Last week S&C reported on local concerns about the price difference between bus travel in Southampton and Portsmouth. You can read the story here.
For Portsmouth residents, single and return bus tickets are variable depending on where you are going, a day ticket is £4.50 and a weekly pass is £18.
For Southampton residents, a single is £2, a return is £3, a day ticket is £3.50 and a weekly pass is £9.
S&C contacted First Buses media team on 30th January 2020 asking the following questions:
- How can there be such a difference in prices when the cities are just 18 miles apart and how is this justified?
- Prices in Portsmouth are variable depending on where you go in the city, whereas Southampton has a one price fits all tickets, single and return. How is this differing arrangement justified?
- How does First Buses calculate what will be charged in each city?
A spokesperson for First Buses told S&C in a statement:
Bus fares and pricing structures are different up and down the country, and it’s very normal, not just in the bus industry, to have local cost profiles that differ from one town to the next. Pub chains also charge different prices to reflect local circumstances as the cost of doing business and revenue varies.
We receive most of our revenue from fares, and the fact that there are many more people in Southampton using our services has an impact on the fares.
We’d also like to point out that Portsmouth bus users pay below the national average for their day and week bus fares. On the Isle of Wight, a bus day ticket costs £10, a week ticket £25, and a monthly is £93.
Our pricing strategy rewards repeat use, and regular bus users buying weekly tickets receive a far greater discount than the national average for a week ticket, which provides excellent value for money. A week ticket provides unlimited travel over seven days, and the equivalent of a single journey costs around £1.80, which is much less than the price of a coffee on the high street. With an annual bus pass, the saving is even greater as the equivalent price per journey drops to below £1.
First Solent is a strong supporter of Portsmouth Council’s Air Quality agenda, and we work hard to improve the environmental impact of our Portsmouth fleet. Only last week we introduced 24 brand-new Euro6 vehicles on the Portsmouth Star fleet, representing a private investment in excess of £4 million at no cost to the tax payer. These vehicles are equipped with the cleanest combustion engines on the market.
On Twitter, Extinction Rebellion Portsmouth responded to S&C’s article, highlighting that for local residents who need to make journeys across the city’s two bus networks – operated by Stagecoach as well as First Buses – the cost can be even higher.
‘But this is only part of the picture. @StagecoachSouth also run routes in Portsmouth, but if your journey requires 2 providers, you’ll need to pay 2 expensive fares’.
The national picture
The introduction of the Transport Act in 1986 privatised bus services and prevent local councils from taking the service back into public hands.
Statistics from the Department of Transport show local bus fares in England have increased by 71% between 2005 and 2019.
Yet the high bus prices do not seem to be caused by a lack of profitability for the bus operators. Research published in 2017 by We Own It (a campaign against the privatisation and for public ownership of public services) revealed the amount of money paid regularly to shareholders of the biggest bus companies: Arriva, Stagecoach, First, Go-Ahead, and National Express.
The report states the total amount paid to shareholders in dividends averages £181 million per year, ‘more than double the amount of money that has been cut from local authority supported bus funding since 2010. These cuts, amounting to £78 million a year, have been blamed as the cause of 2,400 bus routes disappearing in England and Wales alone. Meanwhile bus fares have doubled in real terms since buses were deregulated and privatised in the 1980s.’
The research also reports the South East pays the most, ‘with at least £48.7 million a year being siphoned off as dividends to the parent company…The total leaked out of the system over the last ten years stands at a whopping £1.81 billion.’
In January 2020, councillors in Leeds led calls for local bus services to be taken back under local authority control. Leeds councillor Neil Walshaw said that ‘…the bus act was implemented in 1986, fewer pieces of public policy have been given a fairer crack of the whip, and few things have failed quite so comprehensively as a deregulated privatised bus network.
‘It doesn’t work, and the people of Leeds recognise that.’
Would you like to see the local bus service under council control? Let us know in the comments below or join in the conversation over at Facebook or Twitter.