28 March 2008

NatEx's BIG secret

Free concessionary travel on a nation-wide scale within England is introduced next Tuesday (1 April) and with it comes something the UK's most popular coach operator and world-ranked 179th Superbrand would rather you not know. Around 20% of National Express' coach services are registered as local bus services and qualify as services that must allow free concessionary travel. The following Q&A should shed some light......

Why do National Express register their services as local bus services?
If an operator, any operator, runs a PCV service that has gaps of a maximum of 15 miles between stops, Bus Service Operator Grant (BSOG) can be claimed by registering the route as a local bus service.

What is BSOG?
As we mentioned in a recent blog entry, BSOG is a form of fuel rebate paid for by the government to bus and coach operators. Within England the rate is 41.21 pence per litre (against the price many bus operators pay for their fuel - estimated to be around the 90-95 pence per litre mark). This payment can be worth a substantial amount of money to bus and coach operators and in recent cases brought before a Traffic Commissioner, often the first form of punishment is to prevent an offending operator from claiming BSOG for its services for a set period.

So how do we know which NatEx routes are affected?
Good question! It is not being widely advertised, actually it almost certainly will not be advetrtised at all, although we plan to upload a file showing which routes have registered sections. In a few cases, sections of routes that are less than 50km have not been registered for reasons known only to NatEx, but generally if you wish to go from A to B and at no point travel more than 15 miles between any consecutive bus stop along the full length of your journey, you should be able to travel from free on NatEx services, provided you comply with the National Guidelines for free concessionary travel, i.e. between 0930-2300 weekdays and at any time during weekends and bank/public holidays.

Give me some examples!
Okay, within the LEYTR area these are the registered sections within NatEx services:
Service 322 (Brecon) between Scarborough-Bridlington
Service 322 (Swansea) between Hull-Scunthorpe and between Mansfield-Nottingham
Service 350 between Manchester Airport-Grantham and between Stamford-Peterborough
Service 390 between Leeds-Bradford
Service 447 (south) between Lincoln-Peterborough
Service 447 (north) between Grantham-Lincoln
Service 448 between Grimsby-Peterborough and between Peterborough-Stamford
Service 449 between Mablethorpe-Peterborough
Service 534 between Hull Docks-Beverley and between Sunderland-Newcastle Airport
Service 562 between Beverley-Scunthorpe
Service 563 between York-Whitby

Did NatEx want this?
We suspect not. Last year they briefed their workforce saying they only anticipated services within Cornwall as being affected by the forthcoming free local travel on a nation-wide basis, as these Cornish sections of route operate as local services - in many cases being the only services linking settlements in that area. It would appear that the DfT have not given NatEx any special dispensation, preferring the "you want to claim the BSOG then you have to accept free concessionary travel!" line.

So I just turn up at the permitted time with my pass do I?
Yes. So long as it's one of the new-style English concessionary passes, baring a rose in the top-left and a hologram on the right. Drivers have a special form to complete, taking details from your pass, in order for NatEx to claim back your fare. Just make sure the section you wish to travel on is registered - we suggest you telephone them to confirm your journey, they won't be legally able to lie or not answer you.

They'll get all of it back will they?
No. As with all bus and coach operators, they will only be reimbursed the agreed percentage by the local authority in whose area each journey commenced. Taking North-East Lincolnshire Council (NELC) as an example, a passenger boarding Service 448 in Grimsby for a free ride to Peterborough would expect to pay £15.60 if they were paying an adult fare. NELC will reimburse NatEx 60% of this fare - £9.36. The percentage differs from local authority to local authority, some paying less than 50%! A journey in the opposite direction (Peterborough-Grimsby) would be reimbursed to the tune of 70% (£10.92) by Peterborough City Council.

Any strings attached?
Free travel is only permitted if sufficient space is available on the coach and free travellers will board last. NatEx are understood to be lobbying the DfT in order to get this situation overturned and should they be successful we'll let you know, but until they are, happy travelling!

Keep an eye out down the left-hand side of this blog for the Registered Sections file for all NatEx services in England.