No more exact fares only!

01 May 2013

“Exact fare only.” This slightly unwelcoming message is still one that many bus passengers face daily.

Two problems. Some passengers won’t know what the exact fare is. Others won’t have the exact money – so they overpay or, in some cases, can claim it back at the bus station.

Attempting to find out fares can be frustrating. We recently did some work trying to track some bus fares. Finding point-to-point fares can be very difficult. Not finding information on websites led us to ring head offices if the advertised phone number for information could not give us the answer. On one occasion we were eventually put through to a bus depot where the inspector was heard calling out to off-duty drivers across the mess room.

Asking for lists of fares was pretty fruitless – one company said they could not do this because it was ‘commercially confidential’. This secrecy is not confined to the private sector – a transport authority recently refused to publish all its tram fares, citing the same defence.

Bus is a deregulated market (outside of London) – operators are in real competition in many places. Flexing pricing to meet and stimulate demand is great but it must become more transparent. It can be done. I recently visited Abellio. In north Surrey they operate with four fares – a bit simpler, so at least you know the range you are in.

New research we have just finished with bus passengers about value for money had focus group participants grabbing the fares lists we produced. The research will be published in the near future – watch this space for news.

The industry and local authorities can do something to help this. Simplify and publicise. Passengers won’t trust you if you are not transparent.

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