First Bus boss answers your questions on prices and services. See the full interview here.
Paul McGowan revealed the company’s new strategy to the Falkirk Herald after agreeing to a frank Q&A session last week to answer questions from our readers who use the service regularly.
Travellers in the district are unhappy that certain fares for First services are more expensive here than comparative routes in neighbouring local authorities like West Lothian, so much so that Falkirk North Councillor Craig R Martin started a campaign for the re-regulation of the buses to give councils more power over services.
We asked 12 questions from your submissions regarding pricing, costing, disability and buggy access, the state of the current fleet, subsidised pricing, punctuality, cancelled services and plans for new zonal ticketing to be piloted here.
In response to whether First would consider lowering comparative fares that are less expensive in other areas Mr McGowan said: “When we have annual fares increases to reflect inflationary cost increases, we try and minimise those within the Falkirk area.
“I can’t promise price reductions but I can promise we will look at the day tickets, the weekly tickets, the zonal tickets, to try and make those more affordable to give people an opportunity to save money with us if they are travelling with us on a more regular basis, but in the main the fares that we charge reflect demand for those services, the cost base that we have to incur to actually provide those services because the majority of our routes are commercially operated and are not funded by the local authority ratepayers.”
Asked why prices are higher for these services Mr McGowan said the market dictated what prices the company could charge, but over the last three-year period First had managed to prevent the majority of fares from rising.
First is planning to introduce new zonal ticketing in Falkirk as a pilot early in the new year and then, if successful, across the rest of the business, which covers an area from Balfron in the west, through the Lothians and down to the Borders.
He also apologised to people with disabilities and buggy users as not all current buses are suitable for wheeled access.
He added: “I think it’s fair to say that looking backwards, the level of investment within the business perhaps could have been more than it was going back four, five, six years. In the last 15 months 77 new or nearly new vehicles, it’s actually 19 vehicles that are three years old and 58 vehicles brand new, will have been renewed at a vast expense of £10-13 million, all of which are Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) friendly, which means they are wheelchair accessible and also for buggies too.
“All single decks will meet the criteria by the end of this year and all of our double-deck vehicles by the end of 2016. If there are incidents at the moment where there are issues I apologise to our customers but it will be eradicated over the next couple of months.”
‘My campaign will continue’
Dr Craig R Martin wants councils to run bus services, which he says will ensure people from all communities are not excluded and provide cheaper bus fares.
In response to Paul McGowan’s answers, Dr Martin said: “I welcome First Bus’s move to introduce different zonal pricing and I deeply hope it will lead to the people of Falkirk paying less. However, we can see from Paul McGowan’s comments that there will be no radical change in the price of bus travel.
“I don’t really blame First Bus for the expensive cost of bus travel in Falkirk, in theory we should have competition in the bus market which should drive down the cost of travel.
“My sister who lives in Airth pays £22 for her family (two adults and three kids) to get to Falkirk and back. That is grossly unfair and needs to change and my campaign to get cheaper bus prices in Falkirk, and the re-regulation of buses, will continue.
“I do fear for the future of bus travel in Falkirk, you can see from Paul’s comments that for First Bus it’s not commercial to run some services, especially those to rural areas.
“Therefore it falls to councils to pay a bus company to run to these areas, with ever decreasing council budgets it will get harder and harder for the councils to keep doing this. Also if bus prices keep increasing, I believe less people will use the buses and therefore fewer services will be commercially viable.
“It’s a vicious circle that needs to be broken and is why the SNP Scottish Government need to take action. For those who worry having councils run bus services, Lothian Buses, which has Edinburgh council as their only shareholder, just paid £5.5 million in dividend payments to the council.”
The Falkirk Herald would like to thank our readers who submitted questions for the Q&A session with Mr McGowan and apologise for those we could not ask due to time constraints under the volume of questions we received.
We hope the ones we did ask and received answers to provides readers with more information to some of the frequently asked questions.