Steep decline in paying passengers as free travel and railways boom

Concerns that Welsh bus fares may be increasingly unaffordable have been voiced after official statistics showing a large decline in fare-paying passengers.

The decline contrasts with growth in fare-paying rail passengers in Wales, and growing use of free bus journeys under the concessionary fares scheme.

Total bus passenger journeys in Wales fell from 125 million in 2008-09 to 117 million in 2009-10 and 113 million in 2010-11. The decline in farepayers was even steeper because free concessionary journeys (which are included in the totals) continued to grow and are estimated to have reached a record 50.2 million in 2011-12 (40% of the total).

It will be some time yet before official statistics show the impact on passengers of recent Welsh bus fare increases, but there is speculation that concessionary passengers could outnumber fare-payers in 2012. Many operators increased fares in response to the Welsh Government’s announcement of a 25% reduction in Bus Service Operators’ Grant. The WG deferred this for at least six months in late March, which operators said was too late to prevent fares increasing (PT029).

Alongside the bus statistics, the WG published Office of Rail Regulation data recording a 29.9% increase in passenger journeys to and from Welsh stations from 2005-06 to 2009-10, when the total exceeded 44 million. Some observers contrasted the bus funding cuts with increased WG funding for Arriva Trains Wales.

As the accompanying table shows, Arriva’s return rail fares can be half or less than half of the fare on Arriva buses. Last month Arriva Buses Wales increased single fares, abolished return fares and reduced the child discount from half to one-third.

“I think Arriva have killed the goose that laid the golden egg,’ said one Welsh transport consultant, who asked not to be named. “They’re looking to raise their concessionary pass compensation, but the fact they don’t have return fares now makes that even harder to justify.”

Stuart Cole, professor of transport at the University of Glamorgan, said bus travel may appear poor value for money as householders subjected all aspects of their spending to close scrutiny. “As bus fares have risen, many people – especially young people – have taken to using taxis,” he said. “This year some fares have risen by 10%. BSOG has been blamed but that’s really a red herring – it’s such a tiny proportion of the costs of running a bus company.”

An Arriva spokeswoman said return fares were withdrawn to encourage multi-journey tickets. She added: “We have little option but to react to the changes in government financial support. We would not want to be in a situation where we alter the fares month by month to react to the ongoing changes.”

 

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport. Click here to subscribe.