Thursday, 15 August 2013

Buses: Fares and Passes

Having found out what time your bus is due and where it stops, there is just the matter of how  you pay - and how much it will cost.
Feedback I've received so far on these posts has suggested that I am merely confirming that buses are more complicated and harder to use than trains. The good news is that bus fares are a lot simpler than their railway equivalents, although there are still a few things worth knowing to help you get the best deal.

For one-off journeys you always pay the driver on the bus. Off-bus ticketing is restricted to weekly or longer period tickets although there are some multi-journey day tickets which you buy on the first bus and use on subsequent ones and others that must be bought before you travel. Here are the main types of ticket: Note that there are no "advance" fares or "first class" fares to complicate matters. On the bus, everyone pays the same fare!

Single Tickets - One ticket - one journey in one direction. The fare varies according to distance on a tapering scale (i.e. the further you go, the less per mile you pay). In urban areas there may be a "flat fare" in which one fare covers all journeys irrespective of distance. One of the best bargains in the UK for bus travel is in the West Midlands, where the bus company National Express West Midlands has a flat fare for all journeys other than very short ones of £2. This covers journeys such as Birmingham to Wolverhampton, Walsall, Coventry and Stourbridge. Unfortunately, other bus companies are very secretive about the level of their single and return fares and I can't really offer any tips as to how to prise the information out of them.

Return Tickets - You'll not see this mentioned anywhere, but on the buses a "return" is almost always a "day return". In other words you have to make both the outward and the return journey on the same day. It's always cheaper than buying a single each way, sometimes significantly so, but it is usually only valid on the buses of the company that sold it to you. If two companies operate on the same route they won't usually accept each others tickets. It's not necessarily their fault. The government believes that for them to do so would be "anti-competitive" and that the best interests of passengers depend on out-and-out competition at all times. It's nonsense; but it's the law. (Note that the same argument doesn't apply to the railways, where "any-operator" fares are protected by law!)  In some cases, such as where a council has entered into a subsidy contract for one company to provide extra journeys on a route, such as in the evenings, a condition of the contract may be that the daytime company's tickets are accepted. If so, it will usually say so in the timetable (although if you are looking at the bus company's timetable rather than a council one the extra journeys may not be acknowledged in the first place!)

Day Tickets If your journey involves using more than one bus a then a day ticket may save you money. Day tickets give unlimited travel for one day over a given network of services. They often, but not always, have a restriction that means you can't buy one until after the morning peak (usually about 09.00 on Mondays to Fridays).Note that this is not the same "morning peak" time that applies to concessionary travel covered below.
There are two sorts of day ticket: Operator Specific and Geographic. Operator-specific tickets are only available on one bus company's services.  The larger bus companies, such as First, Stagecoach and Arriva always offer a range of day tickets for varying parts of their networks and, unlike ordinary single fares, these are widely advertised, often on the outsides of the buses themselves. "Geographic" tickets are organised by local authorities and cover all operators in a given area. They are most common in large urban areas where they may also include tram and even train travel, but can also be found in some more rural areas, such as Derbyshire or Wiltshire. They tend not to be so widely promoted, because bus operators have to share the revenue from sales and would rather sell you one of their own operator-specific tickets.  If I can find a list of such tickets anywhere on the web I'll include it here when I transfer these posts to a permanent "page".

Concessionary Passes - The best bargain of all, but there's a snag - you have to be an old enough to qualify! The English National Concessionary Bus Travel Scheme  gives eligible persons the right to a pass that allows them free bus travel throughout England. (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own schemes). Eligibility is based on age and the qualifying age (for both men and women) is the age at which a woman with the same date of birth would receive her state pension. Women's state pension age, and therefore the bus pass age, is in the process of being increased from 60 to 66 over a 10 year period but there is a calculator here that you can use. Leave the gender set at female, even if you are male, to get the right answer.
Once you've qualified you must contact your local county council, (or equivalent unitary authority). You'll need to be a "permanent resident" of the district and to be able to prove it. Continuously Cruising" boaters should make use of whatever address on the bank that they use for doctors, pensions and the like but you'll still need something that identifies you as a resident. Each council sets its own criteria as to what evidence it can accept.

The pass allows free travel on all "local" bus services (best defined as those on which you cannot reserve a seat, although some "tourist" type services are also excluded). Some quite lengthy services are included such as the buses in the East Midlands that link Leicester, Northampton, Peterborough and Milton Keynes. The pass can be used at all times between 0930 and 2300 on Mondays to Fridays and at any time on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays. Some councils allow travel before 0930 within their own area and for their passholders only as an add-on to the scheme.  The evening restriction gives rise to an interesting anomaly. The times 0930 and 2300 are inclusive, so you can board a bus at 0930 (but not before) and at 2300 (but not after). However, if a bus due at 2300 is late, the pass should still be accepted. (If a bus due at 0930 arrives early, it should wait for time!) The anomaly comes on a Friday night. The pass stops being valid at 2301, but because there is no morning peak restriction on a Saturday it becomes valid again at midnight! Admittedly, not many buses run this late, at least outside London, but where they do, you can use them.

TIP OF THE DAY: Check to see if you are eligible for a concessionary pass!h

Here endeth the lesson, except for a short summary, which I'll publish later and AFTER I've been down to visit Starcross.



Sarah said...

I'm absolutely loving this series Jim, and who knows, may even be emboldened to try a bus somewhere oustide my comfort zone should the opportunity arise!
In the meantime I think I have got to grips with the services I can use here in Sheffield. Found one of those multitudinous anomolies when I took my tram ride back from Tinsley the other week - there is a joint bus/tram ticket, but only valid for Stagecoach services, not First, which runs the route to my house (the 51, which stops almost right outside, although sadly does not start at the railway station).

Jim said...

Sarah, Presumably you got a Stagecoach Bus and Tram Dayrider for £4. What Stagecoach wouln't tell you is that for £4.30 they could have sold you a Sheffield Citywide Day Ticket (I may not have got that name exactly right) that is valid on trams and ALL buses. This sort of nonsense would not be tolerated anywhere else in Europe.

Sarah said...

Goodness me, how do you know so much about so many different places? I will definitely remember that for next time.

Jim said...

Let's just say it's the product of a wasted youth - not to mention middle-age!

Halfie said...

I am sure I shall be referring to all of this in the future, Jim. Thanks again.

Neil Corbett said...

I intend to print all this out when I can so I always have a copy with me :-). This has been very helpful, I've even used your advice and found out things about my local buses I didn't know.
Kath (nb Herbie)