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September 06, 2007

How Not to Run a Bus Service

Really, whio thought this up?

Unlike the bus companies anywhere else in the United Kingdom, these London bus companies do not have a revenue structure related to the number of passengers they carry or the fares they receive: oh no, that would be far too commonsensical.

It is a stunning fact that the London transport authorities do not even tell their contractors - the bus companies - how much cash they are generating in fares, and the bus companies do not know exactly which routes are popular and which are not, because all that kind of detail is jealously guarded by Transport for London.

Instead, they are simply paid to ply the route, and they are paid according to a formula that depends on the number of miles travelled during the day; and so the buses' real incentive is to whizz around London as fast as possible with as few passengers as possible, and certainly not to linger for a straggler.

Talk about getting the incentives wrong...paying by mileage, not passengers? So, of course, you're going to maximise mileage not passengers...which isn't, as far as I can recall, the point of a public transport systm. It's supposed to be more about transporting the public, isn't it?

September 6, 2007 in Travel | Permalink


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And yet buses in London are full and useable, whereas buses in the rest of the country are neither. Christ, Boris is a fuckwit.

Posted by: john b | Sep 6, 2007 10:33:23 AM

...sorry, having calmed down a bit: TfL wants its bus operators to provide a regular service running to timetable, not to compete cut-throat-ishly with each other for fares.

If you look at a city like Manchester, where buses are unregulated, the whole 'no buses of ages and then four come along at once' issue is massively common, because that's what the fare model incentivises them to do. Evening and night services are rare, as are services off the main routes.

It's also *better* that transport systems in general run scrupulously to timetables rather than 'lingering for stragglers', avoiding the build-up of delays that ruin the total service [annoying though it may be if you're a straggler]. The fact that Boris doesn't understand the latter point is genuinely disturbing, given that he's putting himself up to be in charge of transport...

Posted by: john b | Sep 6, 2007 10:42:59 AM

I thought it had long been established that the purpose if public transport in London was not to transport the public, clog the streets or rack up miles, but to provide jobs for the staff of the transport companies?

By any examination of the 'service' provided, it is impossible to reach any other conclusion.

Posted by: Chuckl | Sep 6, 2007 11:06:50 AM

> It's also *better* that transport systems in general run scrupulously to timetables

Something that any Londoner who uses the buses will tell you that this is a complete failure. Buses in London during the day are a joke.

Posted by: AntiCitizenOne | Sep 6, 2007 11:12:30 AM

And at two quid a journey with no allowance for transfers, when travelling with friends it's often cheaper to get a cab.

Posted by: andrew | Sep 6, 2007 11:37:46 AM

It's £1 with pre-pay Oyster or free if you have an Oyster that covers whole zones (like a Travelcard).

I think buses in London are all right, all things considered. Bit of a problem with hoodies, is all.

Posted by: Mark Wadsworth | Sep 6, 2007 11:58:47 AM

Chuck: hardly. Buses are operated by private firms paying Poles £15k a year to drive them - hence why there's seldom a bus strike.

AC1: I'm a Londoner who uses the buses. I used to be a Manc who used the buses. I've also used the buses in plenty of cities abroad. Overall, ours are up there with the best; the ones in Mancs are a joke.

Andrew and Mark: it'll be 80p fare from January. Only insane people pay cash...

Posted by: john b | Sep 6, 2007 12:36:36 PM

I think you're insane to use Oyster. So there you go.

Posted by: andrew | Sep 6, 2007 1:33:56 PM

Fair enough; I'll continue paying half as much money as you for my travel, and you can continue to be wrong. Is it the black helicopters you're worried about?

Posted by: john b | Sep 6, 2007 1:48:50 PM

John B, agreed yet again.

Andrew, I live in Zone 3, I work in Zone 1, my annual Zone 1-3 Oyster is about a grand a year, so that's £2 for an eight mile Tube journey ten times a week. And buses and w/e travel are effectively free. What have I missed?

Posted by: Mark Wadsworth | Sep 6, 2007 2:58:33 PM

Hi Mark, I also live in Zone 3 and work in Zone 1. My annual rail pass is about 500 pounds a year, so (on your rather meagre-holidayed basis) that's £1 for an eight mile train journey ten times a week. Weekend travel on the trains on my usual route is free and I get all those lovely gold card benefits. Sure, I have to pay for the buses on an ad hoc basis, but to answer your question - about 500 quid a year. And I get a lot of great exercise by being incentivised to not use the bus unless absolutely necessary.

And john b, not helicopters. Rather random chargebacks, software glitches, the complexity of the pricing structure, not wanting to give Ken Livingstone an interest free loan, Oyster not being valid for my ticket type on my main commute, and the fact that Oyster is, quite evidently, a giant con (if it's so much cheaper to use, why are the rail companies having to be bribed to accept it?)

Posted by: andrew | Sep 6, 2007 4:48:31 PM

"...buses....are effectively free"

Especially the bendy ones, where the driver cannot see or prevent non-farepayers boarding...

Posted by: JuliaM | Sep 6, 2007 5:14:25 PM

i think this demonstrates why Boris should not be elected in London. He would destroy public transport in one term.

As for bendy buses - they are excellent for people with shopping, prams, families in general. If Boris really cared about these people like he says he does... but instead he uses them to get sympathy for a ridiculous nonsensical point. He really is a CONservative!

Whenever I use buses in London or Brighton or anywhere - yes it is annoying when you just miss one. But in London, thanks to Ken, there is likely to be another one in a few mins because the buses are more evenly spread out. Waiting for stragglers sounds great until people realise the buses are just really slow at getting anywhere, are all bunched together and stop using them as a result. Boris is thick!

The vast majority of people pay fares in London - there is a £1000 fine if you don't. To save a few quid hardly worth the risk.

Posted by: Neil Harding | Sep 6, 2007 8:08:52 PM

John B - Absolutely. London is one of the few places in the country where bus use has been increasing instead of falling.

No one seems to have paused to consider what harm BoJo will do to support for the Conservatives in London. Delete that. Some probably have and are delighted that Boris will likely be the Conservative candidate.

Posted by: Bob B | Sep 6, 2007 9:08:49 PM

"As for bendy buses - they are excellent for people with shopping, prams, families in general."

And fare dodgers. Don't forget them :)

Posted by: JuliaM | Sep 6, 2007 11:01:42 PM

Also professional firefighters. I believe some of the bendy buses have been a little, er....warm at times...

Posted by: JuliaM | Sep 6, 2007 11:03:11 PM

, ours are up there with the best; the ones in Mancs are a joke.

This does not correspond with my experience of using the Manchester buses between 1996 and 2003. As I had a part-time job delivering and collecting hire cars, I used to take the buses all over Manchester, not just on the student routes.

Posted by: Tim Newman | Sep 7, 2007 12:48:20 AM

"(if it's so much cheaper to use, why are the rail companies having to be bribed to accept it?)"

The bribery was to change their fare structure to match TfL's zonal system (essential to allow PAYG Oyster to work), not to use the Oyster card technology - TOCs were worried that they'd lose out on revenue, not that costs would be higher.

Posted by: john b | Sep 7, 2007 10:52:27 AM

Comparing London with other UK cities doesn't smack of a fair comparison to me. It's vastly more dense and has considerably different infrastructure. The only fair comparison is with other megacities.

Bob B, of course, bus use is increasing. The congestion charge and the fucking nightmare that is the tube pretty much force it on most folks. If you want the solution to most of London's transport, it's the very thing that Boris best exemplifies: cycling. It's been criminally ignored in this country for years and it's even cheaper than an oyster card.

John B, the assumption that timetables are the only effective way to run a transport system is questionable. I've spent considerable time in developing countries where the buses are privately owned, i.e. the driver owns it, and the transport was speedier, more immediate and totally untimetabled. You get more working during the day than at night, more at rush hour than off-peak but there is always someone availabe (great to catch a bus back from a club at 3 in the morning) because the market matches the supply to the demand. I'm not claiming they had it to perfection but there were lessons to be learned. There is certainly an optimum trade-off between waiting for stragglers and seeking new custom, these private bus drivers had it down.

Posted by: Philip Thomas | Sep 7, 2007 9:25:42 PM

I cycle in summer but use the tube in winter (and obviously in summer sometimes too) and you can't justify calling it a "fucking nightmare".

Posted by: Matthew | Sep 8, 2007 12:16:44 PM

Well, consider the year I lived in London. I relied on the central line. During that period, it underwent multiple strikes, numerous breakdowns and an engine fell out of a train and so the line was shutdown for a couple of months. Buses then became necessary. Then consider that when the line was working perfectly, it was over-crowded and cramped, and stopped running just past midnight so was no good for evening plans. This is not my definition of a comfortable, efficient, flexible transport system. The tube is great for when I visit London, but to rely on it? No thanks.

Posted by: Philip Thomas | Sep 8, 2007 1:19:23 PM

If everybody paid their fare;
If there were no congestion;
If local authorities were not so keen on digging holes;
If utilities were cordinated in their prediliction to bring whole sections of bus routes to a standstill or unuseable;
if most of the passengers respected the bus driver;
Then my son you may get a half decent bus service.

Posted by: GJ | Sep 22, 2007 7:16:39 AM