It’s time the government turned to bus subsidies

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Talk about bad timing. While the government urges us to help the environment and cut congestion by ditching the car and taking the bus or train instead, First Hampshire & Dorset decides to raise its fares and is met by predictable anger from passengers.

The company has already made controversial changes to routes across its network. A radical overhaul of its timetable has led to a host of complaints including being unable to get to certain destinations, having to take two buses where previously there was one direct service, longer journey times and less frequent services

Now people discover they have got to pay more for the privilege of using what many consider is an inferior service.

With child single and return tickets in Portsmouth and across south-east Hampshire set to go up between 5p and 25p from December 30 (and many adult fares going up by similar amounts), it’s little wonder that people feel aggrieved. It’s hardly designed to encourage them to keep using the buses.

But before casting First as the wicked villain in a public transport pantomime, it says it is keeping the cost of some fares the same and reducing others.

Surely the central issue here is that First is a private business. When deciding ticket prices, it has to factor in increased fuel costs and maintenance required to keep buses on the road. And, yes, it wants to make money.

You could argue that risking alienating its customers is a short-sighted policy, as its only income is from those passengers.

But as Marc Reddy, regional commercial and business growth director for First, says: ‘Fare reviews are necessary because they ensure that the cost of travel adequately reflects the amount it costs for us to run the buses, while also ensuring that we make enough profit to be able to invest in our networks, staff and the vehicles we operate.’

We may not like it, but that’s the world we’re in. If the government is serious about public transport ever offering a truly attractive alternative to the car, then properly subsidising companies like First may be the only way.