A lot has been said recently about how the Government plans to fund bus operators to provide a ‘maximum single fare of £2.00’ for three months next year, in order to support the bus industry and get more passengers back onto buses.
While I welcome any kind of publicity or promotion that gets people using buses again, I don’t think this scheme would really work out, certainly not here in the West Midlands.
Whilst it is true that bus fares do vary wildly across the country – especially in ‘less-urban’ areas where bus fares can be quite complicated to work out being based on distance travelled – it does have to be said that outside of London, I think that bus fares within the West Midlands are amongst the cheapest, and simplest to understand, compared to other regions around the UK.
With most bus fares here having been ‘frozen’ for the last few years already, the ‘maximum adult single’ fare is still £2.40 (some operators in Coventry only charge £2.20 – at time of writing).
Some operators, including Diamond and NX Bus, already offer a ‘short-hop’ fare at a reduced £1.50, for those making shorter journeys.
Who buys a single ticket?
For whatever reason, clearly it is the case that there are people out there who will choose to use a bus to make a single journey to somewhere.
But realistically, and applying some common-sense, in the majority of cases, if someone is going to travel by bus to somewhere, logically they would also then use the bus to get back, certainly if that journey was within the same day.
Aha, the day ticket!
Day tickets have been available in the West Midlands for as long as I can remember, and certainly in more recent years if your journey involves more than one bus service, it has always been more economical to buy a day ticket, rather than single tickets for each part of your journey.
The NX Regional Daysaver costs £4.00 and allows unlimited travel for one day on any NX West Midlands/Coventry bus.
There is of course the TfWM 1day nBus ticket for £4.20 which allows unlimited travel for one day on all operators within the TfWM bounded region.
Other operators may also have their own day tickets for unlimited travel on their own buses.
Here in the West Midlands, there are very few options in the way of ‘return’ tickets, and this is because they are mostly pointless, due to the prevalence of day tickets that offer much better value for money already.
So who benefits from a £2 single fare cap?
Here in the West Midlands, probably not that many people.
If you’re travelling to a rail station to catch a train, and won’t be making a return journey back for a couple of days, presuming you also then catch a bus to get back home, that’s a princely saving of 80p.
If you’re travelling to a meeting or conference, and have been promised a lift back home afterwards in the evening, that’s a grand 40p saving.
For the occasional bus traveller, considering the big deal being made about the ‘cost of living crisis’, I don’t think the odd 40p saving is going to make any huge inroads.
Regular bus passengers who take advantage of day tickets, as well as weekly/monthly season tickets, are already getting the best value that they can hope for here in the West Midlands (in my opinion).
Who loses out then?
Maybe it’s the smaller independent operators.
Despite the recent fuel price increases, and the general ‘cost of energy crisis’, about the only thing that hasn’t increased in price lately here in the West Midlands is the price of bus fares/tickets.
The ‘bigger’ bus operating groups across the country, that are financially backed by hedge-fund investors, can probably afford to ‘absorb’ increased operating costs, and no doubt will also be in receipt of ‘funding’ from central government, in order to subsidise this ‘fare cap’ at £2.
Even with government subsidy, could many smaller independent operators – especially those running in less densely populated areas – survive with reduced ticket revenue? On top of increased operating costs due to fuel and energy price increases?
Already this year, in the West Midlands, we’ve lost Claribels, Johnsons, Discount Travel Solutions and most recently Thandi Buses.
Other independent operators may already be looking over their shoulders…