Thursday, 11 July 2013

How Much?

Senior contributor in 2012 Geordie Lad wonders about fares

How much is that doggie in the window?
The one with the waggly tail
How much is that doggie in the window?
I do hope that doggie is for sale

This, in a nutshell, describes quite neatly where we seem to be with bus fares, particularly where the passenger has a choice. First, note that the pet shop isn’t obliged to display the price of dogs. Presumably, the customer has looked through the shop window and has been presented with a choice, and has chosen, on this occasion, the one with the waggly tail. That is the customer’s preference.

Note that the customer doesn’t ask how much each dog is—just the one with the waggly tail. The customer’s mind is made up, based on the attractiveness of that particular doggie. The customer is only interested in the price of the doggie she wants.

Admittedly, this is a one-off purchase. We can safely assume that the customer is only going to buy the one dog (search for the rest of the lyrics and you’ll see she would have been a bit of a floozy if she was buying two or more!), so she isn’t going to expect a discount for more than one. Nor do we know if the retailer was prepared to offer a multiple purchase deal.

Nor yet do we have any market or cost information. We don’t know how much the retailer paid for the doggie, nor his margin. We don’t know if there are other pet shops in the vicinity.

I saw a discussion on an enthusiast forum recently. A route is served by three operators. Operator A runs two buses and hour; operator B runs four buses an hour; operator C runs fast trains. Operator B runs high-quality buses, operator A has lower quality buses. Operator A has the lowest fares; operator C has the advantage of shorter journey times. The original forum poster suggested that passengers with B and C were paying a premium, as if this should be a Bad Thing. But isn’t that the way pricing works in a free market?

And doesn’t that undermine the whole argument that says all bus fares should be the same (simple to understand) and be as cheap as possible? Aren’t customers prepared to pay for quality and service?

I am not in the slightest interested in the price (or, for that matter, the quality) of a bus between Barnstaple and Bideford, or Thurso and Wick. In reality, I’m interested in the cost (and quality) of my local bus fare and the price of a weekly and four weekly season. I do not need comprehensive pricing information. For comparison, I may be interested in the price of the equivalent train journey as we haven’t got bus competition where I live. Living by the Tyne, I have little sympathy for the people of Wearside, but that’s more of a birth/genetic thing than anything to do with bus fares, though I suspect that fares there might be cheaper than mine. Nevertheless, I don’t see empty buses here; I see reasonably loaded buses that are run commercially. On the other hand, I see overcrowded local trains that, despite their loadings, need huge amounts of subsidy—and these railways are considered to be a success!

Pricing (and ticketing information) is an emotive issue. Most operators tackle it in whatever way they feel best suits their market—if they didn’t they wouldn’t be in business for long.

Perhaps where we let ourselves down is in failing to communicate effectively with our local (and national) politicians that, actually, buses do a good job at prices that are affordable and that most people would agree provide value for money.

Geordie Lad—rant mode over.

32 comments:

Pete said...

The singer enquires about the price of the product; we are not told if she buys it.

As for the rest of the article, is it so unreasonable to want to know the fare before committing to making the journey by bus?

I am currently on holiday and the local Stagecoach buses have a sticker advertising a day ticket for 6.50, which is fine, but such practice is far from universal. But if we decide to save ourselves a mile-long walk in the blazing sun, how much will that be? 1.50 each, 2.50, who knows, ach well,we'll just walk

Funny how the article avoids the M for monopoly word.

Anonymous said...

The monopoly situation and the almost total lack of information on fares and tickets and availability has not changed, It is a black are trying to work out what ticket you need. Then you need to try to work out what services you can use it on. which is yet another black art and get it wrong and the bus company will threaten and fares you with penalty fares

You can tell from the wording of the article that he works in the industry and thinks the current situation is ok

Almost no other industry would be able to get away with it

Neil said...

"bus company will threaten and fares you with penalty fares"

Eh? One of the good aspects of "board at the front and show your ticket to the driver" is that you *can't* get caught out and end up being penalty fared, because the driver will confirm your ticket is valid before you board.

Neil

TE3011 said...

Anon @ 0816 - "no other industry would get away with it" What? Bus drivers are obliged to carry a fare chart, and to show it to an intending passenger.

Have you ever decided to change mobile phone or internet provider? As soon as you tell your current provider that you are leaving them they fall over themselves offering special deals, better prices, and so on. If you still say you wish to cancel, they refer you to their supervisor who will be able to offer an even better deal. The same with insurance.

And even when prices are on display how many people really look and compare? I want milk in the supermarket, I choose red, green or blue top. I consider my plans for the coming days and choose a small, medium or large bottle. The price? Not a clue! Nor do I look to see if the technology has scanned the item and charged me the correct amount.

So what should the bus operator do? Yes, some choose to advertise day tickets seasons and so on, at point of sale, but whole fare tables? The good old (some say) Routemaster had a case to display a fare table, under the stairs where the conductor often stood. How many ever looked at it? Did anyone, ever, step onto the platform, look up the fare, then decide against it and alight - by which time the bus would be speeding off down the road. And what if the bus works on numerous long routes during its day? Would the driver change the fares as (s)he changes the destination blinds?

Put all the fares on a website? OK, we've debated on here before whether IT solutions are inclusive or exclusive. It would, however, be interesting for an operator to show all their fares on their website and report back on the number of hits such pages get.

I know with rail you can look up fares, but that is more 'when do you wish to travel?' - here is the fare. Its not available in tabular form, so that you can see that if you travel on a Thursday after 10:00 you get a better fare.

Geordie Lad might work in the industry (who knows, and is it really relevant?), he's had a bigger dose of reality than some!

Anonymous said...

" I see overcrowded local trains that, despite their loadings, need huge amounts of subsidy"

Ah. The "s" word again.
It is interesting that we can use subsidy as descriptive for rail, but when used of bus the response suggests that BSOG/Over 60s reimbursement etc is not subsidy, thus avoiding answering the point. It may not be subsidy, but it is public money that affects the economics of a private business, which people are generally suspicious of. It is not dissimilar to the debate about private in the NHS, prisons etc.
Like it or not, public transport is regarded as a public (=not for profit) service and the industry will always have to fight that perception.

British Electric Traction said...

"I want milk in the supermarket, I choose red, green or blue top. I consider my plans for the coming days and choose a small, medium or large bottle. The price? Not a clue! Nor do I look to see if the technology has scanned the item and charged me the correct amount. "

The difference is that probably at least 98%, if not more, of goods in a supermarket have the price clearly displayed. You can make an informed choice before making a purchase.

In the majority of cases, it's impossible to find out how much bus travel costs as the prices are hardly ever advertised. That puts people off; it even puts me off and I work in the blooming industry! How can I decided whether to purchase or not when I don't know how much it costs. I also can't pay by debit or credit card, so I need to know how much cash will be required to make the journey.

It can't be that hard to put fares information, even if it was just sample fares or the maximum amount I shall be charged, in a timetable case or in a leaflet. Better still put the whole thing on a website (see Trent or Southern Vectis) - it's not that hard people!

How can you sell the product, when the customer has no idea what it costs?!?!

trainbasher said...

My local operator, NXWM, publish their single fares on their website, and also on the bus too on stickers by the cab and door.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 09:16

Over 60s reimbursement is exactly that: A reimbursement. Of a fare. If anything a subsidy to the passenger, not the operator.

A PAYG mobile phone generally has higher call charges than contract phones, most people accept that when they choose to purchase.

For me personally, the decision to use the bus is premeditated before it turns up. I've know idea of the fare, but have the safety net of knowing that my return fare (I rarely make single journies) will be the maximum of the price of a day ticket.

Anonymous said...

A 'monopoly' isn't necessarily a bad thing per se. Would the good people of Preston, for example, rather have the flexiblity & value of 1 operator, or the cost and fragmentedness of 2?

Chris

Anonymous said...

Here's another thing - if you have two operators competing on mostly the same service and the fare on one is cheaper than the other by around 10p or 20p, does that make the customer wait for the cheaper bus? The answer tends to be no, the customer will get on the first bus that comes along unless the fare difference is substantial (i.e. by 50p upwards).

I have to say that the London system of only having a straight pay-on-the-bus single fare is quite appealing and does attract occasional users who pay (who don't have an Oyster card) by the simplicity of the fare - they know exactly how much it will cost them.

Monopoly situations are not actually as bad as they are painted unless the operator is First. In most cases because there is no competition (and no pressure on costs) the monopoly operator can keep fares low AND provide a good service. First on the other hand love to hike fares up to the extreme almost forcing customers (and prospective customers) away from their buses and when a competitor comes along and offers a just as good or better service for a cheaper price, people come flocking to the other operator - something that First still haven't learned.



Anonymous said...

Since the new management style approach with First has been intoduced can you tell me where first have hiked up fares way beyond inflation ?

Anonymous said...

TE3011 said...
"What? Bus drivers are obliged to carry a fare chart, and to show it to an intending passenger."

At my employer we've checked the legal aspect of this all the way to the top - ETM (ticket machine) look-up is fine, no need for paper tables these days, and rule only applies to the route being operated at the time, not the network.

Anonymous said...

Interesting the comment regarding First above, in my local area we have both First and Stagecoach. Where the two come head to head Stagecoach tries (but doesn't always succeed) to stay 5-10p cheaper however as soon as you cross into an area where Stagecoach are the only operator fares rocket. First on the other hand increase their fares proportionally by distance travelled. I can travel far farther with £5 on First than I can on Stagecoach.

Stevie D said...

I'm not quite sure I've got the point of this rant here.

“I am not in the slightest interested in the price (or, for that matter, the quality) of a bus between Barnstaple and Bideford, or Thurso and Wick.”

So what? I'm not interested in the times of buses between Walsall and Wolverhampton but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be readily available to anyone who does want them!

Yes, a lot of customers want to be able to find out the price of a ticket before they travel – particularly if they don't regularly use the bus, or rather that bus company, given that fares can vary significantly between operators.

I run a website that gives route and timetable information across the local area. Despite that fact that it quite clearly states in several places that unless it's given on the timetable, I don't have information on fares, I still regularly get people asking what the fares are. I'm sure that there will be plenty of people who would have asked but read and noted the warnings that I wouldn't be able to help.

Sometimes it's down to people making sure they have enough change.
Sometimes it's down to assessing the best way to make a journey, or if they are going to make it at all.
Sometimes it's because people genuinely have no idea if they're looking at a £2.50 fare or a £12.50 fare.

For the most part, timetables change more frequently than fare tables, and are far more complicated than fare tables. Yet operators have no problems posting these online in their entirety. So why not do the same for fare tables? Or at the very least publish a summary of fares between key points? Coastliner do just that, and while it could benefit from a little more visual clarity, it's a pretty easy-to-follow guide to fares that will cover the vast majority of journeys, and at least give you upper/lower bounds for others.

Yes, post it online. That helps people who have internet access, who these days are a clear majority, and it doesn't harm anyone else – they can still phone up or do whatever they do to check timetables if they want to know the fares as well. I suspect that a high proportion of people without internet access are those who won't be paying for their journey anyway, so it's a moot point for them how much it costs!

Anonymous said...

Yellow Buses in Bournemouth offer on-line access to fares. Quite excellent. Would be interesting to learn how many hits the fares lookup page generates. How challenging can it be? The bus people I speak with (ops and LA bods) show a complete lack of support for such modern things: too difficult, how to keep it updated, etc etc. Rail industry manage of course.

RC169 said...

Anonymous said...

"Rail industry manage of course."

Since they sell tickets online, they're sort of obliged to have the fares available online!

A quick search on Google shows that some operators do also sell bus tickets online, although these are, understandably, multi-journey or season tickets.

Anonymous said...

I think operators generally don't realise how savvy their customers are about the price of bus travel. One issue highlighted in the local press has the difference in fares charged by the same bus operator, driven by the same drivers using the same vehicles from the same depot. Both routes are commercially-operated but only one of the two routes has any competition. The result? 'bargain' fares over a far greater distance where there's competition but appallingly high fares over a shorter distance where the bus company has things to itself.
This is the result of market forces and an acknowledgment that the route without competition has to bear the heaviest contribution to overheads, but inevitably you can understand why accusations of ripping-off the public are being made by those who happen not to reside on the 'right' route.
Not everyone wins with deregulation.....

Eric said...

Aha fares.

Suppose the person buying the doggy thought it was too expensive. They'd say so. How many passengers have decided not to travel once they've discovered the cost of a fare? Very few indeed, from my experience anyway.

How embarrassing would it be for a punter to attract the attention of a driver only to decline a fare request on the grounds of it being more than that person deems worth paying? Very, of course. Hence why single and return fares are usually high compared with daily tickets as operators know the vast majority of people will pay virtually anything once the bus pulls into a stop to pick them up.

Why do most operators have return (even single tickets on long trips) that cost more than an all-day ticket if it isn't to catch people out for an extra few bob? Why not just set ticket machines to issue the best value ticket (can't be that hard, surely)?

How can an operator sell a single ticket for a 3 mile journey for £3.60 yet offer all day, unlimited travel for £5? Who does that turn away from using buses? Those using buses for one off journeys over short distances, the demographic the industry says it targets. Jack Cohen had the right motto - "Stack them high, sell them cheap".

Sod the idea of premium service. What about normal service vs some crappy operation using step entry C-reg Mercedes? For premium I'd expect a very high puncuality rate (90% bare minimum, not the 5 minute nonsense, so no tight schedules to save as much PVR as possible), spotless vehicles that are at a comfortable temperature (ie not the first bus in the morning that takes an hour to get slighly cool in winter).

Also, how come there's plus bus, where train users can use local bus travel at a knockdown price, but if you enter an area by bus and then try and use another operator (where multi operator tickets don't exist) then bus travel suddenly becomes less financially attractive.

plcd1 said...

Interesting debate. Geordie Lad may not care about bus fares in far flung places but does he have a clue how much a single fare is from Sunderland Town Centre to Grangetown or Seaburn or Grindon or Washington New Town? Now he might know if he's done those journeys but he'd struggle to find out from the Stagecoach, Go North East or Nexus websites. No single fare info the last time I looked. I refuse to believe that people would not find it genuinely helpful to have such info available on the internet. It's a disgrace really.

I take RC169's point about TOCs selling rail tickets over the internet which rather requires the fares info to be available. However I can sit at home and type in any domestic rail journey and get the full range of fares from privately provided and industry provided websites. Now the range of fares and restrictions may be a bewildering mess but at least it is there for me to see without clogging up ticket office counters or travel centres.

Internet retailing is, of course, coming to the bus industry albeit slowly. As PTE area and group wide Smartcard products emerge and integration between rail and bus develops then it will become necessary for more fares info to be available - especially if we get to a PAYG type product being available, say, on all Go Ahead services in the UK or all Stagecoach services. If the operators want to get cash off bus (I assume they do) then allowing people to make informed decisions about PAYG top ups or Day Ticket caps will be essential. If Metrobus, Southdown PSV and Norfolk Green can provide excellent fares information on their websites then frankly there is no excuse for all operators not to do the same.

It is just not acceptable for a supposedly "customer focused" private sector industry to have such a poor stance on something as fundamental as the price it charges its customers for the products it offers. If there was such a thing as an industry regulator (OfBUS?) I would expect they would have taken the industry to task by now on something as fundamental as fares transparency for customers. Time to grow up bus industry and get your act together!

essayer said...

"Why do most operators have return (even single tickets on long trips) that cost more than an all-day ticket if it isn't to catch people out for an extra few bob? Why not just set ticket machines to issue the best value ticket (can't be that hard, surely)?"

Because with even the most modern ticket machines, with all the other complex programming that goes into them, yes it sometimes IS that hard...

In my area, for example, with a plethora of local authority and other fare areas (based on various and overlapping weekly/monthly/plusbus etc ticket zones) I'm assured that the over-ride of a calculated return by the appropriate area day-ticket rate simply can't be done....

Sorry!

Anonymous said...

The system with fares and tickets is just crazy and unacceptable. It is a complete black art, It is not unusual for different drivers to charge different fares for the same journey. Then you have flat fares many do not advertise the service is a flat fare and certainly do not state the fare but somehow the3 customer is expecting to know what the fare is and have the right change

The same journey can cost you different fares at different times of the day and as for weekly and area tickets prepare to be totally confused as even the bus company that issues them rarely can explain their availability and the area and services they can be used on

Bus fares make the Energy bills look simple

Anonymous said...

I do not have a problem with a plethora of ticketing options. It is how it is communicated to customers which is the problem.

If operators used a 'road map' style guide so customers can work out themselves the best option then this would help new users.

At the minute most operators have a website with fare options on different pages, meaning you have to switch from one to the other to compare.

If you are a savvy bus user, or in the industry, like i imagine most people reading this page are then its not needed. However it does not attract new users as the fares appear complicated when in fact with a little bit of help from the operator, fares are very simple to work out.

I cannot think of any reason why an operator does not publish fares on a website. Granted they may use the excuse that it is 'commercialy sensative',however this is falwed as nothing stops somebody posing to be a customer asking for fares when they are in fact a competitor.

We are moving to a more open data society and bus operators should follow this example.


Anonymous said...

But how much was the bloody dog!

Anonymous said...

I see Mr Glum's on form today!

- "It is not unusual for different drivers to charge different fares for the same journey"

- "many do not advertise the service is a flat fare"

- "The same journey can cost you different fares at different times of the day"

That last one is particularly good! :-)

That said, the comparsion between bus fares and energy tariffs is rather inspired.... to the industry's shame.

I also agree that too many operators do not make it blindingly clear exactly what the validity is for day tickets - this needs to be in map form, not vague boundaries which locals may recognise but does nothing to inspire any confdidence in visitors.

As for fares being above the price of a day ticket (mentioned by other posters), I have not experienced that myself but if I did, I would be livid. Wouldn't everyone?

Anonymous said...

There is one (nameless) major conurbation where it is cheaper to buy an off-peak train ticket between two suburban stations and a PlusBus ticket and it still works out cheaper than the major operator's day ticket for almost the same network coverage!

I'm obviously not going to divulge where this is as I've benefitted from it in the past and long may it continue!!

James said...

RC169 @2209: Yes, the train operators do put fares up online.

Trouble is, the best deals require buying two tickets for one journey - so you don't buy a ticket from Cheltenham to Brum New Street, you buy one from Cheltenham to Bromsgrove, and a second from there to New Street... and nobody is going to divulge that information willingly.

Stevie D said...

@Eric
“Why do most operators have return (even single tickets on long trips) that cost more than an all-day ticket if it isn't to catch people out for an extra few bob? Why not just set ticket machines to issue the best value ticket (can't be that hard, surely)?”

I've not heard of any operators doing that – all the ones that I've come across have the maximum fare capped at no more than the all-day ticket. Any who don't are either charlatans or stupid, and I wouldn't like to say one way or the other.

From the point of view of maximising ENCTS revenue, operators would do better to cap the maximum return fare below the all-day ticket, and then they will sell a lot more return fares and fewer all-day tickets, which improves their rebate rate.

“How can an operator sell a single ticket for a 3 mile journey for £3.60 yet offer all day, unlimited travel for £5? Who does that turn away from using buses? Those using buses for one off journeys over short distances, the demographic the industry says it targets. Jack Cohen had the right motto - "Stack them high, sell them cheap".”

It's no different from train operators who charge £6.50 for a single and £6.60 for a return...

To take as an example, my commute – a return (or all-day) ticket costs £5.40, and that covers a route of about 27km each way, giving a rate of 10p/km. So how much would you charge a short hop? A 1km journey at that rate would be just 10p, which is clearly too little to be sensible.

Operators don't necessarily want to encourage a lot of short-distance passengers – for one thing, it can lead to over-riding – for another, it tends to lead to more extreme overcrowding around key centres along the route, which isn't good for anyone and is disproportionately expensive to provide for.

Don't forget that two of the most lauded networks are London and Edinburgh, that have a completely flat-rate fare for single journeys – sure, they do charge a higher multiple for day tickets, but the principle is similar, that the fare is the same whether you're travelling from one side of the city right out to the other (both cities have routes of over 30km) or just a short hop of a couple of stops.

There is no ideal pricing model. Why not just be grateful that you can travel wherever you want for a reasonable price?

Eric said...

Stevie D - Charging more than the cost of an all day ticket does happen. Frequently in South Wales. First Cymru do it regularly with the cost of their returns. Stagecoach have some long routes where singles are more expensive and you end up with their day explorer tickets on one particular route being left on the floor like confetti because they're cheaper. It's madness but it goes on.

Point noted about the 10p difference in fares on a train, but it still doesn't make it right. Moreover there's a big difference between unlimited travel and a return ticket.

Perhaps it's a South Wales thing but due to the populations along most routes, extreme overcrowding is unlikely even if you charged 10p. Yes, cities and the like may have this problem. But charging £3.60 for a return between two villages a mile apart is not going to bring any hint of growth, but will piss off passengers who believe such fares are too expensive.

First Cymru had a big campaign a couple of years ago where it targetted people who were making short journeys. My belief is the campaign failed (which it did) because of their high cost of short journeys. Stagecoach tend to charge much less for shorter journeys and seem to enjoy better patronage.

I agree about the flat fare system, where punters know what a journey will cost, which goes against Geordie Lad's initial post.

As for being grateful for being able to travel wherever I want for a reasonable price, my most regular journey would cost me £12.30 return for a 40 mile round trip because I have to use two different operators who have no interest in accepting each other's tickets. I've driven the same distance for a similar cost in fuel and it takes me an hour less, yet I still use the bus. Reasonable? Only if I do it regularly.

Here's one for you - First in Bridgend charge £4.20 for a return journey that is 4 miles in total. With no reasonable weekly ticket option, someone travelling that 5 days a week would spend £21 (the same price as their weekly). Is £21 for 20 miles reasonable? Not in the slightest, especially when there are no car parking charges to consider. Thankfully Stagecoach seem much more savvy in South Wales.

Anonymous said...

"How embarrassing would it be for a punter to attract the attention of a driver only to decline a fare request on the grounds of it being more than that person deems worth paying? Very, of course. Hence why single and return fares are usually high compared with daily tickets as operators know the vast majority of people will pay virtually anything once the bus pulls into a stop to pick them up."

You've never seen a family board a Southern Vectis bus in the summer then!

Venturer said...

As we've mentioned Southern Vectis, I boarded one of their buses last weekend, and a son and his mother had walked from Yarmouth to Freshwater Bay but wanted to use the bus to return. There's a half hourly service - but it's the Needles tour, there's no 'normal service' on this route. Hence £10 for the son and £5 for his concessionary pass holding mother.

The driver was embarrassed asking for this and to his credit was trying to do them a deal as I was ushered upstairs out of earshot with my Rover . . .

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Anonymous said...

"The same journey can cost you different fares at different times of the day "

What, in the same way that a peak hour journey on the train can cost you twice as much (or even more!) than a journey that is a few minutes after the peak has finished . . . I don't know of any bus operators who would dare to sting their regular bread and butter passengers in such a blatant way just because they have the temeraity to want to get to work before (say) 9am . . .