15 March 2014

Are lower fares really the best way forward for First?

If you visit the Facebook page of First Devon then you will have see this graphic as they have posted it several times recently. They have also shown it on their own web site. It seems they are really keen to tell you that their fares have not risen, or it seems, going to rise  anytime in the near future.

On the face of it this seems good news, especially compared with Plymouth Citybus.

Lets start off by looking at the whole announcement they made recently:


You may be aware that Plymouth Citybus have announced fare increases in the Plymouth area from Sunday 9 March. We would like to confirm that we have no plans to increase our fares in the Plymouth and south Devon area. Our fares and tickets remain some of the cheapest in the area. And in fact (as you will hopefully all be aware!) we have made significant reductions in prices over the past six months. So if you compare our ticket prices with those of Citybus 1&2 zone tickets you'll see were quite that bit cheaper:
  • FirstDay: Adult £3 (Citybus £3.70 - from 20 April). Child/NUS £2 (Citybus £2.90)
  • FirstWeek : Adult £11 (Citybus £15.50). Child/NUS £8 (Citybus £13)
  • FirstMonth: Adult £40 (Citybus £58). Child/NUS £30 (Citybus £50)

In the last six months we've also introduced these other fare and ticket initiatives and savings in the Plymouth and south Devon area:

Extended age for child fares: We extended the age at which child fares and tickets could be bought to 18. This means anyone aged 5 to 18 inclusive can travel at the child fare. Previously it had only been available to those aged 5-15 inclusive so meant significant savings for those aged 16, 17 and 18

Single & return child fares half the adult fare: Most adult single and return fares in Plymouth, Plymstock, Torpoint, Saltash, Ivybridge,Tavistock, Horrabridge, Rame and Wembury are now half price for children age 5-18 (inclusive) The only exceptions are on service 6 which has a flat £1 fare for anyone (adult or child) and Park & Ride where there are no child fares.

£1 concession pre 09:30 fare: We launched a special new £1 flat fare for all holders of a concession pass in Plymouth, Plymstock, Torpoint, Saltash, Ivybridge,Tavistock, Horrabridge, Rame and Wembury. This will enabled holders to travel before 0930 hours or after 2300 hours on weekdays in the Plymouth area for just £1. Until the £1 ticket was introduced they would have had to pay the full adult fare during these times.

Child fares for NUS: Holders of an NUS card can now travel at the child fare. And since the child single and return fares in these areas is now half the price of the adult this means big savings! NUS card holders can also buy Day, Week and Month Plymouth and Plus zone tickets at the child price which offer even more savings: Plymouth Day £2, Plymouth Week £8, Plymouth Month £30. Plus Day £3 Plus Week £13 Plus Month £45. The only routes the half fares for kids and NUS doesn't apply to is the service where the fare is £1 for any single trip for anyone - child or adult - and PR1 and PR2 as there are no child fares/tickets on Park & Ride. Child fares and tickets are available to holders of valid NUS Extra cards and the Apprentice extra cards.

Cheaper singles and returns: We've also reduced some of our single and return fares on specific routes.

Wolseley Road: We reduced the prices of single fares between Wolseley Road Flats and Plymouth City Centre to just £1 for adults and 50p for kids and NUS card holders! This means it's just £1 (or 50p) for any single trip on:

Service 1/1A and 76 between Wolseley Road Flats and the City Centre Service 4 between Queens House and the City Centre Service 83 between Alma Road (Central Park) and the City Centre

Getting to/from Derriford Hopsital and Marjons: We've also introduced a £1 return on service 15 between The George, UCP Marjon and Derriford Hospital. This is great value for those wishing to avoid the expensive (and often limited) parking at the hospital and university - plus parking at The George Park & Ride is free! Return trips can be made on the 83 or 86 back to The George in the evening once the 15 finishes.

Keyham: We've cut our fares on service 4 between Keyham, Milehouse and The City Centre :

Station Road/St Levan Road to City Centre: Adult single £1.60 Return £2.10 Child/NUS Single 80p Return £1.05. Queens House/Milehouse to City Centre: Adult single £1 Return £1.50 Child/NUS Single 50p. Return 75p.

West Park, Honnicknowle and Peverell We launched some super value fares on our new service 3A (launched in October) between St Budeaux, West Park, Honicknowle, Peverell, Hyde Park, Mutley and City Centre. Heres a few examples:

Peverell - City Centre: Adult single £1.30 (£1.70 return). Child/NUS single 65p (85p return) West Park or Honicknowle - City Centre: Adult single £1.60 (£2.10 return). Child/NUS single 80p (£1.05 return).

Efford & Lipson: Our new service 6 'The Purple' was launched in October 2013 and is just £1 for any single (adult or child) on the route which runs between City Centre, Lipson, Efford and Laira.

We hope you'll agree we've worked hard these past six months to offer the Plymouth area a much better deal on their bus travel. And of course we hope to keep offering our customers and bus users in the area a real fare deal for some time to come!

As I said, for many passengers this is all good news. I mean, what can possibly be bad about cutting fares?

For a bit of a clue have a look down their Facebook page. It wont be long before you get a hint that all is not so well:

I'm getting increasingly bored and frustrated at having to ask what happened to the 8.15 number 2 from Mountbatten. The regularity of this absent service is becoming a standing joke and I cannot believe a 'mechanical fault' affects the same service at the same time every day.

A commuter leaves their home at 8:07 and arrives at the Rollis Park Road bus stop at 8:10, the number 2 bus is due at 8:21. The journey into town is quoted as taking approximately 11 minutes and the commuter starts work (a 4 minute walk through town) at 9:00. You with me so far? The commuter boards the first bus to pass Rollis Park Road at 8:55. This 3 mile commute has taken, door to door approximately 75 minutes. How much quicker would it have been had the commuter rolly-pollied to work?

Waiting for the #2 from Rollis Park Road, been here since 7:51 to catch the 8:01. It is now 8:17. Shall I therefore assume that this bus has been cancelled and I can now expect to board the 8:21 which on Friday actually arrived at 8:55?

always issues on the same services? why? alright you are cheaper but no point if no buses. mechanical issues or are your drivers driving the replacement train coaches.

Its the last comment that sticks out for me as it does ask the big question that all of these fare deals raise:

If these fare cuts mean less money to spend on the service, which in turn means a lesser service, isnt it self defeating?

It is well known that First Devon was/ is loosing money and that not that long ago First made it public knowledge that it was a bit of a basket case and they would be more than happy to get rid of it. Since then it seems that have had a change of heart and appear to be trying to stay and fight. They have responded to competition on the Tavistock and Torpoint routes and seem to be holding their own pretty well. There certainly are some encouraging signs of a brighter future but the fleet seems desperately in need of some major investment. This is even more evident when several of the new Tavistock buses are off on rail replacement duties, no doubt bringing in much needed cash for the business.

Nobody is seriously expecting First to throw new buses at Plymouth but there must be plenty of better buses out there in the group being displaced by the much needed new fleet investment elsewhere in the country. The awful Volvo B6BLEs which form the mainstay of Plymouths fleet are well past it and do First no favours at all. The Hong Kong Darts which have served us so well are also well passed their prime and although much better than the Volvos are “well worn” inside and out. Surely a group the size of First Bus can find some refurbished mid-life Darts or something that can come in and replace these time expired buses for a few years?

Although it could well be quite a long term project to get First Devon profitable surely they need to be trying to get more cash in rather than less per passenger? Although no one likes a fare increase (and I speak as someone who has just been offered 1% after three years pay freeze – and that comes with a pension sting in the tail) but First could easily make a small fare increase and still be cheaper than Citybus and therefore still be able to make this point to its customers. And then, maybe, there might just be a little bit more to spend on the fleet which maybe just might help more of its services actually run without breakdowns.

Please dont take this as being “just another example of First Bashing” I want to see First stay and thrive. I still think it is possible for both First and Citybus to make money in Plymouth. We do need competition in Plymouth just to keep things in some sort of balance. First are clearly trying something different in Somerset and I am still convinced that Cornwall will be seeing something very similar later this year. Interestingly both of these areas have seen quite substantial fare increases for many journeys. Its just the bit in the middle that worries me…


  1. A good summary, Graham. As you say, First has some wriggle-room to adjust fares slightly and it seems odd that they're making a song and dance about not taking it! On the other hand, Citybus seems totally unbothered about First being there! It's all very reminiscent of a stroppy child who's tantrums get worse the more the parents ignore it! Fascinating to watch! :-)

  2. This does appear to be a new marketing strategy for First. They do seem to be making more comparisons between their Services and those of Citybus; ie rather than just saying 'This is our Service 81 it's great because blah blah blah', they now seem to be making comparisons to Citybus' services and aiming to convince passengers that theirs are better.

    Another example of this is the branding for the Service 81 - it has new branding stickers on the side with details like 'The fastest bus between Plymouth and Torpoint' and 'This bus has priority on the Torpoint Ferry, get to Plymouth quicker' and so on.

  3. First maybe cheaper but look at the network sizes, citybus now cover the same areas (except the 93/76) and will soon be in North Devon , I understand citybus sell stagecoach rover tickets so actually you could buy a ticket on citybus and go to Torbay/Exeter can the same be said for first? And what about evening services, Citybus run nearly all there services into the evening, so what is the true value of a first day/week ticket.


    1. I assure you, plenty of people use Citybus in Saltash; so don't include it in your rant.

    2. The 21/21A has to be one of, if not the busiest route they operate. If it wasn't, then why would they invest in 16 new double deckers specifically for the route at what, around £200k each?

      Even off-peak trips carry very good loads, in the evening peak it's certainly not uncommon to have a standing load in the decker. And it's nearly all paying customers too.

      I just don't see how anyone can say the 21/21A is not a well performing route - just spend 20 minutes or so on Royal Parade and watch them go by in opposite directions, even off peak.

  5. Only if you are stupid and like throwing away your money. First rule in saltash and torpoint as well as plymstick and tavi as previous person states

    1. plymstick?? think you will find citybus rule in plymSTOCK. just wait till they go to mount batten!

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. I commute to work daily (by car at the moment due to distance) - I pass Camels Head twice a day at peak times.

      I have yet to see a 3/3A at Camels Head with more than 5 people one it, whilst the 21/21A is rammed. There is no way that First could be taking more money along this corridor.

      As for Saltash. It's already extensively used. The last trip off town at night 2308 always has at least 15 people in to Saltash. People that no doubt finish work/socializing at 2300 and have already missed the last First bus.

    2. red flash 21 21a are ripping people off bye charge u full fare for few stops ,and I seen 6 go past my house in ahour and empty ,couse putting fares up again ,and first buses had people on them ,

    3. and why would any one use a bus company that is on the same route and u can get cheaper bus .so get of ur high horse about people will use citybus in saltash on new route ,all city bus is doing is following first routes there want push first out and then rip ever one off in Plymouth ,but first are staying

    4. dreeeeeammm, dream, dream, dreeeam!

  7. Erm I think the last first bus to key ham is 1945 and citybus is 2015!!

  8. I think Citybus are getting a bit above themselves here. Remember they have changed routes and times in Saltash several times over past few years and still First have come out on top...even when First fares were quite a bit more than Citybus. It will be the same this time. Why would anyone pay more for Citybus service when First are just as frequent and charge signifacantly less?
    I went to catch a Citybus yesterday, first time for years as I now use First instead, I waited nearly 90 minutes for a 40/41 that is supposed to rin every 30 mins..just as I remember Citybus, nothing changes. Council or private owned.. the same.

  9. A quick look at firsts Facebook page shows daily either posts from first indicating missing buses or complaints from passengers asking where the buses are, there are a few comments saying citybus may be more expensive but at least they turn up.

    1. That could be that First are a bit more open than Citybus and don;t edit so much!

  10. Although I like this blog there seems to be the same old tit for tat comments from the "first camp" or "citybus camp" attached to every post, it seems childish to me

    1. Thanks everyone for their comments. There have been a few that have not made it through (on both sides of the argument) as they are just rants against either side.

  11. Strange you mention that I was only thinking that myself yesterday. It detracts from the site and I find the appeal is diminishing. Comments aimed at someone called 'Cuffy' and his retorts, comments made by M Hudson and, from the writing style, M Hudson under anon need to stop. It's not professional as an employee to cite financial knowledge and equally have spats on here. Graham could this be addressed as I fear your site is the playground I commented upon before. Martyn

  12. Have read through some of the comment, indeed is becoming a 'child playground'. Lets put 2 things straight. First Bus Older style vehicles, cheap tickets, fairly regular service or ok service. Citybus fairly modern style vehicles, standard to mild priced tickets, regular frequency, ok service. At the end of the day, the fact First a few years ago had 'UGObus' which ended up being withdrawn two years ago, shows the pattern then, from what I gather at the moment 'Blue Flash' & 'First Tavistock' both seem to have equal loadings, The way this battle work out will be cost, as well as the style of vehicle. I.E a modern, reliable and comfortable bus, with tickets which are reasonable, and what the customers wants, I believe the best way for both companies to make the pricing part happen, would be to speak to customers, no with the PCB 'Chatter Bus' actually get on the bus with customers, ask them how much they have paid for there journey, how many times a day or week do they do that journey, is the pricing right etc! It might be slightly costly, but it could significantly help both bus companies!

    1. so u think it fair to pay same bus fare from keyham to city £2.40 retrun and from barne barton to city £2.40
      and from keyham to devonprt retrun £2,40 how the hell is this fare hay pay full route fare for few stops ,citybus answer that then

      first bus charge bye stops witch is better ,and I known first bus trun up not like citybus don't shown have look at citybus face book


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