20 August 2010

Minimum Fare

A bus driver writes...

I've been reading with interest your coverage of the likely train fare rises in January and I'm sure few will disagree that this seems the absolute worse time to increase them by almost 6%. I'd like to relate this to an experience I found myself witnessing on board the bus I drove today.

Bus fares are, rightly, seen to be cheaper than train fares - considerably so, for the most part. However, one fare that's likely to draw considerable shock from passengers is a bus operator's minimum fare; you know the one - the fare to go to either the next village or just round the corner.

While some excellent multi-ride tickets exist, these same operators - mine included - have some eye-wateringly high minimum fares, charged for these short hops. Some operators have special deals for travelling into the town/city centre from areas where people traditionally walk, but excluding these, they are, for the most part, very expensive.

My company operates around 30 vehicles in traditional Middle England (so their fares are, at best, average). We are considerably cheaper than a sole commuter using his car to travel to the nearest town or city, but not so when four or five share. The range of single fares is £1.60 and the range of day returns is £2.80.

It was raining this evening and I was working my last run back to town, whereupon I'd return to the depot. I was in a town some 11 miles away and two passengers approached me, both looking very wet indeed. One had a return ticket to the town 11 miles away and the other held out his hand, in the palm of which sat a 50 pence coin. Both were in their early-20s and were covered in Burberry and Lonsdale items, which screamed out 'chav!' to me. They both conducted themselves well, though.

The one with 50p in his hand asked for "Maccies" (McDonald's), which is three stops away, or 0.4 miles. He'd made the subliminal calculation that 50p was worth 0.4 miles by bus in the rain. Regrettably, I told him the fare (our minimum fare) and his jaw dropped. "You've got to be jestin' me?!" he said. Sadly, I wasn't.

The fare? £1.40.

I'm sure the Editors and contributors could write about whether a minimum fare of £1.40 is moral, just or right, but 'rules is rules' and that was the fare. He got off and chose to get even wetter. What shocked me is that this was a lad who was not around when 'two-and-six' would get you a great evening out with someone called Doris at the flicks, a fish and chip supper and your bus fare home (What? Not back to her's? - Eds). He's of the 'what's a pound nowadays?' generation, yet still tendered 50p.

My moral decision was whether to override my ticket machine and issue him a fare for 50p or to just let him squelch away into the distance. So far as my contract of employment is concerned, it was a case of £1.40 or nothing. But then, surely, 50p is better than nothing, even if, in the eyes of my company, I'd committed gross misconduct?

Editors' note: We would like to state two completely unrelated one-liners
  1. Having a high minimum fare increases the average fare paid by cash-paying passengers
  2. The concessionary reimbursement rate, paid to operators by local authorities, is based on the average fare paid by cash-paying passengers

1 comment:

Daddysgadgets said...

Bus operators may have high minimum fares when compared to return or travel-at-will ones, and this will obviously have an effect on the level of reimbursement for Senior Citizen passes. However, this is surely only one aspect of the mix from which fares are calculated. There are many other costs, such as operating, cash handling, etc. Actual travel makes up only part of the cost and so operators can offer additional journeys at a more marginal cost. This makes return travel more attractive with the opportunity to build business rather than the speculative single journey.

However the driver in question feels about the particular case it is not for him to decide on the level of fares collected. Making the gesture once may be helping someone, but it would quickly become something that more people would hear about and try.

The suggestion is that the passenger with 50p was going to McDonalds. How far would 50p get him once there?