Bus service revamp: How changes will impact contactless payments and multi-operator routes

Five months of talks have begun between transport authorities and bus companies on shaping improvementsFive months of talks have begun between transport authorities and bus companies on shaping improvements
Five months of talks have begun between transport authorities and bus companies on shaping improvements | Getty Images
Metro mayor Dan Norris wants to create a London-like brand for transport in the West of England

A major revamp of bus services across the Bristol region will see daily and weekly fares capped through contactless tap-on, tap-off payments allowing passengers to hop across different operators, it has been revealed.

Five months of talks have just begun between transport authorities and bus companies to shape huge improvements allowing seamless travel, eventually including trains, similar to Transport for London (TfL), and new local low-fare zones and cheaper point-to-point journeys.

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Under-11s will ride for free, with youngsters aged 11 to 18 getting half-price discounts across all operators, while frequent daytime turn-up-and-go services are proposed alongside better evening timetables.

And one common transport brand will be created for the West of England, inspired by TfL, with the same livery emblazoned across all single and double-deckers.

Currently the majority of buses accept contactless cards but tickets are only valid with the same firm, while ‘tap and cap’ is available only on First buses for daily and weekly tickets in flat-fare zones.

The improvements are outlined in a weighty document called the Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) submitted to the Government by the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) and North Somerset Council at the end of October.

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It envisages an “enhanced partnership” with operators, primarily First because of its dominance in the region, which is the subject of negotiations now underway, to be completed by March 31 before undergoing public consultation and coming into force 70 days later on June 10.

First Bus has welcomed the plan’s “level of ambition” and says it is committed to rolling out tap-on, tap-off capping across the region next year and more flexible tickets to ensure faster, reliable buses.

Up to 1,000 contactless bank-card readers, compatible with Apple Pay and Google Pay, will be installed on vehicles, allowing customers to tap on entry and exit without the need for tickets or stopping to pay the driver, like on the London Underground, with the correct, cheapest fare calculated and boarding times reduced.

Adult tickets and price-capping involving single operators will come first, followed by multi-company and discounted fares.

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West of England metro mayor Dan Norris said: “This is an exciting plan to make bus travel simpler and cheaper for passengers.

“The idea is you can get on any bus, tap in with your debit card and out again when you reach your destination.

“You can do this on as many journeys as you want, in one day, but you will only be charged one set daily price.

“I want to make it as easy as possible for people to do the right thing so they can greatly reduce car journeys and use public transport, walk, cycle and wheel so we can reach our very ambitious net zero 2030 target and deal with congestion, pollution, and obesity.”

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Mr Norris said he wanted a brand for the West of England’s transport so that people thought about it in the same way as London’s network.

“We want that identity so that everybody gets into that sense of seamless public transport and walking and cycling so you use the train and the bus and not have to worry about getting where you need to go,” he said.

“I would like to see 24-hour transport and for it to be very reliable and frequent.

“I don’t want people to look at bus timetables, I want them to know a bus will be here on an average of 10 minutes so it’s part of people’s lifestyles.”

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First West of England managing director Doug Claringbold said: “First Bus is very supportive of the Government’s ambition, outlined in the National Bus Strategy, to improve bus services and increase the number of people travelling by bus across the country.

“We worked closely with Weca and North Somerset Council as they developed their recently published BSIP, which sets out their vision for how the Government’s ambitions can be realised in our area.

“We very much welcome the level of ambition it demonstrates.

“Our focus is on improving the experience for our customers, with a commitment to a zero emission fleet by 2035, the roll-out of tap-on, tap-off contactless capping across our network in 2022, a more flexible ticket offer that meets changing travel needs and ultimately, the operation of faster, more reliable services made possible by the delivery of the bus priority measures set out in the BSIP.”

The plan says buses spend 25 to 30 per cent of their time at bus stops and that the proposals would halve this and improve journey times.

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