Essential travel – what’s the right fare?
14 April 2020
What is the right fare for an ‘essential journey’? That question arises because public transport is operating to a much-reduced schedule, intended only for key workers and other essential journeys. Supposing that when you bought your season ticket the price you paid entitled you to use any of six buses or trains every hour in each direction. If the service is halved to three an hour – understandable given the level of demand and illness among operating staff – should you pay a lower price?
It’s not just season tickets where the convenience of frequency might influence the right price. Obviously not the only factor, but you could argue that the railway is cheaper on Sundays because the service is less frequent – there’s less choice, often important when coming home. It would follow, then, that if your train company runs its Sunday timetable all week you should pay the Sunday price all week. But would reducing fares be the right thing to do at present, given that lower prices could encourage people to make non-essential trips?
For longer-distance travel, Advance singles could be looked at in two ways at the moment. On the one hand, discounted tickets could encourage virus-spreading travel. On the other, they are sensible prices for essential journeys when money is tight.
There is one area which is more practical and common sense than philosophical. Bus and train companies should check that the normal time to switch from peak to off-peak fares (and vice versa where that applies) makes sense with the reduced schedules. For instance, if off-peak tickets are normally valid from 09.30, and there is now only one departure each hour at 28 minutes past the hour, the validity should be changed to allow the 09.28 to be used. This can happen anyway when timetables change – the coronavirus has just accentuated the problem.
A similar issue arises in London. Despite TfL running regular ‘metro-style’ services, many Londoners – including those using the National Rail network – will wait to tap in after 09.30 for the off-peak fare. With a much-reduced timetable, this may now not be possible.