Monday 15 March 2010

Minus Plus Bus

Have you heard of "Plusbus" - a scheme whereby you can buy add-on bus travel when you buy your Rail Ticket?  Have you ever used Plusbus? Outwardly the scheme is excellent!   Not only can you buy, effectively, a day rover ticket to use on "most" buses at your destination; but the price is cheap and railcard discounts apply.

BUT - in practice, for the "average" traveller, the scheme is almost impossible to use.   Firstly, the add-on tickets can only be bought at your start station - they cannot be bought when you arrive.   This might be an advantage until you realise that the information you might need is simply NOT available when you start - if details are available at all, they are ONLY available when you arrive, say on a station poster display.  In the case of Bournemouth, for example, there is no LOCALLY available ticket that allows unlimited travel on "Yellow" buses and "Wilts and Dorset"; whereas the Plusbus add-on (available remotely!) does provide this facility.   Many locals now buy a rail ticket and throw it away to get the benefit of the "rover" facility!

The Plusbus website is not very helpful.   Very stylised maps showing the rough extent of validity are there for each scheme (because each town has a different scheme, different prices and widely different areas of availability).   But no route map, no timetables and no clear definition of boundaries.  You can "Plusbus" to one of the University campuses (campi?) in Bath but not to the other!  In some cases destinations are shown on the map but there are NO bus services to get there!  Many of the location "blobs" are in the wrong place and some names are mis-spelt. As for Sunday travel - don't bother to start!

The sales of Plusbus tickets are, we are told, growing.   True, but at the last count published, growing from very few indeed to not very many.  [on average about three tickets per railway station per week!].

What we need to encourage usage is

(1) sales permitted at destination stations.  If this is commercially risky, then why not simply endorse a valid rail ticket and sell a Plusbus ticket only valid with its associated rail ticket. "Simples!"

(2) leaflets available at start stations giving fuller details of availability at selected likely destinations.  "Simples!"

(3) downloadable timetables and route maps on line.  Not quite so "simples" but still do-able.

(4) just one nationally available plusbus add-on price (say £3) to make the thinking and decision-making process easy.   The aim would be, eventually, to make the Plusbus ticket the norm and "Rail only" an opt-out!

Even better, says he cynically, why not make the Plusbus facility FREE with any appropriate rail ticket?   I am sure that some overpaid lawyers could make millions deciding how to allocate revenue and there is a good chance that their millions could be offset by even greater zillions in environmental benefits!    Rail fares often bear no relationship to the cost of providing the service anyway, so a bit more "jiggling" of rail subsidies, fuel tax rebate grants and bus service tender prices is, once again "simples!"

[the author acknowledges a reference to the "compare the meerkat/market" stars!]

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