A new train ticketing platform launching today is promising to plant a tree for every ticket it sells, which it hopes will appeal to passengers who care about climate change. Trainhugger says it will use 50p out of each £1.50 booking fee to pay for a young tree, in partnership with the Royal Forestry Society and Royal Scottish Forestry Society.
The website will sell the same UK routes and fares as other rail websites, such as Trainline, which charges a web booking fee of 80p-£1.75 per ticket (and advance booking fees of 35p-£1.75, free on day of travel). Passengers who book directly with a rail provider such as Southern or Virgin don’t usually pay a booking fee, but Trainhugger’s founders believe they will be able to win enough business from its rivals to make a considerable contribution towards combating climate change. They hope to plant 10 million trees by 2025.
“If rail gets back to where it was pre-pandemic – 1.8 billion journeys in 2019 – and Trainhugger sold 5% of those passenger journeys, that would be 90 million bookings or 90 million trees, and we would match the government’s target of planting 90-120 million trees (30,000 hectares) a year,” said Felix Tanzer, who co-founded the company with Ed Caldecott.
Each 50p donation covers the price of a “whip” , a baby tree shoot smaller than a sapling, but the costs of the land, and planting and maintaining the tree are covered by members of the RFS, including its own three forests and other landowners. The type of tree planted will be appropriate to the location. “We don’t plant sitka spruce, because it’ not good for biodiversity,” said Caldecott.
Although Trainhugger and its Android and iOS apps officially launch today, passengers have been able to book through the site since late October. It has already taken 25,000 bookings, equating to 25,000 trees, with the first planted in the RFS’s Hockeridge and Pancake Woods in Buckinghamshire.
The website uses a booking and payment system from a third party – On Track Retail – and says it will offer the same fares as other sites.
Passengers who register get a running tally of how many trees they have personally paid for, and can find out about the farmers who plant them.
Caldecott and Tanzer initially planned to launch a rewards programme similar to Airmiles for train journeys, to be called Trainmiles, but said it “quickly felt very 1990s, like something Branson would do, and not something our generation would care about. And what do we care about? Climate change.”
They believe that passengers will be willing to switch to their platform because there’s so little choice in the market, and because many train companies have a poor brand image because of their association with delays and engineering works.
“We can talk to our customers about positive stuff. Your commute may be diabolical, but at least you’ve planted 60 trees. It’s all about feeling good about travelling,” said Tanzer.
Although rail travel has recovered to only about 40% of pre-Covid levels, Tanzer said changes in work and travel patterns could benefit the scheme. “People who had a season ticket but are now just travelling once a week are buying individual tickets, which means they’ll be planting a tree with every journey.”
Foreign travel restrictions, a growing consciousness of carbon footprints, a new appreciation for UK staycations and the current high cost of petrol would all help boost the popularity of UK rail travel in future, he added.
The website joins other recent innovations in sustainable transport in the UK, including Lumo, FirstGroup’s new 100% electric rail service, which runs between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh and launched in October, and Karshare, a community car-sharing service which allows drivers to rent vehicles from private owners in five cities.