Monday, 14 June 2010

How successful has the Humber Fastcat relaunch really been?

As a user of the service who very much appreciates the increased frequency, it feels a bit wrong to be writing this, but it is a question that needs asking. How successful has the March 2009 Humber Fastcat relaunch been?

A snippet of information in 2009-10 Stagecoach East Midlands Annual Report made me think about this - the service is carrying 40,000 passengers a month, up 23% from last year. This increase has actually reduced from 30% as off last Autumn.

While the 'headline' increase of the 350 was from hourly to half hourly, in reality it was a less than 100% increase. Scunthorpe-Winterton was already two buses an hour for most of the daytime and Sundays only gained one extra return journey. Early mornings and evenings haven't seen a 100% increase either. However the increase in mileage is still well above 50% - at a guess around 70-80%. Yet the passenger increase is just 23%. So after a year mileage has increased probably around three times more than the increase in passenger numbers. This does raise questions over how successful the relaunch has been.

Expecting passenger numbers to rise in line with mileage is probably unrealistic. Especially when the section into Hull at least is very 'one-sided', with not many North Bank residents travelling south over the river from my observations. So some empty services at certain times of day are to be expected. Similarly the recession may have had an impact on those travelling for leisure purposes who may have decided to stay at home instead of going out. Also from my observations fare-paying commuter traffic has increased with the increased frequency and new route in Hull City Centre. However even allowing for this, a big gap between the mileage and passenger increases has to be disappointing.

Based on this it would be expected that Stagecoach and EYMS would look to change the timetable. If not a reduction back to hourly, changes to early morning, evening and Sunday services that would not affect the core frequency. Yet beyond a very minor college day change in September the timetable remains unaltered. And then in April Barton got a third bus to Hull with the diversion of the Humber Flyer into Barton.

So are the passenger increases not telling the whole story? Or are Stagecoach and EYMS hoping things will pick up and reluctant to reduce a flagship service?

To a end on a positive note, what could be done to boost passenger numbers? The weekly ticket prices are reasonable, and the fares did not get increased in the May EYMS fare changes. The Barton-Hull return fare is £6.30; dropping that to say £6 is unlikely to see many extra passengers while a bigger drop may not cover the operators costs. And the service is even being advertised on Viking FM.

Maybe a short term promotion to encourage new users to try the service - for example two adults travelling together get one ticket half price. Or a family ticket that could boost weekend and school holiday travel. Possibly a flexi-rider version of the Megarider Fastcat (Stagecoach's weekly ticket). An add-on to the weekly tickets for local travel in Hull or Scunthorpe would be another option, though with EYMS and Stagecoach's competing networks in Hull I doubt this would be practical.


Anonymous said...

The main factor to consider is the net effect English National Concession pass holders are having on the service's popularity. They are solely responsible for bus usage rising for the first time in decades, outside London in the past two years.

Of the headline ridership figures, does Stagecoach and EYMS drill down to say what proportion are pass holders and what proportion are fare payers? Both companies of course eventually receive reimbursement from all the local authorities in whose area the 350 passes, and one would hope this late remuneration is included in their profit/loss for the route.

Humber Transport said...

No break down between passholders and fare players unfortuantely