The website for the 26-30 railcard crashed and phone lines were jammed – and to make matters worse, there were only 10,000 cards available in the first place.
In November, the government announced its plans for a so-called “millennial railcard” that would allow 26 to 30-year-olds discounted travel on some train journeys. Chancellor Philip Hammond said that the new railcards would be launched in “spring 2018”, adding that an estimated 4.5 million young people would become eligible for more affordable fares under the scheme.
But the rollout of the new railcards was marred by technical difficulties and widespread anger on Tuesday morning, as the railcard site crashed and customer service phone lines were jammed.
Despite Hammond’s original suggestion that the 26-30 railcard would be available to all of those who wanted to purchase it, National Rail only put 10,000 on sale this week – amounting to one railcard for every 500 eligible people.
The rail company has so far refused to confirm whether the railcard will be made widely available after this trial, prompting suspicions that the scheme will never come to fruition.
Frustrated twenty-somethings took to Twitter in their droves to complain that buying a railcard was “more difficult than getting Glastonbury tickets”, and accused the government and National Rail of failing to deliver on their promises.
National Railcards posted a string of updates to its Twitter account on Tuesday morning, apologising to people who were unable to access its site and saying that demand for the 26-30 railcard had been “unprecedented”.
But many Twitter users observed that the demand should hardly have been unexpected. Recent research by the Resolution Foundation showed that UK millennials have experienced the second-worst reversal in financial fortunes in the developed world, coming second only to Greece. The report highlighted depressed incomes, job scarcity and falling home ownership as major problems – and showed that British people under 30 had experienced a bigger pay squeeze than those in their 50s. In addition, this January saw the biggest rise in train fares in five years.
With this backdrop, it seems hardly surprising that people in their late 20s would be desperate to find a way to save money.
“Unprecedented demand – no s**t,” wrote one Twitter user. “It costs me £137 to see my girlfriend at weekends.”
Twitter user @ulysseklm wrote: “‘Unprecedented’? Shows the total ignorance of National Rail towards the ridiculously high rail ticket prices.”
The 26-30 railcard costs £30 each year and will reduce most train fares by a third. However, it provides no discount on season tickets and does not apply for peak time journeys, meaning that most people cannot use it to reduce the cost of commuting to and from work.
The uproar over the botched launch came shortly before Chancellor Philip Hammond was due to give his spring statement. After the autumn statement in November, senior figures in the rail industry told The Independent that they were angry that Philip Hammond had committed to making the 26-30 railcard available to all, saying that no final decision had yet been made until trials had taken place.
They also expressed resentment that the Chancellor had presented the millennial railcard as a Conservative initiative, when the idea had been in development by the Rail Delivery Group for some time.
“Hammond has made a land grab for a rail industry initiative and pretended it was all his idea,” said one insider. “There could be unintended consequences, which is what the trial was designed to discover.”
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