First Greater Manchester’s Digital Fare Freeze

Fares held for smartphone users but on-bus prices rise

First Greater Manchester Alexander Dennis ALX400, YJ51 RCX, Ashton-under-Lyne bus station

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

mTickets infographic

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.

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7 thoughts on “First Greater Manchester’s Digital Fare Freeze

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  1. I don’t know why First don’t go the whole hog and just say that the “Twitter” generation are not welcome on their buses. This move is yet more evidence of the poor and non-tech savvy being punished. Many people cannot afford a “smartphone” and indeed some can’t even afford or use a standard mobile phone – my 88 year old Mum for one. As you’ve mentioned above the feedback on the system is pretty negative even amongst those who have tried it. Similarly, I have found Stagecoach’s Real Time Info is nonsense, and a Buses mag reader from Devon has fared little better. FTR, Network Rail RTI isn’t up to much either, because it doesn’t take account of delays on previous journeys worked by the same train.Additionally, for security reasons, I for one, refuse to have online bank accounts.
    I also read the claimed time savings, and whilst I rarely travel on First buses at peak times, my experience with Stagecoach buses suggests the claims are utter nonsense. Per passenger, they claim that each mTicket user boards almost 10 seconds quicker than everyone else. Given that probably 80% of passengers have some form of pass or pre-paid ticket already, are they genuine claiming that each cash paying passenger takes almost a minute to board? The only element of truth is that mTicket passengers get to their seats quicker because they tend to be young and agile! If they are that bothered about dwell times, they should ban £20 notes and reduce Day Tickets to £4.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Phil,

      Banning £20 notes on buses well and truly gets my vote. Likewise with simple fares where fewer fiddly coins are needed. £4.00 for a Day Rover rather than £4.50 (for all passengers, with or without smartphones) is a considerably better step.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  2. Gobsmacked that they actually believe the previous journey procedure “makes the journey too slow for *****casual passengers****** to consider the bus as their first choice of public transport.”

    Who ARE these ‘casual passengers’ who can afford to be so fussy over say, 5 – 10 mins on their journey? Charles n Cammy ov KensingtonPally? (‘Cripes, darling! If we don’t download the app and support the new system, we’ll be at least 9.5 minutes late for Ascot!’) Casual passengers are exactly THAT – less bothered about the 2-5 min delays.

    I am no expert but I suspect that those casual wanderers, hanging about bus stops and wondering if they should catch a bus or not because old Mrs Crinoline might dodder about a bit and add 22.75 mins onto the journey, are far and few between in Greater Mcr.
    Perhaps even mythical. And perhaps even support a marketing plan.

    I won’t even comment on the fact that we all are now assumed to have morphed into buying the same kind of phone, if we want to use public transport.

    It appalls me that we are all expected to have mobile phones, to carry them with us etc – and that the people who can least afford it, are basically being manipulated into having certain MODELS if they want to be able to access and pay for a service that should be truly affordable for all.

    Whinge over. Sorry. But cheers Stuart for raising this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree wholeheartedly with these comments even though I own a smartphone myself. I *had* hoped TfGM’s Get Me There card would be both gamechanger and more similar to the London Oyster card which is more the best of both worlds in that you can at least top it up with cash as well as online. It also offers *far* more flexibility. Maybe Manchester went out of its way to be different from London but, if this is the case, I would have preferred them to have modelled a scheme on a superior system than go with an inferior one just for the sake of stamping a local identity to it.

      Also, a ‘Get Me There’ handle has always smacked – to me, at least – far too much of the ‘Show Me’ ID card frequently referred to in tv sci-fi series Fringe to take seriously, even if even the idea of crossing over onto a nearly identical planet in a parallel universe every time you swipe your card at Ashton-under-Lyne is undeniably attractive.

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  3. As a commuter on a relatively long bus route (the 83 from Sholver to Manchester) I can see the logic of reducing dwell times at bus stops. I’ve gradually seen an increase over the last few years in the length of the journey time in the morning peak from an average of an hour to between 1hr 10 minutes and 1hr 20 minutes.

    This clearly isn’t the result of any changes in passenger behaviour but rather increased congestion which afflicts most journeys into Manchester in the am. However, to combat this there are only a few variables you can tackle – specifically very expensive bus priority traffic management measures, or alternatively reducing the time it takes to get your passengers on the bus. Who hasn’t been irritated by the flood of passengers fumbling with change on a Monday morning trying to buy their weeklies (while you sit their smugly with your annual County Card) adding precious minutes to your journey time?!

    There’s some credence to the assertion that this has an impact on passengers and their travelling behaviour. I for one have made the switch to the train involving a 10 minute drive to Greenfield Station and then two changes of train to get to Stockport in the morning. I’m fortunate that I have access to a vehicle to make this a possibility.

    It’ll be even more interesting to see how First propose to realign their bus services in the New Year – their consultation on Oldham services was quite telling in relation to their question on a proposal to cease cross-town bus services requiring passengers to change buses if they need to continue their journey through the town centre. A retrograde step in my view, but a clear indication of their desperation to make inroads into bus journey times.

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  4. If you want low dwell times, then London shows quite clearly how to do it. Simple, flat fare, paid to the driver by pre-paid smart card or by contactless credit/debit card. I have never seen people board buses faster than in London. It’s simple, it’s fast, it’s easy.

    No faffing around with people trying to buy weekly or monthly tickets, or having to work out whether it’s better to get an operator only day ticket or a System One equivalent. Just beep, and you’re away. No need to even say much to the driver.

    The bus companies must have the data on fares. They must know what an average fare is for each bus route. A flat fare could be easy to do.

    But apps? No. Stupid. Utter stupidity. Battery goes? You lose your bus ticket. App crashes (and the Stagecoach one rarely works properly on my phone) and your bus ticket. Not got a smart phone? You’re screwed. It’s not simple, and it’s not easy. I tried the Get Me There app on the tram once. Had a ticket inspector. I whipped my phone out and he wandered off to check paper tickets whilst my app loaded…

    Stagecoach are at least launching contactless next year. First would be wise to do the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Andrew,

      My thoughts exactly! Like West and South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester’s buses still use staged fare systems. Staged fares and OPO offer the worst of both worlds. Which is why the late great Ralph Bennett – 50 years ago – favoured flat fares on OPO buses with fare boxes. One fare and a half fare.

      Smart cards are more foolproof with staged or flat fares. Not least the fact they could be topped up online or at a shop with a PayPoint counter.

      Ultimately, the future is off-bus sales. As with your experience, smart cards first and foremost. Especially as their use has been normalised with ENCTS pensioner and disabled concessionary passes. Each tap-in takes a third to a quarter of the time it takes to pay a cash fare. Furthermore, the addition of contactless credit and debit cards as an on-board payment for Day Rovers should also be considered.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

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