Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Fare's fair

Now there's a coincidence! On Tuesday I mentioned here how the ABus no 57 service from Stockwood has a ticketless £1 flat fare system, and how that cuts boarding times, and journey times.

Tonight the Evening Post carries a story reporting that the council's transport lead, Jon Rogers, is suggesting an off-peak £1 flat fare on the buses to cut waiting times and to help fill up the buses. Jon is an avid reader of the local blogs.

Should I be flattered? Or should I be sending in for my five-figure consultancy fee ?


Jon Rogers said...

Morning Pete

The £1 flat fare was definitely NOT my idea. It has been around for a long while.

Kerry McCarthy has twittered, "I see Lib Dems in Bristol have nicked another Labour policy, re flat rate bus fares" so it seems that everyone is claiming credit except me!

No, I am happy to publicise interesting ideas from anyone. I will also acknowledge their source when I know it.

I want the City to have a proper debate and some open minds on what is possible. I have been chatting with one of the Post reporters about those possibilities. The result is not quite what I intended, but has got the debate going!


PS I didn't know that Abus already offered a £1 flat fare. I will speak with them.

Chris Hutt said...

The idea of a £1 flat rate fare is so obvious that it would be disingenuous of anyone to claim to have originated it, So Kerry M is being typically disingenuous.

It would obviously simplify fare collecting and attract more to off-peak buses, but would it have any significant effect on car use? I think not, but it might have an impact on the amount of walking and even cycling.

So we have to ask what the point of such an exercise would be, if the main consequence is that the taxpayer has to pay more subsidies to the likes of First in order to depress the amount of walking.

Pete Goodwin said...

Morning Jon

I don't get the fee then? Ah well...

I'm sure Alan Peters of ABus would be pleased to hear from you. He made the point (in comments on the Evening Post report) that a First flat fare of £1 on the Brislington/Stockwood route would likely put him out of business and strengthen First's monopoly even more. At present he competes on price (and speed), but knows First offer passengers other things, that he can't - like First Day tickets.

Incidentally, his drivers are generally much happier and passenger friendly than First's, in my experience!

Nothing's simple!

Chris Hutt said...

Worth looking at Alan Peters' comments in more detail "Why is Dr Rogers only interested in running on the Bath Rd. Is it because Abus already offer £1 flat fare all Day! And he wants to reduce our off peak loadings to drive us out of business? Or is it because pensioners reimbursement? Which is calculated as 50% of the average fair paid!.."

So Abus get a subsidy of 50p for transporting a pensioner from a to B, whereas First will get a subsidy of £1.40? for doing the same thing. That is surely blatant discrimination against a more efficient operator, which shows how subsidies distort the market.

Pete Goodwin said...

Doesn't every subsidy distort the market, Chris? In fact isn't that the whole idea, to change the way things are done?

Trouble is that in this case the particular route suggested seems to do the opposite of what's intended, as you say. I wonder who suggested it - and why.

You could argue that the market is horribly distorted anyway. First's pursuit of monopoly for starters, and the effective 'deal' between the major operators to settle pretty much for the areas they've got, rather than start another 'bus wars' nightmare. Most of all there's the inability of local authorities to enter the market place on behalf of their residents, to provide an accessible efficient public service rather than a private company that's in it for profit maximisation, achieved by cherry picking the bits with maximum return for minimum investment.

An ITA could go a little way to break into that. It wouldn't be taking powers from individual authorities into an unaccountable quango - the present authorities simply don't have the powers that an ITA could exercise. At present the big decisions are taken in Whitehall, the Regional Assembly, and GOSW. An ITA would/could reclaim that power for local people. Therefore it fits well with the Green Party approach of 'small is beautiful' and of localisation.

Red Green Nick said...

From visiting better run European cities like Vienna, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, the evidence seems to suggest that cheaper, better run (who say's First Group should be favoured, their record is hardly great!)public transport, combined with well funded cycling and walking facilities are the way to get people out of cars.
The Small city of Hasselt in Belgium even manages to run free buses!

Anonymous said...

"An ITA would/could reclaim that power for local people."

Is there any evidence for this?

Pete Goodwin said...

The power I had in mind is to introduce Quality Bus Contracts - instead of the bus companies choosing the route, the timetables, and the fares, the ITA could do that, and put the task of providing it out to tender. Could be a single route, could be a network. In London it seems to be networks based on particular bus garages.

Anonymous said...

That would be a relatively small, if useful, power, I'd guess.

But bearing in mind the lengthy discussion about ITA over on Charlie Bolton's site, I was wondering - as a layperson - if the pros and cons of ITAs are actually well understood, and what kind of evidence base there is for them.

"It wouldn't be taking powers from individual authorities into an unaccountable quango - the present authorities simply don't have the powers that an ITA could exercise. At present the big decisions are taken in Whitehall, the Regional Assembly, and GOSW. An ITA would/could reclaim that power for local people."

You look as if you are saying here, quite confidently, that an ITA, in all its glory, would necessarily be "a good thing" and I was querying this, overall.

For example, why would an ITA NOT be an unaccountable quango, or as bad as?

Where do they already have ITAs, and how are they functioning?

Pete Goodwin said...

Hi Dona

Last question first.... the nearest we have to ITA's is the Passenger Transport Executives in the city regions - West Yorks, South Yorks, Tyneside, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, West Midlands. There's a useful analysis (and summaries) of the Local Transport Act on their joint web pages here. No-one would claim they're perfect (far from it) but they do provide a system of cheap and fairly well integrated public transport in those areas. Well, much better than other parts of the country, except London, where TfL has unique powers.

Fair point about 'unaccountable quangos'. It would depend on the governance arrangements just how much democratic control there would be. It could hardly fail, though, to be better than what we have now - near-powerless local authorities, and a fragmented transport system entirely depending on the whim of companies whose sole criterion of 'public service' is what is profitable. I seem to remember the Traffic Commissioner, really the only person with the power to issue or withdraw operating licences, admitting that he'd like to cancel First Bristol's licence - but he couldn't because it would leave Bristol without a bus service!

Anonymous said...

Very clear and helpful answer, thanks, I'll take a look at that link.

So do I gather correctly that ITAs are intended to have only a fairly tangential relationship to road building and other hard measures / concrete infrastructure like bridges or tracks?