The UK has a ticketing problem: there are numerous types and often users pay for tickets they need or don't realise they should use (or the worst: try to use but can't) until it's too late. Nowhere is more evident that the system is broken than a commute by train.

My daily commute is a train journey from Sheffield to Manchester. Ticketing options the journey are an On-Peak Day Return, an On-Peak Any Day Return, an Off-Peak Day Return, an Off-Peak Any Day Return, a Super Off-Peak Return, a Super Off-Peak Single, an On-Peak Single, an Off-Peak Single, an Advance Single, a Week Season ticket, a Month Season ticket, and a Month Season ticket plus a day up to an Annual Season ticket. I have many options - each with different restrictions and prices.

I'm the kind of geek which likes working out unit prices in my head (or multiple unit prices via a spreadsheet). Knowing the terms and conditions of each ticket type the best deal for my commute was the Annual Season Ticket. This ticket costs £3408 for a year's travel between the Sheffield and Manchester. This is a sum of money not readily available to most Britons. There is about a 10% savings on an Annual Season Ticket compared with twelve Monthly Season Tickets.

For the majority of Britons an annual season ticket without support from their employer would be out of the question, so they are stuck spending less money upfront but pay more in the end. Transit should be run in a way where those who can least afford travel shouldn't be put in a position where they're likely to pay the most.


Enter Pay As You Go

The premise is simple and familiar to Britons: capped Pay As You Go. The most familiar example is TfL's Oyster Card. You purchase an Oyster card and deposit money at a station or online. You tap in at your embarking station, and you tap out at your destination. You are charged the amount necessary to cover your journey and if you hit your daily cap you'll travel for the rest of the day free (unless you're subject to a new cap - like introducing a new zone).

Here's how a rail commute Pay As You Go could work

  1. You pay the single journey fares until you hit the daily maximum for that journey. This would be the single fare for your outbound journey and then the remainder for your return.
  2. Repeat step one until you've hit your weekly cap - the rest of the journeys in your commute are free. All permitted routes travel between you origin and destination are free.
  3. Repeat steps one and two each week until you reach the monthly maximum. This would take about 4 weeks for train journeys.
  4. Next month start the process over again, looping several times until you reach the annual maximum. The remainder of the year is free for your daily journey.

(Leisure or ad hoc business travel couldn't fit into a system of caps as above, but I'm not going to get into that here.)

Why rail commute Pay As You Go is better

  • No more season ticket loans. Your account is drawn down on your journeys in a PAYG fashion hitting the daily, weekly, monthly and annual caps and no longer will the biggest season ticket savings be limited to those who can afford the massive one time price.
  • No more 'annual leave regret'. If you go on annual leave for the last three weeks in June you can still benefit from the weekly cap in week 1, but not have to pay a penny in weeks 2-4. You'll no longer have to manually delay the purchase of the next monthly or annual ticket to make more efficient use of your purchased travel. The system would do this automatically for you.
  • It's the essential leap to a British Multipass. And that's the best reason of any.