OPINION: Getting the best value for money for bus travel

OPINION: Getting the best value for money for bus travel

September 13, 2019 2 By Stu

One of the common complaints from people I see in comments on social media posts and news articles is that ‘buses are too expensive’ and that its ‘cheaper to get a taxi’.

Now while in some circumstances I might actually agree with statements like those, on the whole my feeling is that people who make such comments either rarely use buses, or don’t know about the range of ticket options available to them.

While there are a variety of options available, I’m going to try and explain some various examples in this article, though obviously these examples may not necessarily apply to all bus passengers, but I hope you get the idea and do some research into the options that suit you best. (Costs shown below apply to adult fares only, child fares will be lower, prices correct as of September 2019)

The ‘infrequent traveller’

For those people who only infrequently use a bus for travel, a single journey will cost £2.40 if paid with cash on-bus. This is the ‘maximum fare’ that can be charged by operators on bus services within the Transport For West Midlands area. So to travel from Birmingham city centre to Wolverhampton on the X8 is the same price as travelling from Moseley to Acocks Green on the 1.

You could make a little saving on a single journey by using your contactless credit/debit card instead. On NX Buses, tap your card instead of paying cash, and your first journey will cost £2.30. (more on Contactless later)

Alternatively, you can buy ‘M-tickets’ on your smartphone using the NX Buses app, where a single journey also costs £2.30 (more on NX M-Tickets later).

The Short Hop

If you’re only making a short single journey of maybe only a few stops, you might be unaware that you can pay a ‘Short Hop’ fare of £1.50.

This can be a bit complicated to work out, and the information on NX’s website is a bit outdated, but knowing which ‘fare stages’ you are travelling between could help in getting a cheaper ticket.

For example, if you’re intending to travel on the 12 or 12A from Bearwood (Three Shires Oak Road) to the Queens Head in Londonderry, you only have to pay a short-hop fare of £1.50. (£1.40 with a SWIFT Pay As You Go card, more on that later).

More info on Short Hop fares and link to the faretable can be found here.

You can of course enquire with the driver as you board, but please note that your driver may not be as familiar with your local area as you are, try and use journey planners before you set out so you know the name of the stop you want – your driver is more likely to know ‘Colmore Row’ than “Pigeon Park” (as it is colloquially known!) for example.

A ‘non-direct’ route?

There will undoubtedly be situations where the bus journey you need to make will involve using two or more bus services to complete your journey.

Let’s say for example, that you are travelling to Walsall from Kings Heath, or from Solihull to Halesowen. There are no direct bus services between those destinations, so you are inevitably going to have to use two or more buses.

If you pay the standard single fare for each journey, that will soon add up! That’s where the ‘Daysaver’ or nBus Day ticket will come in really handy. These tickets offer unlimited travel through the course of the day – £4.60 for NX Buses, £4.80 for all West Midlands operators. Make as many journeys by bus as you want! And of course, these tickets can be cheaper to buy if you use the SWIFT pay-as-you-go-card, or the NX Bus mobile app.

If you pay by contactless card, on NX Buses, all you need to do is tap your card on each bus you board, you’ll never pay more than the Daysaver rate.

If you only travel within certain areas of the West Midlands, there are also special ‘local’ Daysaver tickets available, and of course Daysavers become cheaper if you only travel only after 9:30am Monday to Friday, and all-day at weekends.

So lets say for example that you live in Solihull but have to attend an appointment in Halesowen and return home the same day.

If you paid for your journey using cash, and paid for single tickets each time, that would cost you 4x £2.40 = £9.60.

Yeah, bus travel is expensive! But you can bring that cost down by buying a day ticket.

If anyone can find me a taxi company that will ferry me from Solihull to Halesowen and back for less than £4.60, please give me their number!

The ‘less-frequent’ traveller

OK, so we’ve established that if you’re making more than one bus journey in a day – presumably the commute to/from home – you’re much better off buying a ‘day ticket’ rather than paying for single journeys.

If it’s the case that you make this bus journey maybe once or twice a week, then that’s fine. What you may not know is that if you do this same journey more than three times a week, you are more than likely paying more than you need to!

In another hypothetical situation, I’m living in Moseley, but working in Erdington five days a week. If I buy day-tickets, that’s costing me £23 a week (5x £4.60), just in bus fares to get to and from work.

Yeah, bus travel is expensive!

But it doesn’t have to be this way! A weekly bus pass works out much better value for money. NX weekly tickets start from £14 (off-peak) and nBus weekly tickets £14.70 (off-peak) which can bring some significant savings.

There are also savings to be made by buying monthly or 4-week passes.

“Frequent Flyers”

The best value-for-money to be gained is for those who fully embrace bus travel and make it their way-of-life!

Now while I admit that this may not be an option for everybody, please at least listen to my own example I am about to give!

For us ‘long-termers’, there is an option to pay for bus passes with monthly (or even yearly) direct-debits. These are definitely the cheapest way to get bus travel in the West Midlands area.

I’m currently paying £61 a month for a Direct Debit NX Regional Faresaver pass, which allows me unlimited travel on all NX buses in the West Midlands and Coventry areas.

£61 x 12 months = £732 per year

£732 divided by 364 days (Christmas Day doesn’t count as there’s no service) = £2.01

So that’s a subscription fee of little over £2 a day – less than half the cost of a Daysaver – which allows me unlimited travel on all NX buses across the West Midlands, if I really wanted to I could bus it from Leamington Spa to Stafford and back!

Monday to Friday I get the bus to and from work, so that’s at least two journeys a day. Then at weekends, when I’m not lazing around at home in the garden, I’m often out and about, whether its shopping or visiting family, for which I’ll usually catch the bus too. So I’m pretty much a seven-day-a-week bus user, and naturally a direct-debit subscription really is the best value option for me.

I appreciate that not everybody may have the inclination to use bus services as regularly and frequently as I do, but it needs to be pointed out that the more you use the bus, the more you can actually save on travel costs by purchasing ‘season’ tickets, whether weekly or monthly. Real extremists can of course also purchase annual passes!

If you only ever travel in the Black Country or Coventry areas, there are also cheaper season tickets available for unlimited travel within those areas.

Travel with friends

OK so far, we’ve covered looking out for yourself when it comes to bringing down the cost of bus travel, but what about if you’re travelling in a group? In this circumstance, you might be forgiven for thinking that a taxi is the cheapest and best option for you, and you may of course be right, but please read on!

You could of course buy your own single or day tickets individually, that’s up to you.

But if you’re all going to travel together at the same time to the same places, there are ‘Group’ tickets available.

NX offer a Group Ticket, for a group of 5 adults travelling together (or 2 adults with 4 children) for £8, which comes down to £5 if travelling after 6pm. That of course is if you pay cash on the bus, if you buy this as an mTicket with the NX app, this comes down to £6 all day, or just £4 after 6pm.

So in a hypothetical situation again, lets say you and four friends are planning an evening out in Birmingham from Halesowen, you can all travel together on the bus to and from town for just £4. Still more expensive than a taxi?

Travel with children

As well as the Group Ticket, which covers two adults with up to four children, for those parents perhaps travelling by themselves with one or two of the kids in tow, after 9:30am when buying a NX Daysaver ticket on-bus, you can add a child for an extra £1 (up to three kids!). Beats buying them a child Daysaver too, as long as they stay with you through the day.

Children under the age of 5 travel for free, as long as they are accompanied by an adult. If you have children over the age of 15, they are classified as adults unfortunately, so will have to pay adult fares, unless they are in full-time education or training and have a 16-18 photocard which entitles them to pay child-rate fares.

SWIFT Pay-as-you-go

If you’re making single journeys or buying day tickets, do note that many bus operators now only accept correct amounts of cash, and can’t give change.

For those infrequent journeys, where you may not always have the correct amount of change to pay for your fare, the SWIFT Pay As You Go (PAYG) card is a quick and convenient way to buy cash tickets without needing coins. Simply buy a SWIFT PAYG card loaded with credit, tell the driver which ticket/fare you require, and then tap your SWIFT card on the card reader.

You can ‘top-up’ your card with at least £10 worth of credit, up to £50. Top-ups can be purchased at travel centres, Payzone retailers or at dedicated Swift kiosks now installed at several major bus stations. You can also buy top-ups online, and ‘load’ them to your card using the SWIFT app on any NFC-enabled Android smartphone or any SWIFT ‘collector’ device installed at over 100 bus stops throughout the region.

A number of single and day tickets are cheaper to purchase using a SWIFT PAYG card rather than using cash on-bus.

More information can be found at the SWIFT website.

Contactless Payment

You can pay for bus fares using your contactless credit/debit card on buses in the West Midlands operated by National Express West Midlands, National Express Coventry, Diamond Bus, as well as First, Arriva and Stagecoach.

The procedure does vary slightly depending on which operator you travel with.

On NX West Midlands/Coventry buses, you just tap your contactless card on the reader as you board the bus, your first tap will be billed as a single fare, if you make any subsequent journeys just tap your card each time and you won’t be billed any more than the equivalent day ticket rate in that 24 hour period. You do need to tap the same card each time you board a bus though! You won’t be issued with a printed ticket, so in the event that you are challenged by a ticket inspector, simply show them the card you used to make your purchase and they’ll be able to verify it.

On Diamond Buses, you just need to inform the driver as you board which ticket you require then tap your card to complete the purchase. You can buy single and day tickets, as well as weekly tickets, with your contactless card, and a paper ticket will be issued, which you should then show to the driver on subsequent journeys.

More information on contactless payments can be found on the bus operators’ websites:

Mobile Ticketing

If you have a smartphone, you can also use several apps to make bus ticket purchases.

As with contactless payments, tickets purchased using mobile apps (“M-tickets”) are often cheaper than using cash on-bus.

More information on bus operators’ apps can be found at the links below:

Conclusions

So, to wrap up this lengthy article, lets go back to the initial paragraph, and the reasons why I put this article together.

“Buses are too expensive”

Yes, I will agree with that statement, but only really where people are infrequently using bus services, or simply not buying the right ticket for their needs.

If you make two or three journeys by yourself through the course of a day, and pay the full maximum single fare each time, then yes, you are paying too much! And likewise, if there are two or more of you travelling in a group, buying individual day tickets, then yes, you are paying too much!

You also need to look at other factors, like think about the cost of parking somewhere. You could drive to a city centre car park, and have to pay something like £3 to £10 for parking, as well as the cost of fuel (and the hassle of driving around trying to find somewhere to park your car!). Granted, you will have to walk from a bus stop to your destination, but can you always get a parking space right next to your destination?

“It’s cheaper to get a taxi”

Now, I will definitely agree that in some circumstances, a taxi might actually be the cheapest option for you, especially if you need to get somewhere quickly and conveniently.

But on the whole, seriously, are taxis really that much cheaper than catching the bus? I could get on the X1 bus from Birmingham city centre and travel all the way to Coventry city centre for £2.40, I doubt many taxi companies could do that cheaper.

Yes, if you’re travelling as a group, a taxi fare comes down as you (hopefully) get to share the cost, but there are group tickets available that let you travel by bus at a discounted rate.

With the rise of ‘Uber’ and many other local taxi companies having their own apps, it has become quick and convenient to book a taxi to come and pick you up to take you to your destination, but I wonder how many people look at what they’re being charged before they do so.

It might be a little more effort to get yourself to walk to your nearest bus stop, but if you’re not in a hurry, you might be able to save some money by using the bus instead.

Granted, there may be circumstances where a taxi is preferable to a bus, like at 2am when there are no buses running (apart from the handful of 24hr services we have), or if you need to get to an airport or coach station in a rush, so that will be unavoidable, I don’t want to judge people based on their individual circumstances.

If anyone has any thoughts or experiences to share, as well as any other suggestions on saving money on bus travel, or any tips on other local bus operators who offer contactless or mobile payments, please feel free to comment below!


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