The long awaited thirteenth part of our informal look at bus operations. For beginners.

Optare Solo First Greater Manchester MX54 GZF, Ashton-under-Lyne bus station
A First Greater Manchester bus, loading at Ashton-under-Lyne bus station in July 2017.

In a previous Duffers’ Guide (Part Six), we looked at how concessionary fares work on bus routes. At this moment in time, fare increases have dominated the news agenda after Brexit, Trump and, in Greater Manchester at least, Andy Burnham’s death knell to bus deregulation. In his speech he has cited the cost and complexity of bus fares.

With rail franchises and some of Greater Manchester’s bus operators changing their fares on the 02 January 2018, this has inspired our thirteenth instalment. Also our first Duffers’ Guide since the 31 May 2016.

Bus fares explained

If you travel by bus occasionally, you may be inclined to buy a single ticket for one journey. This is fine for short hops, but an expensive option on longer distance journeys. The driver may suggest a return fare or a day rover ticket of some description for more complex trips.

Typically, passengers can buy on the bus at the time of travel:

  • Single fares;
  • Return fares;
  • A rover ticket;
  • A single operator weekly ticket;
  • A multi-operator weekly ticket.

To keep things simple, we shall look at tickets that are valid for a day’s travel.

Single and return fares

Depending on where you live, single and return fares vary from operator to operator. Each company has its own fare tables and they vary from area to area. For example: the distance covered on a £2.80 fare on Stagecoach Manchester is different to one on its counterpart in East Kent.

Concessionary rates vary from county to county or city region. Children’s fares in Greater Manchester are half that of the adult fare; in Derbyshire, two-thirds of the adult fare. Which makes a trip from Glossop to Stalybridge a dear do (the 236 and 237 routes cover two counties).

As well as their cost, the kind of fares system may vary. Staged fares are the most common type of single or return fares in the UK. A stage may comprise of, for example, three bus stops and reflect as near as possible a given distance. Fares increase by a given interval: for example, ten pence, twenty pence, or thirty pence intervals. Hence:

  • 0 – 0.5 miles: £1.20;
  • 0.5 – 1.0 mile: £1.40;
  • 1 – 1.5 miles: £1.60;
  • 1.5 – 2.0 miles: £1.80;
  • 2.0 – 2.5 miles: £2.00;
  • 2.5 – 3.0 miles: £2.30;
  • 3.0 – 3.5 miles: £2.60;
  • 3.5 – 4.0 miles: £2.90;
  • Over 4.0 miles: £3.30.

A typical staged fare table could have 12 to 16 different adult fares. Then the same set of fares with concessionary discounts. On a cross-boundary route, two or more separate sets of concessionary fare tables. The 358 from Hayfield to Stockport crosses three boundaries, including a small chunk of Cheshire East between Strines and New Mills.

If the route is shared with another operator, another set of differing staged fares. Thank goodness for multi-system season tickets and day rovers, then.

Thankfully, some steps are being made to simplify single fares. On the 02 January 2018, Stagecoach Manchester will more than halve its fare stage to just six single fares (and concessionary variants).

More straightforward are flat fares. As the name suggests, one flat fare for the bus irrespective of distance. Instead of paying from £1.20 to £3.30 (as per our example), nine fare stages are eschewed in favour of one fare. For arguments sake, the flat fare could be £2.00 – or £1.00 for child passengers.

Though more user-friendly, short hop passengers are penalised if the flat fare is set too high. Conversely, long distance passengers will gain the most if the flat fare is set too low. Ultimately a flat fare could be the average fare of our examples, but you will lose many short hop passengers.

Therefore, flat fares work better on short distance routes. Most importantly, the fares should be easy to remember. Not only for passengers paying with their smartphones, but also for passengers paying by cash.

Day rover tickets

In some areas, the day rover ticket is used as a substitute for return fares. More often than not, a day rover ticket is a better option for three or more journeys. Or a long distance return journey instead of two single fares.

Besides bus only rover tickets, we also see multimodal day tickets. Also rover tickets for groups. From 2018 on Stagecoach Manchester buses, even Rover will have a rover ticket to call its own. Since its launch, the Derbyshire Wayfarer ticket has allowed one adult to travel with a dog.

Payment methods

In the last decade, the way we pay for our bus fares has changed dramatically. Besides cash, some buses enable you to pay with contactless credit or debit cards. Some ticket machines support smartphones, via Apple Pay and Google Wallet. Stored Oyster or GetMeThere style cards can be topped up externally and touched into the ticket machine.

At this time of writing, their adoption is a few years away from being universal. As second nature as tendering the right change. With smartphone usage rising, the need to fumble for change could be a thing of the past.

S.V., 14 December 2017.

One thought on “Duffers’ Guide to Bus Operations #13: Bus Fares

  1. I like the bit about Stagecoach fares in Manchester being different to those in East Kent. One of the main reasons for Bus Reform is that Operators are charging considerably different fares in different parts of GM. Your “staged” examples for instance are more expensive than Stagecoach (and First?) charge in say, Swinton, but cheaper than Tameside/Stockport and East Machester.


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