It was back in 2006 that my sister Kate had the idea to create a low carbon travel company. We had been aware of the damaging emissions of flying for many years thanks to our climate-aware parents dragging us all over Europe by train on family holidays. One of the clear barriers to people ditching planes was no easy booking platform for overland travel, and trains in particular. Kate came up with an inspired name to link ‘locomotive’ with the environmental message that train travel is low CO2, and Loco2 was born.
At first our environmental mission was front and centre of our comms. But we found that lots of people simply didn’t get it (or didn’t care). We struggled to make progress in getting people to use our website and emerging train ticket service until we switched our messaging to the ease of booking. The company went from strength to strength and eventually we had hundreds of thousands of happy customers booking trains all over Europe.
Although we were frequently buoyed by the love and support of the dedicated customers who shared in our environmental mission, for many years the lack of wider acknowledgement of the need to tackle emissions from flying was hugely demoralising.
We would often receive queries about how to take trains from airports as part of flight-based journeys that could easily be made entirely by rail.
And we faced an astonishing lack of action even from within the rail industry (I lost count of the number of times I would turn up to a conference in Europe by train with other attendees shocked that I hadn't flown).
In this context, the recent explosion of public awareness about the severity of the climate crisis has been a big relief.
Finally I am not the only person in my friendship group talking about alternatives to flying, and other people are initiating conversations that previously I would have to sidestep for the sake of avoiding awkwardness.
This has culminated over the past few months with public support for Extinction Rebellion protests in London, and with Greta Thunberg crossing the Atlantic by zero carbon yacht to attend the UN climate conference in New York, as millions of students strike worldwide.
I've watched as the idea of flying less has moved from the periphery of public debate to centre stage, with even a major airline essentially encouraging people to buy fewer tickets in a major advertising campaign.
So with all this in mind, it was emotional when we learned that our brand name will be discontinued. SNCF, who we sold Loco2 to in 2017, has announced that from November 5th Loco2 will be known as Rail Europe.
The booking platform we spent so long building will continue – to all intents and purposes, users will have the same experience (and loco2.com will redirect to the new site). But it comes with some sadness to know that the brand we poured our heart and soul into will end – especially at just the time when awareness of climate change (and the role that flying plays) is so high.
But times change, and perhaps it’s for the best that the name goes with the two of us (Kate and I left the company in 2018). It would have been hard for Loco2 to continue that magic we conjured with our founding team. That said, I will of course continue to book my rail tickets through Rail Europe, and I've no doubt that climate-focused communications will continue under the new brand.
A recent development for the company that I hope will be a success is PriceHack. Throughout my time at Loco2 I was keenly aware that rail travel was more expensive than air travel, and it pains me that we weren't able to reduce the cost of trains so that price wasn't a factor when asking people to switch away from planes.
The promise of PriceHack (along with ideas for appropriate government action to make flying more expensive) gives me hope that all is not lost on this front.
This brilliant new feature allows users to easily find and book split-ticket fares in the UK (making it significantly cheaper than Trainline or Omio for most UK journeys).
For customers who understand what split ticketing is, it works smoothly, and in the few months since it has launched I have already saved hundreds of pounds using it.
So, goodbye Loco2, but hello to new low-carbon initiatives like Flight Free that are perfectly positioned to push for a substantial reduction in air travel across Europe. New levels of mainstream climate action are emerging just as booking technology and associated apps are making it much easier and cheaper to book journeys that combine trains, coaches and even car-sharing. I'm sad to leave Loco2 behind but excited about the next chapter for low carbon travel.
Jamie has been an advisor to Flight Free UK since June 2019, giving expert advice on developing our new website. He enlisted the help of his good friends Rosa van Wyk (design) and Eugene Bolshakov (web development), both of whom were involved in the early stages of Loco2 (in Eugene's case right up until after the sale).