I was invited to attended a meeting at Truro College with Cornwall and Devon First Bus Group. I was not alone, as the other 122 Councillors of Cornwall Council were also invited to attend this event. Sadly, only three other Cornwall Councillors did indeed attend. Pretty poor showing, but First do not cover all areas of Cornwall.
I really feel those Councillors who choose not to attend really missed out as First had their entire regional management team, including the MD present. With so few Councillors there it gave the four of us the chance to have a real one on one discussion with the First management team. It is not often you get the chance to discuss strategic and local issues with those who set policies and help run the company.
It was great to hear where the company wants to be in the next few years in Cornwall, and how it wants to improve services and the experience of travelling on the bus. Contactless ticketing (like the Oyster Card in London) is one of those areas that will be introduced in the next year or so. Currently all the ticket machines in First’s buses are being upgraded to allow this technology to be used. Wifi is also a possibility on the main commuter routes. This is currently being trialled on the Cardiff – Swansea route. So far, this is really working and the MD said he hoped to roll it out to other areas.
I made the point the cost of tickets puts many people off; especially for families. I asked why can’t children travel free if accompanied by an adult, or a like scheme that would help encourage families to use the bus. Also, more deals should be for those groups that receive no type of concessionary rates. Both these ideas received a positive response from the MD. Now I know he is not going to suddenly implement these ideas, but he did say this is something the company is looking at now.
A real interesting idea the company is working on is some sort of mobile app/program that will give you a live update on where a bus is. So a quick check of your phone you will let know how far away the bus is, or if it is running a little late. This could reduce the time people wait at a bus stop. I really like this idea as I know from experience how much extra time you have to allow when catching a bus.
The real surprise of the evening was when one of the finance directors came up to me and asked why Cornwall Council were not part of First’s business club promotion. I asked no idea, have you contacted the council? He replied he tried, but got the cold-shoulder from Cornwall Council. I said I would help out, but could you explain how the deal works. In helping those who travel a lot they can get a discounted ticket. For instance, an average monthly ticket costs £98 per month, but if Cornwall Council signs up for this (no cost to the council) a ticket can be bought by a council employee for a monthly cost of around £65; a saving of around 31% of the annual price.
I feel this is a no-brainer for the council to sign up to this. I asked if Cornwall Council got a lot of people to sign up for this could a better deal be done. The chap from First choked a little, but then said yes, we can always talk about this. He also mentioned that he would love to offer this to RCHT, but like the council it is hard to get to talk to the right person.
I said I will talk to those who deal with this, and today, I have done. I spoke to the Portfolio Holder this morning and his response was ‘were do we sign’.
I believe if a bus was seen as a more clean and more pleasurable experience with decent and affordable ticket pricing more would use them. First is not there yet, but from what I heard and talked about I believe they are trying to get there.