Bus fares could change during day to attract passengers to quiet services – First Glasgow
Variable bus fares that could be reduced at quieter times are being considered by one of Scotland’s biggest bus operators.
First Glasgow said the move within the next two years to so-called airline pricing was part of its efforts to increase the number of passengers using its services.
However, some industry sources feared that varying ticket prices between different services could also be used to increase peak hour fares by stealth.
The plan would use First’s new “tap-on tap-off” technology where passengers pay by tapping their card or phone on a sensor when boarding and alighting from the bus rather than having to ask the driver for a specific fare.
It follows inter-city coach operator Flixbus introducing such pricing, which enables passengers to travel at bargain fares at less popular times.
First Bus Scotland managing director Duncan Cameron said it heavily relied on such technology to make bus travel easier and more attractive.
He told a Glasgow Talks event organised by Glasgow Chamber of Commerce: "The tap-on tap-off readers we have installed are very similar to the way Oyster works in London, which speeds up the transaction.
“You don’t need to know the fare in advance, you just need to know that you’re being capped at the best value, so that you have that confidence.
"It also gives us a bit more agility. As this develops, rather than simply standard fares, we may well get to the stage where we can move to an airline pricing model, where [for] that free capacity, the price can be changed very quickly because it’s digitised.
"It’s conceptual at this stage and something we want to develop now we have the technology.”
Mr Cameron said tap-on tap off enable First to know passengers’ exact journeys for the first time. He said: "It is going to give us a real opportunity to understand specific passenger demands, which then allows us to tailor services accordingly.”
On Friday, Flixbus was selling one-way tickets from Glasgow to Dundee for £3.99 for its 9.45pm service today compared to £16.99 for the 2.15pm service. On its Edinburgh-Aberdeen route, tickets for the 10.10am service today were £5.99 compared to £23.99 for the 6.10pm coach.
FlixBus UK managing director Andreas Schorling said: “Being a travel tech company, we have developed pricing technology which enables us to offer tickets starting from just £2.49, while remaining operationally cost effective.
“Our pricing algorithm considers metrics including time of booking and available seats, and our technology matches passengers with suitable price points."
Rivals Scottish Citylink said: “We have no plans to adjust our approach to pricing, however we do offer discounted advance return fares across most of our network when booking more than two days in advance.”
But one industry source said: “Is it a way to grow use by offering discounts at quiet times or is it regarded as charging a premium at busy times?”
McGill’s Bus Group chief executive Ralph Roberts was also sceptical. He said: “It is a solution looking for a problem and not an easy customer proposition or message in terms of certainty of cost, which is what people are looking for.”
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