Monday, August 17, 2009

What About Casual Bus Users? Pre-pay tickets are not all good news.

PrePay undoubtedly increases the service speed of buses but a significant group of passengers and prospective passengers may be suffering discrimination. If so, it would be useful for government and the community to be made aware of the extent of any such discrimination.

I refer to the group as “casuals”. It could almost be defined as those who are not commuters – that is, they do not make frequent, repetitive bus trips through familiar territory. “Casuals” would include occasional bus users, people travelling in unfamiliar territory, tourists, the retired, the unemployed, and particularly those with weak communication skills. Such individuals can no longer negotiate with the bus driver, who generally has intimate knowledge of the complexities of fares, routes and timetables. They must now ask for a specific ticket from a retail shop assistant, after attempting to instantaneously absorb the complexities of the fares, routes and timetables from printed documents or posters.

Here are the main problems:

1 – The inconvenience of first having to find a complying retail outlet, wait in a queue, and discuss the ticket purchase with a shop assistant who has little knowledge of the bus network and its associated complexities.

2 – The problems arising out of language and pronunciation difficulties.

3 – The amount of information to be rapidly absorbed by the intending passenger, simply to undertake what should be a universal freedom – access to services. (For example, the brochure issued by State Transit for Bondi Junction Interchange alone, when it converted to PrePay, ran to 14 pages.)

4 – The sometimes trivial value of the cash transaction, for which the retailer has little time, interest, or reward.

5 – Anecdotal evidence suggests that many small retailers do not carry an appropriate range of tickets to satisfy the diversity of passenger needs. (Retailers are required to pay for ticket stock in advance of delivery and so they carry a minimum of stock and are out of pocket until the tickets are sold, if ever). This is known to have caused inconvenience to intending passengers.

6 – Is State Transit concentrating too much on the high-value, mainstream commuter market, and turning its back on the less lucrative “casual” market?

There are many other inconveniences to passengers arising from PrePay, especially now that there is a confusing mix of ordinary and PrePay bus stops, routes, and individual services. While particular inconveniences may be trivial, the cumulative effect is not, and it has all been done without consultation with, or the approval of, the travelling public.

Kevin Eadie
Action For Public Transport

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