Comparing prices with other cities is not fair
IT seems a little odd that Alan Peters, the managing director of aBus Limited, should offer such a spirited defence of a rival company ("Bristol fares are very good value" The Post February 22) following Daniel Farr's success in calling for a review First Bus's high fares.
If the competition – that we are supposed to believe will drive fares down and service standards up – was actually working surely he should be using this as an opportunity to advertise his own superior product.
Even so his argument deserves scrutiny. Quoting an article in the magazine Bus and Coach Professional he challenges Daniel Farr's claim that Bristol First fares are the most expensive outside London.
The article does this by comparing the £4 Bristol zone 1 and 2 anytime day ticket with "similar" tickets in Manchester and Glasgow (£4.50) Leeds (£4.60) and Sheffield (£5).
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The problem is that they aren't similar. The fares quoted are in fact for day tickets for the whole of Greater Manchester, Greater Glasgow, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire respectively. All those areas are bigger than Bristol's zones 1,2 and 3 for which an anytime day ticket costs a hefty £6.00.
These are only fares charged by First Bus operators. Others offer far better value for money. In the Greater Nottingham area, for example, day tickets cost a maximum of £3.40.
So it seems that Daniel Farr is, almost, right about day tickets. What he and Alan Peters have both overlooked, though, is that the cost of one day's bus travel throughout the Greater London area is capped at only £4.40 with an Oyster Card.
It's also disappointing that Mr Peters tries to push the blame for higher fares onto the concessionary fares scheme, painting an alarming and divisive picture of the fare-paying public being "forced" to "subsidise" free travel because the operators are compensated by the local authority at the rate of 91p for every concessionary single journey.
At first sight this may seem low, but it has to be understood that the repayment formula was never meant to be on the basis of the full commercial fare for each single journey and with good reason.
Its simple objective is that operators should be paid no more, nor less, than they would have received if the scheme hadn't existed. In short, it's not a subsidy. That means while the basis of the calculation is the number of single concessionary journeys made the reimbursement rate doesn't include the extra journeys that free travel generates, nor the full single fare cost for those that might have been paid for at the lower unit cost of return fares or travelcards. At the same time the operators are compensated for additional running and administrative costs arising from higher passenger numbers.
Getting the formula right can be difficult, especially as it's becoming increasingly hard to guess what the non-concessionary level of bus usage might have been. New government guidelines have led to complaints from operators that the level of repayment doesn't cover their costs. They may be right, or they may not, but what is clear is that they're in danger of developing an over-dependence on this easy source of income, as Mr Peters' letter demonstrates.
If, as he says, abus has reached the point it they can't cover running costs because up to 70 per cent of users are concessionary pass holders, it's disappointing that its preferred solution is to press for a higher reimbursement rate from public money rather than making some effort to attract more fare-paying passengers.
Nevertheless the First Bus fare review is a welcome initiative. In launching it Justin Davies, their regional managing director, said it was important to "heighten awareness about the industry and allow people to better understand the economics of running buses and the cost pressures we face." He was right. At the heart of this must be a willingness to be open and honest about different fare levels and operating costs, the positive and negative impact of concessionary fares and profit margins. Without this the whole exercise will be meaningless.