Why I am opposing the Concessionary Fares Scheme Review in Reading [#rdg]

I use public transport a lot. I commute to and from work, I use it to reach recreational activities and it allows me to reach friends to socialise. In Reading I pay £1.80 for a single bus journey or double that if a journey involves more than one bus. For the past years I have been buying weekly tickets for £14 a time which adds up to £56 a month.

For this I am able to travel on public transport which isn’t without issues. Buses have been delayed more times than I can count, I have encountered bus drivers that go past bus stops even though there are people waiting, I have come across very rude [and also very nice] bus drivers and a lot of antisocial behaviour over the years, but it’s all part of the deal and I put up with it with some complaining on the side!

Earlier today I saw a blogpost tweeted by @CllrJanGavin:

[...]The nationally funded concessionary fares scheme means that, at the moment, people over pensionable age in Reading can only make use of free bus travel from 9.30am, Monday to Friday.

Reading Borough Council is now planning to introduce free bus travel for the elderly from 9am onwards on weekdays. The cost of funding the extra half-an-hour’s free travel estimated to be between £29,000 and £46,000 per year – would be paid for with income from bus lane fines in the town.

The move would also bring Reading into line with neighbouring Wokingham and West Berkshire, where concessionary pass holders are currently able to travel from 9am Monday to Friday. This has been the source of some complaints, in particular from those Reading Borough residents who live close to the administrative boundary.

The proposed change to free bus travel from 9am for the elderly follows the re-introduction of free unrestricted bus travel for disabled residents and their carers last year by the administration.[...]

The following Twitter conversation ensued:

  • carocat: @Eastreadingcom @cllrJanGavin Please don’t, 9.30 is great, it slows the bus service down so much for those commuting. #rdg .
  • CllrJanGavin: @carocat @eastreadingcom .. stunningly selfish position to take. One day you too will be elderly & not so rich. .
  • LindaAFord: Can @carocat explain exactly how we over-60s slow down the buses – do tell. #rdg .
  • CllrJanGavin: @LindaAFort @carocat quite! I gasped with disbelief that such an openly ageist & selfish comment could be made – unbelievable! .
  • sahfenn: @cllrJanGavin. not selfish at all. What a horrid reply to a reasonable point of view. (cc @carocat, @Eastreadingcom) .
  • CllrJanGavin: @sahfenn @eastreadingcom maybe I was mistaken, thought @carocat said she didn’t want elderly ppl on buses before 9;30 is that reasonable? .
  • MrLondonStreet: @cllrJanGavin @sahfenn @eastreadingcom @carocat Surely most commuters will be done with buses by 9am anyway? .
  • sahfenn: @MrLondonStreet I have no opinion re the buses, I just felt @cllrJanGavin’s response to @carocat was OTT & inappropriate (@Eastreadingcom) .
  • _Jagadish_: @MrLondonStreet @cllrjangavin @sahfenn @eastreadingcom @carocat I agree, I don’t see the Elderly impacting commuting times. .
  • CllrJanGavin: @sahfenn @mrlondonstreet @carocat @eastreadingcom whereas I think saying over 60s shouldn”t use buses before 9:30 is totally inappropriate .
  • MrLondonStreet: @cllrJanGavin @sahfenn @carocat @eastreadingcom That’s not fair, she said travel before 9.30 shouldn’t be subsidised. .

Allow me to elaborate with [a little!] more than the 140 characters Twitter allows and, as a sidenote, I am not rich though it surely would make some aspects of life easier and paying £56 a month is a lot of money for me:

In my job I am lucky enough to start work when I want to within reasonable times in the morning. Whilst I normally aim to leave the house at around 6.30am I find myself at least once a week taking a late morning and leaving around 9am to get across town on one bus. 9am is one of the latest times I can leave the house as else the commute will be a lot longer than it should. Countless times I have found myself on the bus at bus stops close to 9.30am with several people getting on and off only to be turned away by the driver as it is just minutes too early for free travel for concession card holders. Whilst I have never timed the time taken at individual bus stops I have noticed that the door to door travel time after 9am increases by about 25-40%.

So why is that? Buses run just as frequently as they do at 8am. Traffic on the roads is arguably less than it is at 8am. Bus drivers presumeably drive at the same speed as they would at 8am. All of this leads me to believe that it is due to passengers boarding the bus just to be turned away.

One might argue that this is a sound argument to move the time to 9am as surely there wouldn’t be any more delays with passengers being turned away, but at the same time it can be said that the issues at 9.15am would just move to 8.45am and with that much more in the realms of rush hour. There are several other factors to consider:

  • Cost – The estimated cost to the council is between £29,000 and £46,000 per year. That money could go to other initiatives, such as allowing discounted continuous travel within one hour for those that need two buses to reach their destination.
  • Rush hour – The Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007 [...] entitles [...] to free travel on local buses at off-peak times anywhere within England [Wikipedia]. Off-peak train times with FGW from Reading to London for example start at 9.30am as that is when the rush hour is ending.
  • Safety – Buses are crowded during rush hour. Guaranteeing the safety of concession card holders should be paramount and comfort might not necessarily be possible during those busier times.

Overall I agree with the scheme. I am happy that the UK has this nationwide scheme allowing travel to those that hold concession cards. Germany takes this one step further by also giving free travel to many on its local railways, but then arguably it is mostly one company governing the trains, unlike the many smaller companies in the UK.

I will more than happily continue supporting the scheme’s times between 9.30am and midnight, but I urge Reading Councillors to not change the times as the negative impacts will be larger than potential positive effects.

This post has been amended on 06.06.12 to correct the bus fare. The post originally stated a single fare was £1.70.
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2 Comments

  1. Warren Swaine
    Posted June 13, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    You may be interested to know that this “concession” is not without collateral damage.

    I was a director of Reading Buses and the pre-9.30 scheme resulted in RTL losing money. The rate at which RTL are compensated does not make up for the lost revenue.

    This will mean that as well as the cost of the extended scheme coming from council tax payers, any shortfall in revenue to Reading Buses will need to be made up from fare paying passengers.

    I should also make it clear that this is a Cabinet decision which means that ordinary coucnillors do not get any say on the matter.

  2. Posted June 14, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    Great to hear some more background, Warren.

    I am already shocked how much buses cost, especially compared to other towns.


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