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Author Topic: mTickets and fairness  (Read 1000 times)
Transport Scholar
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« on: April 20, 2018, 01:05:42 pm »

This caught my eye because it starts off by referring to a Bristol bus commute. In fact, though it does refer to First in more detail, it's applicable far more generally. It's arguing that although mTickets (buying bus tickets through a smartphone app rather than in cash) is a good thing because it reduces dwell times, the difference in price between mTicket and cash ticket contributes to "poverty premium" (a concept Terry Pratchett fans will be familiar with as Sam Vymes boots theory!).
This ďpremiumĒ is the many ways in which being poor is day-to-day made more expensive. From metered gas and electricity leading to higher bills, to groceries being more expensive in local shops, itís estimated that the poorest in society pay 10 per cent more for basic good and services. Tiered ticketing where itís cheaper to travel if you can afford the technology risks entrenching that.
But thereís a problem: mTickets are incentivised via price. The launch in Bristol last year coincided with a 30p price rise in single fares Ė a rise you could avoid only if you bought your ticket using your mobile phone.
Letís look at the numbers. People on low incomes are more likely to use buses than the rest of the population. According to government statistics, 67 per cent of stages on local buses are made by people who earn £25,000 or less. This suggests that buses are providing a significant service to people on lower incomes. 

Secondly, those on lower incomes are less likely to have the Smartphone technology needed to purchase mTickets. The governmentís report on digital exclusion stated that 37 per cent of those who are digitally excluded are social housing tenants, and 17 per cent of the digitally excluded earn less than £20,000 a year.

Similarly, Ofcomís recent report on Adultsí Media Use and Attitudes found those in the lowest socio-economic bracket are between 10-15 per cent less likely to own a Smartphone than those in AB-C2 brackets (although the majority of people across all socio-economic backgrounds do now own a Smartphone). This means thereís correlation between the people most likely to use bus services and those least likely to have a Smartphone.
The author does go on to praise First for inclusion:
With congestion and air pollution causing more and more problems in cities, getting more people on the buses is a worthy goal. Moreover, itís encouraging that the company is looking at inclusion and ways to open access to those most excluded in society. The fact that First Bus works with agencies including City of Sanctuary, St Mungos, SARSAS and Syrian Refugee Resettlement so they can provide bus tickets to their clients/service users demonstrates some level of commitment to social responsibility in this area.

It does seem iniquitous, but is it on balance more of a problem than a benefit? If it's true that most people across all socio-economic groups have a smartphone, which does seem likely, then it stands to reason that most people are in a position to benefit from this, including the very poorest. Moreover, if the gap between mTickets and cash tickets is closed, which I think is likely in time as they become more common, it will certainly be by levelling all tickets up to the cash price!

Day return to Infinity, please.
Transport Scholar
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« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2018, 01:41:58 pm »

I don't see why the same discount isn't given to those paying by contactless card or by smartcard tbh. If the reasoning for the discount is, as First say, to reduce dwell times (by disincentive cash payment), then surely those two options should also count?

edit - just looked and it appears the cheaper fares are now available with the touch smartcard. Maybe I was mistaken or has that changed since it was launched? Either way, I don't see why contactless should be left out in the cold!

And of course, you have the issue with the mtickets (and the smartcard) that you have to buy groups of tickets if you want a single. So in Bath its a group of 5 for £10, even if you just want to buy the one single.
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« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2018, 02:03:44 pm »

Perhaps that (buying in bulk) is the reason the discount is not given to contactless payments? Or perhaps it's due to bank charges on what are, after all, quite small sums per transaction.

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« Reply #3 on: April 20, 2018, 02:15:20 pm »

I'm not going to post a poll, tempting though it was.

Should fares be set:

a) For simplicity

b) To reflect the cost of serving the passenger, including the cost of collection of fare
- cost will be higher for cash due to handling time and bus delays caused
- you pay more if you take longer to board / have luggage that occupies more space

c) To reflect what the market will stand
- if people will pay for a guaranteed seat
- advance fares for specific off peak buses

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