To cap it all … a £2 limit

Sunday 3rd July 2022

Speculation is growing of an imminent announcement of a £2 cap on all bus fares throughout England to apply for six months from October as part of Government plans to help with the cost of living.

Such a plan has already been announced by West Yorkshire Combined Authority Mayor Tracey Brabin from September as part of an agreed plan with bus operators under their Enhanced Partnership arrangements and last week Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, not wanting to be left behind, also jumped on the £2 bandwagon by announcing he was bringing forward a similar plan he’d had for next year under the franchising proposals to also commence in September, assuming a reimbursement deal can be agreed with operators.

Now it seems Johnson and Shapps have seen the potential for eye catching positive headlines from an initiative of this kind throughout England so expect a conveniently timed diversionary announcement with the usual flourish (incorporating a visit to a bus garage with high-vis wearing poses for the assembled photographers) just as soon as the next Tory sex scandal breaks in a few weeks..

If the experience of delays in finalising detailed arrangements for the payment of Government funds for Covid Bus Service Support and Bus Recovery Grant are anything to go by, operators are going to have to show another huge dollop of goodwill that promised reimbursement arrangements will be paid as agreed to offset the loss of income, not least for those operators which choose to participate in the scheme and have many long distance journeys with fares well above £2.

Passengers won’t be concerned at details of any back office reimbursement arrangements; they’ll just be pleased buses have been thought of instead of the usual “hard pressed motorists” getting all the attention with a decade’s (plus) worth of frozen fuel duty and the more recent 5p per litre cut. Expect another fuel duty cut in the forthcoming announcement to really grab the headlines as I understand these plans are nothing to do with being serious about modal shift to tackle climate change, net zero, air quality and traffic congestion but everything to do with news headline manipulation to show the cost of living is being tackled.

Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth a properly (assuming it will be) funded temporary reduction in bus fares is to be welcomed as not only stimulating the market for bus travel but raising its profile as a mode really taken seriously by senior politicians – especially as Johnson’s public backing for buses previously has come across as a “bit of a laugh” (making model buses from wine crates and all that) and Shapps has vehemently denied he’s in favour of modal shift, only being interested in rolling out increased sales of more electric powered cars rather than traffic reduction.

I hope it will be possible to market the deal as a £2 “flat” fare as while this may deter short riders who may currently pay less, the simplicity of a one fare system offers huge potential for marketing as I found twenty years ago.

Just imagine if every operator does feel able to join the scheme and tells Global what it can do with its third party commercial advertising business during the six month period such that every bus in the country displays eye catching promotional messages about the £2 flat fare.

It’d be like Brighton in the years 2000 to 2002 all over again with high profile positive coverage in the media for bus travel promoting its simplicity and great value as illustrated throughout this blog.

However, there are notes of caution to express. Firstly it’s essential reimbursement arrangements are crystal clear so operators know where they stand before embarking on this. There’s history with the DfT and concessionary fares with incessant arguments over generation factors and we don’t want the same with this scheme.

Secondly operators need to work out what they’re going to do with daily and weekly (and longer duration) tickets or weekly cap levels so as not to render the £2 fare academic for existing regular passengers.

Thirdly the end game needs thinking through. I doubt the cost of living crisis is going to be over by next March when it’s said this scheme will end, so what plans are there to transition out of it? The Government took the PR hit when it came to withdrawing the £20 per week Universal Credit supplement during lockdown and bus companies need to be sure they’re not set up to be the fool guys when fares are hiked back up when this scheme ends.

Fourthly a strategy for dealing with the inevitable complaints pointing out bus routes have been curtailed or even withdrawn so what’s the point of a £2 fare offer?

Fifthly operators are going to be burdened with yet more form filling for the DfT in what is increasingly becoming spreadsheet overload. This scheme requires details of sales for each category of ticket (adult, child, single, return, daily, weekly, monthly etc) as well as yields for each type and revenue through the farebox including splitting the data for tickets under £2 and those over. And all of that for each four week period from April to June as well as forecasts for each period between October and March when the scheme is planned. It’s a lot of work for hard pressed managers already dealing with the pressures of dealing with failing targets for passengers and revenue.

Sixthly, there’s a real danger this scheme could undermine the previous comfortable assumption that running buses is a cash generative business with no fear of running out of cash to pay the wages on payday. However, with more and more funding coming from local authorities and particularly the DfT in arrears, and in some cases paid months and months later – one operator told me they’d been waiting a year for their BRG to be paid – there’s a real risk some operators without healthy bank balances could go under with the Government their largest debtor.

And finally I hear this is not new money gifted by the Treasury but is coming from the DfT’s existing budget. If that’s the case, is it really a wise move just at this time when Covid support payments through the Bus Recovery Grant are shortly to end? I’d have thought it better to keep BRG going for another six months with a major effort (and I mean major) to really promote bus travel – bespoke to each local network and tailored to local circumstances rather than the wishy washy slogans of Stagecoach’s current campaign.

With the £1 billion awarded to 31 lucky local authorities for their Bus Service Improvement Plans (propping up existing routes is not allowed), more DfT money going to this £2 fare initiative and the continued financial support for developing no hope DRT schemes it’s a postcode lottery like never before for passengers when it comes to whether their bus route will prosper or be summarily withdrawn this autumn.

Roger French

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53 thoughts on “To cap it all … a £2 limit

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  1. And, to think that Thatcher labelled Sheffield and London “loony lefties” and forced an increase in bus fares.

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  2. You’ve also got to wonder how buses will cope on some routes, especially longer journeys. A £2 fare will be very attractive for people traveling more than about 10 miles as it starts to become cheaper than driving, and that could draw in a lot more passengers … but will buses have the capacity to accommodate them? No operator will want to make investment in additional buses or staffing (if they can even find the staff) to increase capacity based on a 6-month time-limited promotion.

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  3. Whilst obviously a political “wheeze” thought out by those who have never stepped on a bus in their lives, it could have some merit, certainly if confined to urban areas. If nationwide, routes will soon be smartly shortened and the benefits lost overnight. Bus fares generally for those using them on a daily basis, are quite reasonable in most cases, with weekly and monthly tickets available or fare “caps” in place equivalent to a daily ticket. And most importantly, it could actually see a speeding up of services. I have arranged mortgages more quickly than some people take to make a fare transaction, and this could help iron that out. There are very few fares under £2 these days anyway, so a majority could see an advantage.

    But, as shown in London with the supposedly quick Oyster/Bank card payment system, some people will still be glued to their precious phone after boarding the bus and delay all and sundry whilst hunting for the correct app (or continuing their call as seen last week!) or placing the wrong card on the reader as also seen frequently.

    It does have some merit in attracting additional passengers, but all benefits will vanish overnight when the perk is withdrawn in six months time. Perhaps Mayor Khan may use it as an excuse to “level-up” London fares to match!

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  4. It’s an intriguing idea . . . and might just kick-start bus travel again . . . but the idea of all the form-filling required by the DfT frightens me. BRG claims have become more and more complex as the support carried on . . . at the beginning, the original claim process was relatively clear-cut, and the actual money came reasonably quickly.

    Here’s an alternative . . . all fares reduced by 50%, including singles and returns, including period passes and seasons; including all multi-operator tickets . . . simple to advertise; no messy calculations, no concerns about longer-distance fares being over-reduced.
    Operators submit a claim every 4 weeks, based on the 4 weeks of 4 September to 1 October as a comparitor (if necessary, use the 12 weeks 10 July to 1 October as the comparitor . . . that includes the holidays as well as the school terms, and rules out any bias). Reimbursement to be made 2 weeks after the claim is submitted.

    It ought to be possible to separate the revenue out into routes, thereby giving some valuable information about passenger numbers, and would inform any further service planning work. It would also show, pretty easily, whether the initiative is working . . . high support at the beginning, reducing week-on-week as the initiative continues.

    That might mean some difficultiies for some operators (effectively half-income for 6 weeks, which might hamper cash-flow . . . I don’t know how to resolve that one).

    Just a thought . . . and DfT can have it for free . . . no consultants were used !!!

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  5. A £2 flat fare will live or die on the basis of how the operators are going to be reimbursed, especially on rural routes, or rural to town routes etc. Urban routes won’t be so badly effected.

    There are many more rural routes with fares up to twice that price who depend on say £4 or more fares to make the service pay at all, since they’re really only carrying paying passengers in the mornings and evenings with most of the middle of the day trade being concessionary users whose travel is essentially being subsidised to a large degree by the fare payers who are commuting and perhaps students in the same time as well depending on the route.

    It’s no use cutting everyone’s fares if the end result is that it means there actually is either less frequent buses or no buses at all because the resulting drop in income means that the service is no longer sustainable at the previous frequency or at all because of the reduction in income.

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  6. I would have thought say 50% of the fares would be more sensible

    One thought is whilst the government will cover the cost of this will they also be covering the lost revenues from the Concessionary passes ?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I suspect it may start in October when the Corvid funding stops. Mind you by then a lot of routes will have been cut back or axed

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  8. If it’s like concessionary travel reimbursement the DfT will devise a complicated formula to ensure operators are no better or worse off. Whilst as a lay person I can understand the latter, surely preventing private businesses from being better off removes the primary objective of a business. So simply base the £2 fare reimbursement on the previous fare (at a specified date) that would have applied. If the operator sells more £2 fares and generates more revenue that is a good thing as it incentivises the operator to publicise the scheme. If that generates modal switch that is a good thing for government as it actually achieves its stated aims in numerous policy objectives.

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  9. If the £2 maximum fare generates passengers exactly how will many operators carry them?
    Lots of operators cancelling large numbers of journeys each day due to driver shortage, and many operators still on some reduced timetables.
    New “generated” passengers won’t want to try travelling by bus again if they have to wait 90 minutes for a bus when they should run every thirty minutes.

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  10. £2 will be popular on that Leeds to Scarborough/Whitby one, transdev’s Yorkshire bum numbing coastliner 840/843 etc!

    The normal end to end single fare is…. £15 to Scarborough or £16 to Whitby!

    (….But, amusingly, they appear to ALREADY have a bargain to beat that one, the “go anywhere for just £1 after 7pm” fare, which you could use on the one last bus from Scarborough back to Leeds (in that direction only) which does depart after 7pm!)

    Seriously though, could they cope with the numbers it could attract, for say LeedsYork at just £2, or is it all just ENCTS twirlies who already don’t pay anyway?

    Can anyone think of any other “normal” bus trip with a usually astronomic single fare that might become a £2 bargain?

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  11. As with many of these initiatives, the devil will be in the detail. An eye catching media soundbite is great to seemingly show that the government is doing “something”. The positive aspect, as RF states, is that at least it perhaps shows the government is at least interested in buses as a means of transport.

    The concern is whether we have another ENCTS – an outwardly positive move that got passengers back on buses by effectively subsiding the person (but not the operator). Sadly, as time has gone on, the means of providing that subsidy has transferred from the government to the local authority, the operator and indeed, to the remaining fare paying passengers. The real fear is that we will have the law of unintended consequences; that insufficient remuneration will again see the profitable services expected to prop up weaker ones when, in reality, we will see another round of cuts.

    And yes, Greenline 727 is right to point out that the other real challenge will be fighting through the DfT’s labyrinthine means of claiming the funds and getting it actually paid. The irony is that for many a government tender, there is an expectation that a prime contractor will pay its suppliers on 30 days terms whereas the government is frankly appalling at paying its own bills!

    Two call backs to yesterday’s blog. There was mention of “vertical integration” – well, that’s not genuinely occurred in the last 40 years (arguably with the Leyland National having NBC influence and more accurately with BMMO building their own vehicles or Fishwicks with their Fowler bodies).

    Also, whilst I share Roger’s concerns about over-centralisation and others in questioning the approach of Janette Bell, Petras409 hit the nail on the head. The problem with First under Moir Lockhead was that good managers simply weren’t allowed to innovate or manage locally – it was centrally issued diktat that was the biggest issue; that and a centrally imposed demand on individual route performance (as further perpetrated by Arriva to horrific damage). That is the perhaps the greater threat – if it means that local managers HAVE to do more as they have 6 not 10 bigger bosses, than that might be ok – they will have greater autonomy. However, if it means that they are simply going to be local executioners (in more ways than one) of a national strategy, that would be truly saddening and regressive. I might add that no one could accuse Moir Lockhead of not knowing the industry – in fact, I think he was also an NBC management trainee?

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  12. Wow, Yorkshire Coastliner will see some massive losses with those fares if the government don’t cough up lol

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  13. The big problem the bus industry faces is the inability to attract more customers.in fact it cannot even retain its existing customer base Most of England has little more then a Skelton service with no Sunday or Evening services at all and now even Saturday services are being axed . The big question at present is what will happen in October. Many route still have a reduced Covid service and unscheduled cuts to services are high as well

    Without more funding there will be at least a 10% cut in services and that 10% cut in service mat loose them 15% of the passengers

    I guess there is the possibility of the £2 fare but that will not make much difference when 80% or more of the passengers are concessionary pass holders

    It may attract a few shoppers but not much else and that will make no significant difference to passenger numbers

    Something should be heard this month as the LTA’s have to report to the Government as to how they will maintain services post Covid Funding but it appears there will be no more fund

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  14. A diversionary opportunity for a photo session with Boris in hi vis gear posing with a bus “when the next sex scandal happens” – well, we have one at the moment which is attracting a lot of unfavourable press coverage. Unless you know in advance when the next one will occur……….🤫

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Some background information on bus cuts March 2019 – March 2020

    London -2%
    North East -11%
    North West -17%
    South West -17%
    West Midlands -19%
    Yorkshire & Humberside -21%
    East Midlands -23%
    South EAst -24%
    East of England -30%

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  16. Bus passengers down 31%

    Current bus passenger journeys are still below pre-pandemic figures, down 31% compared to pre-Covid numbers.

    According to the Government’s latest bus statistics that cover the period of January to March 2022, the number of local bus passenger journeys in England was 2.91 billion in the year ending March 2022. This represents an 85% increase when compared with a year previous, which will be affected by differences in restrictions due to the pandemic.

    The current figures are still well below (31% lower) pre-Covid levels in which there were 4.22 billion passenger journeys in England in the year to December 2019. The lower levels were broadly consistent across different areas, with current bus passenger journeys 32% lower in England outside London, 33% lower in metropolitan areas and 31 lower in London and non-metropolitan areas.

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  17. Except these figures mask some significant regional differences: England non-Metropolitan areas +106% and England outside London +96% from 2021. It seems Metropolitan areas are dragging the figures down to +85% ‘nationally’.

    In Hertfordshire, it’s felt that passenger journeys are are around 80% of pre-Covid levels which feels about right. Even here, some routes with a high level concessionary pass use are on 60-70% and other routes are doing better than pre-Covid so quite a complex picture on a micro level.

    Back to the topic, if the £2 fare comes to pass how it will change LA’s BSIP proposals is anyone’s guess..!

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    1. I don’t know, but from observation I too think the headlines mask significant local differences. I too think local Home Counties patronage has recovered better than expected, towards a low base. But I suspect it’s near a plateau. £2 fares notwithstanding. We seem to have reduced all our discretionary travel, by up to a third. A more efficient use of our time, irrespective of Government policy.
      The exception, I think, is tourist services, but are holidaymakers in need of support?
      Those people who need buses are using them already. Is increasing bus use a priority for them, in competition to food on the table or heating their homes?
      Of course it’s different for enthusuasts

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    1. The changes to ECC contracted services are due to commence on the 1st of August. So far nothing has to my knowledge been published to date. On the ECC Web site it say they will be published on the July Bus Passenger News but that’s not been published yet

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      1. First, at least, seem to give us a couple of weeks notice, if we notice!

        If I recall correctly ECC published draft timetables for a couple of weeks in Feb, during their on-line public consultation!

        I’m probably off with the fairies but is there any significance in their latest on line zone map, which now extends throughout Tendring (where they’ve withdrawn) and to the Essex, Cambs and Suffolk borders, and includes Harlow) . At least they wouldn’t want to risk messing with HCC or the Cambs Mayor, who’d cramp their style. (At least, if they had any)!

        Rather like First, not least of First Essex’s problems is too little territory to give them much flexibility.

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      2. Just realised I failed to mention the new First Essex zonal map extends to the Herts border too, including Harlow’s country services, barring the724 which could run from Ware as has regularly been proposed; and the barren countryside in SE Essex.

        I really hope I’m wrong. What on earth would be the point. Don’t they have enough problems, and too few resources already?

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      3. It looks like the tendered Stansted/Saffron Walden/Bishops Stortford services may be passing to the renamed Central Connect, who I think have a new local depot at Little Hallingbury. It seems as though they (ex-TrustyBus) may have been getting their act together over the last couple of years, with I think some HCC support. So maybe good news, I’m happy to see good local operators doing well in today’s uncertain market.

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  18. And just to add to the incredulity, unless the TC has got the wrong end of the stick, haven’t FEx registered the minibus service 3 from Chelmsford to Southend (via RHS Hyde Hall) and a service to Landwick, on the prohibited access Foulness Island. Perhaps it’s their idea of copying the FK strategy and exploiting the local tourist market? FK, cry your eyes out.

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  19. Some ECC Essex Bus Changes

    Now Operated by Hedingham

    Route 2/2A between Clacton and Mistley

    Route 9 between Walton and Great Holland ( some journeys will be extended from/to Clacton).

    Route 16 between Wethersfield and Chelmsford ( from 1st September 2022)

    A temporary timetable will run between 1st August and 1st September,
    Route 101 between Point Clear and Colne School, Brightlingsea

    Route 105/107 between Walton and Colchester
    Route 115 between Weeley and Tendring College

    Routes taken over by First Essex

    Route 16A
    Route 40
    Routes 82/A/B and 83/A/B
    Route 345

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    1. With all the recent talk of First’s structural change, I suppose there’s something strangely comforting in the usual story: Continuing
      consolidation in Colchester
      and South Essex. Still lost in Chelmsford.

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      1. What you do not see from bus companies is any attempt to grow the market it is all about slowly axing services year after year

        With high fuel prices you would think bus companies would be looking to expand but no they are still contracting

        No surprise that the few FEx service in the Bishops Stortford area are going. With no garage anywhere near there

        Colchester is looking a little crowded with FEx, Arriva and Hedingham competing for business

        At most it can only really two operators and even then those operators should operate as a single network

        Arriva seems to be the weakest, If they lose the PR when it next comes up for renewal hey will be in trouble

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      2. We slowly seem to be getting there Bob, with First winning tendered services from Ipswich Buses (who you seem to have forgotten) and Go-Ahead in Colchester. I prefer to have some urban competition! Otherwise I think monopoly ops tend to take their passengers for granted; evidence: Chelmsford.

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      3. I wonder if what made the difference on Essex P&R is that Arriva were able and willing to bring in more modern fleet, whereas for First it wasn’t an investment priority; hardly surprising given the general state of their Essex fleet! If elsewhere is any guide, Arriva are prepared to hang on. No fireworks, but where in the Home Counties is?

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      4. Ipswich buses seem to be pretty much pulling out of Colchester

        Another one i Colchester is Chambers but they are a part of Go-Ahead and Hedingham & Chambers and Konect are now all the same company. Hedingham & Chambers now bring just trading names

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  20. While I agree with Bob’s theory that operators should be looking to expand with fuel prices soaring, the reality is that they have don’t have enough drivers for existing services let alone new ones.

    Having de-registered the tendered service 9 from Braintree, Stephensons have gleefully announced that the commercial 38/A Witham – Braintree – Halstead is being restored to pre Covid frequency from the following day. No doubt they are banking on being able to redeploy the drivers from the 9 to make this happen.

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    1. Stephenson’s are mass cancelling journey’s on the 38
      . My guess is drivers are leaving following the loss of routes

      Wikipedia show a Great Bromley Outstation. I think that was closed and moved into a new depot when the took on the New Enterprise school work. Most of the routes that used to be based at Great Bromley appear to have been lost

      Braintree according to Wikipedia currently operates the 9/A 21, 30 and part of 38A

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    2. Isn’t the 9 replaced by the DRT digigo? Is it better? Who knows, though I’m tempted to say it could hardly be worse, at least for passenger usage.
      I’m always harangued for seeing DRT as (sometimes) a conventional bus replacement, but it’s interesting to have an actual experiment. What do we do about edge of town buses? They’re forgotten in our excitement.

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      1. I’m wrong. Route 9 continues with Central Connect. What’s the point of south Braintree digigo? Because we can.

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  21. Good on Stephensons. I hope passenger usage is recovering sufficiently. Sadly it seems the same can’t be said for First to the south, where the 71/371, 370 and 331/2 are all reduced to covid hourly, though I’m hearing reports of some consequent overcrowding. I suspect it’s driver shortage too, but they don’t have to try to run everything! I always thought the 38 could sensibly extend to Chelmsford, if First weren’t so anxious to maintain their iron grip on the city. What for? Arriva and Stagecoach do better with competition. Mind you, with the traffic I wouldn’t complain if I were a competitor, either.

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    1. It is even worse in Kent. There is a huge list of bus cuts some of which have already taken place and others to be cut later this year

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      1. I suspect every halfwit bus manger in the country has a contingency plan for the complete loss of subsidy. Alas Kent has further to fall than most, so it will be more painful!

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      2. Kent was a winner in the Bus Back Better Lucky dip but the rules prevent any support of existing services

        The Bus Back Better seems to have turned into the Bus Back Farce

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      3. I don’t know Bob. Bus back better seems to be bringing investment where the buses are used, and not where they aren’t. That seems pretty sensible to me. It’s the way it has always been. How can we make it different. And why should we even try?

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  22. Stephenson’s Bus

    They are cancelling whole rafts of journeys mainly in North Essex It seems to be mainly the routes they have deregistered . Given the area they operate in it seems likely Central Connect will be taking these routes on

    I guess the wholesale cancelation of journeys will go on until the end of July

    There is a complete list published o their web site

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  23. We’ll hike Chelmsford bus fares if council chiefs make roads 20mph’ says city bus operator

    A major bus operator has said it will have to increase fares if plans to introduce a 20mph speed limit across Chelmsford goes ahead. Essex County Council wants to make permanent the existing temporary 20mph speed limits on Duke Street, Tindal Square, New Street, Market Road, Victoria Road A1099 and Tindal Street.

    The plans also include Victoria Road South, Waterloo Lane, Church Street, Viaduct Road, Legg Street, Regina Road which are set to also become 20 mph streets. Essex County Council says the lower traffic speeds will make walking and cycling more attractive for residents, encouraging a shift away from short car journeys.

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    1. To hark back to my earlier posts in this thread…
      Put the fares up. It’s why we need competition,
      to find out if there’s another way.

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  24. … and away from the Company’s fleet of old polluting buses.

    Probably a far greater threat to the health and welfare of citizens, visitors, commuters and town centre workers

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  25. If the buses are currently zipping around the centre of town at 30mph and faster it could explain quite a lot about how they fail to pick up so many passengers. Or perhaps that’s the intention?

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  26. Hedingham Open top Bus crashes into Clacton’s Venetian Bridge

    It was o a promotional visit to the pier . The report claims it was accidently driven under the bridge

    I am trying to work out what other way there is to access the Pier. Is there a way using the lower Promenade?

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  27. I wonder how much this will impact uptake of PlusBus add-ons to rail ticket (which generally break even on 2nd journey)

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