4 November 2010: Here’s a bit of good news for once: First is going to reverse some of its bus cuts, and Birmingham is getting a smartcard.
In these dark days of spending cuts, a few good news stories really do stand out, especially when they’re about improvements that we’ve been calling for.
First, which had cut 6% of its bus services over the past year, is re-thinking its approach in light of falling passenger numbers. FirstGroup CEO Tim O’Toole said "I do not want to be caught in the trap that we can save our way to growth". To avoid that trap, First is now planning to put some of those routes back into action.
Meanwhile in Birmingham, Oyster-style smartcard readers have been installed across the bus fleet, and passengers will soon be able to benefit from simple, pay-as-you go tickets that can be used on all buses and the Metro tram.
It’s hardly rocket science. Better services + simple, affordable tickets = more passengers! (Something that, over on the train side, East Coast has learned this year). Whereas worse services + higher fares = passengers choose other options.
Let’s hope that bus companies bear this simple formula in mind as they grapple with planned cuts to the fuel subsidy. The bus industry’s trade association, for one, and Bus Minister Norman Baker, for another, think that bus companies can absorb the cuts without putting up fares.