Fares held for smartphone users but on-bus prices rise
First, the bad news. Bus fares are going up again on First Greater Manchester’s routes. To soften the blow, passengers from the 02 January 2017 can pay last year’s fares if they download a smartphone app. Which is good if you have a Windows Phone, iOS, or Android device.
Unless you download the app onto the phone, all single fares will rise by ten pence. For example, a trip on the 346 from Ashton to Dukinfield will rise from £2.20 to £2.30. FirstDay tickets bought on the bus will rise from £4.20 to £4.50, a 30p rise. Its weekly equivalent, the FirstWeek, will be £15.00 – a pound up on the previous price.
FirstMonth tickets will go up by two pounds from £52.00 to £54.00. The FirstAnnual ticket will see a £20.00 rise – up from £520.00 to £540.00. Child fares will rise at half the aforementioned rates.
A look at First Greater Manchester’s mTickets
Passengers with the mTickets app on their device will be paying fares at 2016 rates. Therefore, the quick trip to Ashton-under-Lyne from Dukinfield is £2.20 by smartphone. Casual users, who make sporadic journeys could also buy a bundle of five or ten singles with the app. A £10 bundle will give you five journeys. The £20 bundle, ten journeys. Both options equal to £2.00 a journey any distance.
If you only make one return trip a week on First services without a break of journey on each leg, the £20 bundle could last you five weeks. Should you board more than two First buses on your return journey, one FirstDay ticket a week (£4.20 via the app) is more suitable. Plus, if you only use First buses, your FirstWeek or FirstMonth is £14.00 and £52.00 respectively.
After loading the app onto your device, you register your credit or debit card. Once you’ve done that, fare payments are made through the app’s virtual wallet.
Infographic: mTickets Explained
Video: First Bus’ Boarding Times Experiment:
FirstGroup have posted a video of their experiment, where a group of volunteers decided to board a bus using two payment methods. The first journey saw the passengers paying with cash. In the second journey, they used the mTickets app.
The results of this were encouraging with the volunteers. Its true test would be a comparison of both methods on a standard service bus during normal operating conditions. Some passengers might prefer to pay in cash or use a smart card (ENCTS concessionary pass or GetMeThere for example).
Who else offers similar apps?
Some of Greater Manchester’s bus operators offer smartphone apps for electronic payments. TfGM’s GetMeThere mobile app is another example; at present the app only works on Metrolink fares. Bus users wishing to enjoy the benefits of electronic ticketing across all operators can order a GetMeThere smart card. This can topped up at TfGM Travelshops or shops with PayPoint counters. These cover System One Travelcards’ Any Bus Day Savers and their season tickets. They too will be increasing their prices, again with discounts for people with GetMeThere smart card owners.
Stagecoach Manchester’s app only covers iOS and Android devices. Unlike First Greater Manchester’s app, it only covers season tickets. Though Rosso have introduced smart cards and online sales, these only apply to season tickets.
Arriva North West offer a full range of season tickets and day rover tickets. Their model is the closest one to First Greater Manchester’s with dedicated apps (Android and iOS devices only – sorry, no Windows Phones). Unlike FirstGroup’s app, no single fares nor carnet style tickets are available.
Limitations and reaction
The most obvious limitations lie in technology and access to online banking facilities. Some passengers may be happy with a bog-standard mobile phone which is a phone rather than a miniature computer. Others might prefer to use traditional cash methods, or smart cards such as the multi-operator GetMeThere card.
Not every passenger has immediate access to online banking or a suitable credit or debit card. Those without a bank account will lose out on the cheaper single fares in 2017. Some may be sceptical about its security measures and pay with cash instead. What if your bank account has insufficient funds and you are turned away from the bus for not having the right fare?
Via the App Store, Google Play, and Windows Store websites, response to FirstGroup’s app have ranged from negative to middling. Bugginess and crashing are the customers’ main gripes. One has said that “paying on bus is cheaper and more efficient”. The same commenter decried the lack of a family ticket option; as yet, family/group ticket options are not available on the mTickets app.
So far, it is stated on the website that 15,000 people have downloaded the app in Greater Manchester. Will the mTickets app have its bugs ironed out by the 02 January 2017? The proof of the pudding could be on the 409 this Easter.
S.V., 31 December 2016.