ScotRail has announced it will give an extra year’s membership to passengers who belong to its “Club 50” discount scheme. Many members have been unable to take advantage of the benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.
The 28,000 members, aged 50 and above, will qualify for cheaper tickets for an additional 12 months without paying the usual £15 subscription.
Club 50 provides a 20 per cent discount for Advance and Off-peak tickets bought online, and allows three £17 flat-fare return journeys each year within Scotland.
The move is in sharp contrast to the UK government’s refusal to extend the validity of railcards.
The Independent calculates that, since the first lockdown a year ago, leisure travel by rail has been banned for a total of six months – and even longer in Wales.
Anyone who signed up for Club 50 between 17 April 2019 and 17 March 2020 qualifies for the extension. They will not need to apply, as the extension will be automatically added to existing membership smartcards.
Alex White, ScotRail’s chief operating officer said: “We wanted to make sure our valued Club 50 members didn’t lose out through no fault of their own due to the coronavirus pandemic which has seen them unable to access most of their fare discounts.
“So, we think it’s only right that we extend their memberships, free of charge, for another year up to the end of April 2022.
“It’s our way of telling them how much they mean to us and we think it’ll be a welcome boost during this really difficult time.”
Michael Matheson, Scotland’s transport secretary, said: “It is right that ScotRail has recognised the restrictions placed on rail travel due to Covid-19, meaning cardholders have not benefited fully from their Club 50 memberships.
“This extension will benefit passengers, while helping secure patronage and revenue to the railway.”
The offer does not apply to Scottish holders of Senior Railcards, nor any of the other Great Britain-wide railcards, including 16-25, 26-30, Family and Friends and Disabled Persons.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic preventing many users from taking advantage of their railcards, the UK government has refused to extend them.
The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and runs national railcard scheme, said: “Refunding or extending railcards for over 5.1 million customers would come at a significant cost to the taxpayer at a time when the focus must be on maintaining rail services to support the country’s recovery from the pandemic.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We have provided unprecedented taxpayer support for the rail industry through this pandemic, committing around £10 billion to keep services running, protect frontline jobs and deliver refunds.
“To ensure we are fair to taxpayers and focus their investment on protecting services and jobs, we are not offering refunds or extensions for railcard users.”
At present rail travel in Scotland and England is legal only for essential purposes.
ScotRail conductors will begin a series of strikes for six consecutive Sundays from 28 March 2021 over calls for overtime payment increases.