up for consultation with views invited until 30 June. I have been working with the Fair Fares Now campaign and commuter organisations to come up with the SouthEastern Charter, unifying the six key points we would like to see included in the next franchise, as well as a really easy way to submit views. Fair and equitable flexible fares are top of the list.
We know that if enough people support fair and equitable flexible fares, we’ll be able to convince the Government that they need to specify that whichever train company wins the new SouthEastern franchise will need to give part time commuters a fair deal. Not only that, if enough of us shout about it, we can create a model for future franchises across the country to #getustowork.