In the November 2017 Budget, the Chancellor promised ”a new railcard for those aged 26 to 30, giving 4.5m more young people a third off their rail fares.”
But the Treasury appears not to have consulted the body that coordinates railcards, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), before the Budget statement. One senior rail figure described Philip Hammond’s announcement as a “stocking filler”. The RDG, which represents train operators and Network Rail, is conducting only a small-scale trial.
Around five million people are in the cohort who could apply for a 26-30 Railcard. But the initial pilot was restricted to 10,000 people living in the Greater Anglia area, covering Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and parts of east London. From Tuesday 13 March, 10,000 people nationwide can join them. This is what we know so far ...
Q What railcards are available at present?
The main widely available national cards are 16-25 for young people; Family & Friends for adults and children travelling in a group (at least one of each); Two Together for two named (and photographed) individuals making the same journey; and Senior for travellers aged 60+.
They are supplemented with limited-eligibility cards such as the Disabled Person’s Railcard, the Gold Card for annual season ticket holders and the HM Forces Railcard, as well as numerous cards for specific areas, from South-East England (the Network Card) to the Esk Valley Railcard.
The RDG says more than four million existing Railcard customers save an average of £150 a year on rail travel. For the average adult, though, there has been no straightforward way to secure a discount on train fares. The 26-30 Railcard will expand the proportion of society able to access cheaper rail fares. In addition, a 55-plus card is believed to be under discussion, with many of the benefits of the Senior Railcard.
Q What does the new 26-30 Railcard offer, and are there any catches?
The basic deal is saving one third (actually an average of 34 per cent) on many rail tickets. On a Super Off Peak return between Sheffield and London, it cuts the £76 fare to £51.50; a one-way Off Peak trip from Edinburgh to Glasgow falls by £4.40 to £8.50 with the railcard.
The main restriction is aimed at excluding the card’s use for most commuter journeys in the morning rush hour. While discounts are available on Advance fares without time limits, “walk-up” tickets (Anytime and Off Peak) are subject to a minimum fare of £12 between 4.30am and 10am from Monday to Friday (except public holidays).
Q Why are cards being issued in such low numbers?
The train operators are concerned about the risk of an unexpectedly strong uptake among commuters and business travellers. By capping the number of cards sold and restricting the availability, they can limit the possible drop in revenue. In addition, if more 26-30 year olds than expected move to rail for commuting because of the card, overcrowding on peak trains will increase.
Q Will it be an actual card?
Not initially. The first versions are available on smartphone only via the Railcard app on Apple IOS or Android. As train operators are increasingly offering mobile ticketing, it makes sense for the card and the ticket to be held in the same smartphone ticket wallet. But train operators are concerned about everything from a higher-than-expected incidence of flat batteries and lost phones to opportunities for fraud.
Once the rail industry assesses whether a virtual railcard is feasible, a decision will be taken on whether to offer physical cards instead or as well.
Q What proof will I need of my age?
Your passport or driving licence. If you have neither, you will need to supply a birth certificate and additional evidence.
Applicants must also supply a digital photograph.
Q How much does it cost?
A one-year card costs £30, the same as most other national railcards. Unlike the other leading railcards, though, there is no three-year option – at least initially.
Q I’m nearly 30 – will I have to wait until I am 60 before I qualify for a railcard?
Not necessarily. Buy a railcard the day before your 31st birthday and you can continue to use it for another 12 months. So someone who turns 31 on 1 July 2018 will be able to buy a card on 30 June and use it until 29 June the following year.
Q Why has the 31 to 59 age range been excluded from cheap tickets?
Many of them already use Family & Friends or Two Together railcards. (The train operators really like these, because they are rarely used for work-related trips.) But the 26-30 card is seen by some as a trial for a wider National Railcard scheme along the lines of the existing Bahncard scheme in Germany, where discounts are given to holders of any age in a bid to lure people off the autobahn and into Deutsche Bahn trains.
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