The Treasury is under pressure from the head of Network Rail to allow three-day season tickets for commuters to reflect what he says will be permanent changes in working patterns.
Officials have vetoed radical changes to season tickets designed to entice home workers back onto trains amid concerns that three-day season tickets will discourage workers from returning to the office full-time. Industry sources said the Treasury feared a larger railway subsidy bill for taxpayers, as well as scars to the London economy.
But Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, told an all-party parliamentary committee: “I think it is very unlikely that work patterns will not permanently adjust. People have learnt that working from home gives them a better work/ life balance and allows them to save money. If you rely on the long-standing mechanisms of season tickets, then it is unlikely to be attractive to people.”
Reform to the UK’s fare system is understood to have been proposed in unpublished drafts of a “root and branch” review of the railways by Keith Williams for the Government.
Mr Williams is also proposing the introduction of a “Fat Controller” body to be in charge, with Mr Haines rumoured to be lined up to run it.
Fare reform is something that “the Treasury and the Department for Transport are wrestling with at the moment”, Mr Haines said. The current system is “relatively expensive” and provides “quite a financial disincentive from travelling”, he added. “The Treasury wants to [wait and] see what happens over the next few months.”
A spokesman for the Government said ministers were working with rail companies to develop flexible tickets.