Impacts of free travel for senior citizens
Collation of evidence for bus operator Stagecoach Devon.
Since April 2006, older and disabled people have been able to travel for free on buses in England. The bus operator Stagecoach Devon has concerns about the effects of this concessionary scheme on its business, as a result of the major increase in demand which 'free travel' has generated. It is perceived that this growth in concessionary travellers has, to some extent, occurred at the cost of fare-paying passengers in terms of capacity, reliability, and the range of services that can be offered.
The Centre for Transport and Society was asked to assist in collating information about how the scheme was operating on the Stagecoach Devon network, and to help deploy and analyse an on-bus survey of passenger behaviour and attitudes. For the survey, 1,000 travellers on selected routes in Devon were interviewed by a market research company.
Key empirical results included widespread approval for the scheme (from all groups of passenger), although there was some support for the view that a nominal charge would be appropriate. There was no substantive evidence for over-crowding or reliability problems to date, which in large part reflects increases in capacity provided by the operator as part of a business expansion strategy.
Initial conclusions from the wider project, are that the interpretation of 'no better no worse' for the operator which is being applied in reimbursement focuses on performance at particular - increasingly arbitrary - points in the past, and does not reflect the fact that the bus industry is dynamic. Also, that a highly complex reimbursement regime has evolved, demanding levels of certainty and precision that are difficult to deliver. Reimbursement to date has been dominated by the concept of 'passenger generation', but greater consideration needs to be given to the supply side in calculating changes in operating costs due to free travel, as there will be step changes in cost, as well as marginal cost increases.