Thousands of commuters avoiding the trains and working from home

Some two thirds of season ticket holders have yet to return to using the borough’s three main railway stations – despite calls from the government for people to go back to their offices, figures reveal.

According to data released by the Office of Rail and Road, around 3,472 season ticket holders used Tunbridge Wells Station every day in 2018/2019.

An additional 2,400 season ticket holders a day used the stations in High Brooms and Paddock Wood.

The figures, which estimate entrances and exits to train stations, show there were around 3 million season ticket exits and entrances at the borough’s three main stations last year.

Two weeks ago, the Times reported on how rail company Southeastern had reported that passenger numbers had plummeted to just 22 per cent of last year’s figures.

A spokesperson for the train company says while the figures were now ‘creeping up’, the number of people using its services is only at 30 per cent from this time last year.

The Times approached the rail company for a more detailed breakdown on commuter numbers and found an estimated 3,630 commuters in Tunbridge Wells are yet to return to travelling to work by rail.

Tunbridge Wells Railway Station has seen its commuter numbers fall from 3,472 a day to just 1,041.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council say weekly ticket sales for the nearby Torrington Car Park are also down to just above a third of pre-Covid numbers.

Both Paddock Wood and High Brooms saw more than 1,200 season ticket holders every day before lockdown and are now seeing fewer than 400 daily commuter passengers each.

Around 13,400 workers in Tunbridge Wells have been on furlough, but it is not known how many used the train service.

There is a similar picture in Tonbridge, Kent’s third busiest station, where around 4,684 season ticket holders were catching the train every day this time last year.

Post Covid, only around 1,400 season ticket holders are now using the station daily.

Tonbridge Line Commuters, the largest rail commuter organisation in Kent, says the drop off in passenger numbers has been extremely noticeable.

“Last time I was on the platform at Tonbridge Station there was hardly anybody there,” said Vice-Chairman, John Reynolds. “Usually there would have been 50 to 60 people, but there were just five.”

The news comes after the Office of National Statistics released the Retail Prices Index [RPI] last week. Rail fares are linked to the RPI, indicating that season ticket prices are expected to rise in January by 1.6 per cent.

The increase will see the cost of an annual season ticket from Tunbridge Wells to London terminals pass the £5,000 mark for the first time, with the price rising from £4,928 to £5,007.

An annual season ticket from Tonbridge to London Terminals will increase from £3,540 to £3,596.

“The increase is too high,” insisted John Reynolds. “It should be linked to the Consumer Price Index, just like the wages of essential workers such as nurses are – and that would mean a maximum of one percent.”

Working from home could be saving people up to £600 a month. Many Tunbridge Wells commuters who are still working from home have cancelled their annual season tickets and are saving nearly £5,000 every year – or around £400 a month.

For those that normally have to pay to park at the town’s Torrington Road car park, they are saving more than £6,400 a year on rail fares and parking charges by working from home.

And workers that needed to use the Underground to get to their London offices as well as park their car, could be saving more than £7,100 a year – or nearly £600 a month.

But the vice chairman of Tonbridge Rail Commuters, John Reynolds, says it may not be as simple as that.

“Not everybody is working from home five days a week. Some people are having to go into the office two or three days but they are still being forced to buy a season ticket.”

He continued: “What we need is a more flexible or a discounted season ticket for these part time workers.”

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