Passengers travelling between Leeds and Harrogate can download the tickets onto their smartcards from today. Unlike existing season tickets, they offer ten unlimited travel days for the price of nine which can be taken at any time over the following six months.
Rail operator Northern has launched the tickets with the help of smart ticketing technology paid for by Transport for the North. TfN says the new tickets "guarantee value and flexibility in a world where passengers say they’re unlikely to return to 5-day-week commute".
The new season tickets are initially available on Northern and LNER services between Leeds and Harrogate stations only.
It comes as a leading northern transport expert warns that passengers may not be "psychologically ready" to get back on trains in large numbers because of the fear of contracting coronavirus.
The strategic transport body, which is also launching the new ticket on Merseyside today, is planning to roll it out to 161 stations across the North in the coming months at a cost of £12m.
But it says it needs the Department for Transport to hand over a further £27m from the existing smart transport budget so the remaining 336 stations in the region can use them.
The subnational transport body has already installed ‘tap-in-tap-out’ systems on platforms at 90 stations as well as moving the majority of season ticket-holders from paper to smart cards.
Its ultimate vision is a London-style pay-as-you-go travel using contactless bank cards or smartphones for public transport payments.
The scheme was announced today by Jeremy Acklam, who co-led the development and launch of the UK’s first online rail ticket retailer Trainline and is the new Director for TfN's Integrated and Smart Travel (IST) programme.
He said: “The launch of flexi seasons is a major and timely milestone in our mission to transform travel across the North of England.
“Now more than ever, due to the impact of coronavirus on our travel habits, passengers need safer, better value and more convenient ways to pay for public transport. Flexi seasons will provide this for thousands of passengers.”
Mark Powles, Customer and Commercial Director at Northern, said: “Our customers’ working lives have changed significantly in the past few months and the flexible season tickets will provide a way for rail travel with Northern to reflect those changes.
“With Transport for the North’s support, the new tickets will allow our customers to load 10 day-passes between two stations onto a smart card which can then be used at any time in a six-month period. So, unlike a normal season ticket, customers now only have to pay for the days they travel.
“Initially, we are trialling the new flexi-season ticket for journeys between Harrogate and Leeds, but plan to roll the scheme out to other parts of the Northern network in the coming months.”
A supporting strategic outline for contactless travel on rail was recently submitted to the DfT for their consideration, and the wider rollout of flexis was included as a priority scheme in TfN’s proposed Economic Recovery Plan to rebuild and transform the North post-Covid-19 which was sent to Government last month.
A recent Transport Focus survey of passengers showed that more than a third expect work to be primarily home-based with limited travel to the workplace in the future,making flexible and convenient ticketing a priority.
Mr Acklam said: “To realise the benefits of flexi seasons and contactless travel we are now calling on the Department for Transport to green light the next stage so we can move at pace to roll the technology out more widely across the region’s entire rail network.
"We are in a position to start work tomorrow on the delivery of this
scheme which would improve the way we use public transport for the millions of people living and working across our region.
“To tackle some of the biggest challenges of our day including cutting carbon emissions and the levelling up of the North’s economy we need to invest in ambitious, forward-looking projects now.
"Our message to the Prime Minister and the Government is clear, Transport for the North is ready to make flexible, contactless ticketing a reality, let’s get moving.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We know how smart ticketing and paperless travel can make journeys easier and more convenient for passengers.
“That is why we have already provided £24million for earlier Transport for the North smart travel schemes and we will consider its request for further funding.