The government is in the early days of planning a new railway. Whitehall seems excited about the chances to recreate a nationalised railway with central control over the things that matter. Whitehall had more or less done this anyway before covid struck by taking back certain train franchises into public control, and so regulating and restricting the others that they might as well have been nationalised. The main costs of the railway, all the tracks, signals, land and stations were in public sector hands already.
The pandemic and its aftermath has ripped up the old business model of the railways. Their main passenger business was taking people in and out of business centres five days a week at peak hours. Commuters were made to pay most of the cost of their services whilst leisure travellers took advantage of huge discounts on many tickets as the railways tried to fill seats at off peak times. The costs of the railway were elevated by the need to provide so much peak capacity for four hours a day five days a week that was not needed for the rest of the time.
It looks as if post lockdown many office workers are going to opt for a hybrid working week where maybe they only travel in to the office centre two or three days, not five, and maybe they travel at a wider range of times. Much of the reluctance to return to five day working is the revolt of the commuter, fed up with years of sky high prices, late and cancelled trains and too few seats at peak times. The railway needs to play a role in restoring more office working for those who might want or need it.
One idea I have been advancing is the rolling discount season ticket. Anyone registered for a given route could enjoy progressively cheaper tickets as the month wears on depending on their use. The ticketing should allow variable times of travel and pass on any price benefits from choosing a less popular time within a flexi season ticket framework.
It seems likely even allowing for the greater popularity of Wednesday than Friday to travel that overall demand on an y given day at peak will be down on pre pandemic, allowing a cost reduction. Flexi tickets need to smooth patterns of usage more by offering cheaper prices on low volume days. It would be good if some groups of companies made Monday or Friday an office day to take advantage of cheaper fares.