Wednesday 14 November 2018

Dramatic Events In Bristol - No 2

fbb has reported on transport in various cities in Europe and in almost all cases there is one thing you will NOT find. That is graduated fares. One flat fare for the main part of a city is fairly normal. Of course in a very subsidised and regulated setting it is easy to offer flat fares as the cashbox is often a very small part of the total revenue.

But not in the UK. Before 1971 fares jumped in steps of 1d (one penny) or 1/240th on a £1 (pound). Even post February 1971 the steps were still of 1p (1/100 of £1). Bus passengers was aghast when London Transport started flat fare routes like Red Arrow. The 500 started in 1966 and it cost a whole tanner (6d/2½p)!
The buses were called Merlins by London Transport but everyone else called the Swiftsa!

At about the same time as it cost a tanner to travel (quickly?) between Victoria and Marble Arch, the town of Sunderland was being even braver.
The flat fare for the whole town was 4d (between 1½p and 2p) and could paid by pre-bought tokens at a discount. The scheme was deemed to be a failure and was dropped three years later.
Too revolutionary and a financial no-show.

Over the last decade or so, jumps have become bigger as fares have increased well above the rate of inflation. Jumps of £1 are not unknown and most operators leap by 50p.

On Sunday last, November 11th, something amazing happened in Bristol.
The whole city went flat fare!
Of course it is not quite the big deal it might appear. Until November 11th there were only two fares on Bristol City routes, £1.50 and £2.50.

First Bus tells us about the change ...
... with (there had to be one) a sting in the tail.

It is quite difficult to get the full picture from the web site, but this is what seems to be happening.

The flat fare for those out-of-date stick-in-the-muds who are stupid and uncooperative enough to want to pay ££££money££££ (that will include a lot of visitors - a breed which the city wants to encourage), will be £2.50.
That's a big kick in the teeth if you were previously making a "short" journey at £1.50; but the same as previously for a two zone ride.

But, if you "pay before you board" using whatever system you want to use (smart card, contactless bank card, mobile "device", cowrie shells) you can buy an electronic "carnet" of five tickets for £10. The pack of five is not new but the £10 price is (perhaps?).

Also introduced is the ability to buy one single flat fare, cashless, obviously ...
... at £2.07!

Yer what? A flat fare that is actually lumpy?

After explaining the whole scheme ...

The price of a single ticket is being unified to what First Bus and Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said was a ‘flat fare’ no matter how far you travel in Bristol on the bus.

Before the change on Monday, people were paying £1.50 for every single journey under three miles on the First Bus phone app, or £2.50 for every single journey over three miles.

But now the firm is introducing a ‘flat fare’, and splitting the difference by making the cost of a single ticket £2 for ‘mTickets’ bought on the phone app.

That move - which will increase the fares for shorter journeys by 50p - did not go down particularly well with Bristol's bus passengers when it was first revealed by Bristol Live late last month.

But it’s not quite as flat as it first appears.

... the local rag goes on to explain the extra 7p

The phone app will continue to sell those single tickets in ‘packs’ of five, for £10, but for the first time will introduce the availability of people buying just one single £2 ticket for one journey on their phone before they board.

Except that will cost £2.07, with the extra seven pence a booking fee imposed by the company that runs the app on behalf of First.

You would have thought that a company with global interests could write its own App and run it for a lot less than 7p a fare - somebody is ripping someone off. An App might cost a few thousand to write - but it costs almost nothing to run. Or, yet again, has aged fbb failed to understand the finances of the world of bits and bytes?

How much would it cost to collect the £2 cash in a farebox ...
... surely much less than 3½% of revenue?

But even First Bristol's flat fare (with lumps) is still way short of the European system. If Mrs Miggins shells out her £2, changes her mind because she has left her umbrella in the last shop and has to go back, she has to pay another £2; then a third £2 to remake her original journey.

Of course, in Bristol, she can buy a £4 ticket (the equivalent of two single "electronic" fares) and ride for a day - but only if she plans in advance.

In Stuttgart, for example, she would have 3 hours to complete her single journey using as many buses, trams and trains as she wishes.

And a £2 flat fare is a big discouragement for short journeys. Stuttgart has a three-stop short hop ticket to encourage short rides.

One final question which fbb has posed before. Is electronic fare collection really faster than cash? A cynic might challenge First to prove their contention. There is no doubt that non-cash transactions are becoming more and more popular - but will they remain so popular when the significant discounts are eroded "due to the harsh economic climate and big increases in operating costs"?

An fbb tale (included in blogs before; but old people are allowed to get RATS** - it is one of their last pleasures!). When Sheffield Transport introduced one man buses on routes to Parson Cross ...
... with power driven Setright Speed machines ...
.... fares in one old penny jumps AND giving change, they achieved loading rates as good as London Transport's flat fare Red Arrows!

But fbb had better be positive ("for a change", we hear our Anonymi shout).

The Bristol concept is on the right lines and it maybe the best than can be achieved with commercial bus operation BUT ...

If our nation were ever serious about promoting public transport in our cities, it simply isn't good enough.

Muted praise then, for the first UK city (outside London)** to go flat fare since Sunderland Corporation's brave failure.
What guesses about the long term future of the Bristol scheme?

Talking Of New Trains!
Here we go again!

That's the units with a class 67 diesel loco push-pulling at the other end.

From Yesterday's Sheffield Star
How top encourage public transport, lesson 45½
Beyond belief!


**RATS - Repetitive Anecdote Telling Syndrome

**First UK City - fbb is struggling to think of another one.

 Next bus shelter blog : Thursday 15th November 


  1. Edinburgh has a flat fare bus network!

  2. If Stuttgart has a short hop fare than surely that's a two fare system not a flat fare one!

  3. Bristol still has a ‘3 stop hop’ fare (now£1.20) under the new system. This was first introduced to ease the introduction of a coarsened fare structure which accompanied the post deregulation bus network in 1986. Incidentally, flat fares have also been introduced in Bath and Weston from the same date.

  4. Plymouth Citybus tried introducing a flat fare structure (but with a Stuttgart style short hop fare), but this was deemed unsuccessful and they've reverted to a "normal" fare structure.

    In terms of cash, loading times are not the only consideration. There's also the associated cost of "handling" that cash - driver's have to be issued with floats, cash has to be deposited at end of shift, cash sorting/counting machines at depots needed (and maintained), cash banked (often by third party), etc. - cash is time-consuming and costly to handle.

  5. Most systems that allow you to transfer between buses to complete your journey still do not allow you to retrace your route - so if you forget your umbrella you need to pay again. This is to stop you using your single ticket as a return.

    Other cities have tried flat fares since Sunderland. Brighton and Hove introduced a £1.00 flat fare several years ago - this is now £2.60 (but lower fares for shorter hops have since been introduced again). Wilts and Dorset introduced a flat fare for Bournemouth and Poole for a while, but this didn't last long

  6. Mrs Miggins will almost certainly have bought a day ticket, because she wants to go home and the day ticket is the same price as 2 singles. The return ticket is no longer a cash discount, but unlimited travel. So she can go back for her umbrella at no extra cost.

    Also according to most English fare increases recently, the most popular fare is the weekly. So Mrs Miggins, if she goes out most days, will top up her card with £17 and use the bus for all sorts of trips and short hops.

    The other big part of the West of England area fare changes is merging the 3 outer zones and the overall West of England zone into a single outer zone. (7 zones became 4) So if you travel outside the urban limits, you can now travel across the whole area and not just your outer zone for the same fare.

  7. Is electronic payment faster than cash?

    A recent report based on CCTV footage said that in their study about 10 times faster. 9 seconds in place of 90 seconds.

    Partly because people paying cash today are often not organised. They board, put their shopping down, look for their purse, ask the fare, go rummaging round the purse, decide on a note instead, then wait for change, collect the ticket, put it in their purse, put the purse away, pick up the shopping and move on eventually.

    With a card you have to be more organised in the first place. Then many will have it out of their purse and it is just touch, beep, go.

    The other aspect is that many people today carry little or no change, because they buy most things with cards or phone apps. In the UK there are now more card payments than cash. My 20 year old said recently when asked about cash; 17p in coins and a £20 note, which is not bus fare sized.

  8. The mobile app with a QR code that is scanned by the ticket machine works very quickly in Bristol - about 2 seconds per passenger.

  9. @Robbob
    Brighton & Hove started with a £1 flat fare in the central area. I can't remember if it was called Centrefare at the start, but that name has been in use for many years now.
    Subsequently, a flat fare was introduced in the rest of the city, together with a three-stop "short hop" fare. These are currently £2 short hop; £2.20 centrefare; and £2.60 "otherwise in the city" as it says in the B&H timetable book. Intriguingly, only the centrefare attracts a mobile discount (of 10p), but there is a much more substantial discount on the day ticket - £4.40 mobile, £5 cash.

    1. Centrefare started in 1993, the £1 flat fare in 2001.

  10. Cardiff's trolleybuses initially operated on a flat fare of one penny when introduced in 1942, but this was abandoned in the face of rising costs. Can't find the right book to reveal when though!

  11. I agree about people seeming to be surprised that they have to pay and rummaging around for cash - strangely enough they do that with cards too! Here things are a bit confusing as two operators with different fare structures run on near-identical routes, and passengers don't always notice which bus they're entering. Also one operator gives change while the other doesn't. I agree that scanning a QR code is very quick. I'm not so sure about contactless payment as this seems to take longer and quite often fails. Personally In favour the London system where no-one actually pays on the bus. This does need some infrastructure (ie shops or machines that sell tickets) however many folk will just download the ticket onto their phones (as a lot already do).

  12. The new TransPennine Express push-pull units have DRS class 68 traction, not class 67s.