05 March 2010

A mega way to ride?

Both routeone and CBW carried the story that independent transport consultants TAS claim that average bus fares charged by Stagecoach are in some cases 30% cheaper than those offered by the 'big five'. The chance of this data being flawed or misleading must be so finite as to be ignored, else a battle of words would surely begin!

We were both impressed that Stagecoach - the largest bus and train operator in the LEYTR area - were crowned 'cheapest' (though we suspect those at Dunkeld Road would prefer 'offering greatest value for money'). We then received an email from a LEYTR member yesterday that said the research completely omitted single fares for ad hoc passengers - i.e. those car drivers who are forced to use the bus once in a while.

The TAS data has been handily reproduced on Stagecoach's corporate website and the first table clearly shows 'single fares' between the 'big five'. Stagecoach is the cheapest, offering the average commuter a single of £1.07, followed by £1.39 for Arriva, £1.43 for National Express, £1.49 Go Ahead and finally First at £1.52. But these fares assume so much.

They are based on the daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual tickets offered by each operator, not the actual single fare one would pay when boarding for a straightforward A to B journey. Data for this is in the third table, where Stagecoach leads again with an average single fare of £1.64. As our member wrote: "Are they seriously expecting us to believe that their AVERAGE single fare is £1.64? In Lincoln, the cheapest single adult fare is only a few pence below this amount. Further afield, Hull, Grimsby and Newark only have a couple of 'short hop' stops that offer fares below £1, with the vast majority of their fare scales being well in excess."

Single fares throughout all large bus groups have risen way in excess of inflation over the last decade. Recently, operators have unofficially increased their adult singles as it is on an average of these fares that local authorities reimburse them for the English National Concessionary Scheme. The higher the average fare, the more cash back.

Most urban operations no longer offer returns either, thus forcing the occasional traveller into either purchasing two expensive singles or a day ticket - which is conveniently priced at 10p shy of two single fares. Great value for the everyday passenger who needs to make multiple journeys, but frustrating for the ad hoc user who has to travel to the Audi garage to collect his car.

We've not seen the TAS study in full - it is likely to cost about as much as a month's urban bus travel - so we don't know how they calculated what a single fare for commuters would be. We suspect it is along the following lines: divide the price of a week's ticket by 5 (days, Mon-Fri) and then divide by 2 (trips each way). This would assume the commuter made five return trips. This comes to £10.70 for a weeks travel. Most towns and cities that offer Stagecoach's Megarider ticket charge a little more for it than this.

Our Anglia correspondent, 'CW', wrote: "I agree that the ad hoc user will get a nasty shock when he boards a Stagecoach bus, having viewed the average single fares for all categories. In Peterborough, all adult singles are in excess of £1.07 [average commuter single fare] and 75% are over £1.64 [average single fare]. For someone perhaps travelling to the Werrington Industry to collect their car from Audi or BMW, the fare is £2.20 single and they'll be on the bus 20 minutes. Quite a difference. There is no competition from other operators in Peterborough, but this is perhaps one that needs saving for another time."

Of course, if the traveller gave up their BMW and purchased an £11.50 Megarider each week, they'd save considerably more in the long run, though this is the ultimate 'big ask'!

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