So not long after we blogged that GMPTE might escape the worst of funding cuts in the immediate future, the Manchester Evening News reports that planned budget cuts are likely to see the end of the flat concessionary fare. That’ll teach us. Why didn’t we see this coming? Partly because we weren’t looking in the right place – the relevant document being an Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) committee paper (PDF format). Partly due to the importance that politicians have previously given to the concept of flat fares for children. And partly because GMPTE have been pushing the igo smartcard so heavily. But it appears that budgetary pressures trump those concerns now.
Taking a look at some of the main budget points for the forthcoming year:
- Concessionary bus fares change from 80p to half-price from 3rd April
- Senior citizens will have to pay full fares on bus/train/tram before 0930 on weekdays from 3rd April
- Bus station departure charges increased by 4.5% from 4th April
- 15% headcount reduction at GMPTE, no payrises
- GM bus travel concession scheme changed to match county boundary
Overall concessionary support will therefore fall from £75.1 million this year to £66.4 million next year. The switch to a half-fare concession is estimated to save £8.3 million per year, whilst £1 million will be saved by withdrawing the before-0930 concessions for senior citizens – who will still be able to travel for free after 0930 under the national scheme. There are predicted to be fewer concessionary journeys made next year: a combination of the age threshold for the national scheme rising from 60 to 66 years old, long-term downward trends in child journeys, and an updated assessment on cross-boundary journeys and new operators’ figures. The move to half-fare concessions will bring Greater Manchester in line with fares in many other parts of the country, though it should be noted that London offers free travel for under-16s at any time on buses and trams.
Where will this leave the igo smartcard for under-16 travel? The original plan was that the 80p flat fare would only be available on display of an igo pass, which would only be available to residents and scholars in Greater Manchester. We’d started making some discrete inquiries as to what ineligible children would pay, with half-fare tickets being the most likely outcome. Now that the concessionary fare is going to half-fare anyway, is there much point? One of the benefits of the igo was its possible confiscation in the event of bad behaviour, but will a half-fare still be available with other forms of ID? Or could it be that ineligible children won’t be offered *any* form of discount on bus journeys within Greater Manchester? All things considered, not great timing given that the originally advertised concessionary fare disappears before the igo card becomes compulsory on 16th May.
(We’d expect the price of the System One “any bus” 7 day child ticket to rise too, as its current price of £8 equates to ten single journeys, just enough to cover a daily commute to school. Half the price of an adult ticket would be £8.45, but that’s just no yardstick. Some bus operators also issue their own child weekly tickets which are priced below the cost of the “any bus” ticket and which may offer a better alternative to cash-strapped parents.)
Although GMPTE stands to shed 15% of its workforce, it will also be taking on more staff as part of the establishment of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority on 1st April. Extra staff will come from the GMTU, the ITA Policy Unit, the GM Joint Transport Unit and the GMUTC – a lot of acronyms that condense down to “being in charge of roads”. We only hope the transformation from GMPTE to TfGME won’t result in a costly rebranding exercise – think of all those bus stops and railway stations that would need to be updated!
The last item of interest to us is the change to the boundary of the bus travel concession scheme. We’re not sure what the full implications of this change will be: will it be a tidying-up back-office exercise that has no visible effect on passengers? Six “relatively small” areas will be removed from the scheme. We suspect these consist of extensions to Belmont, Edgworth, Edenfield/Bacup, Glossop/Hayfield/New Mills, Middlewood/Poynton/Wilmslow/Styal and Lymm/Hollins Green/Culcheth. Currently holders of System One tickets and passes can use bus services to reach these out-of-county destinations – we’ll be keeping an eye on whether these terms and conditions change.