Sussex Students’ Union President, Frida Gustafsson, has drafted an open letter to Brighton and Hove Buses following a fare increase on January 16. The fare increases were announced in December with Managing Director, Martin Harris, citing tackling congestion and investing in new, more environmentally friendly buses as the reason for the price rise. The fare increases also come alongside cutbacks for some night services.
Ms Gustafsson told The Badger: “I wrote this open letter to the Bus Company to address the various issues students have with the bus services, including the increasingly expensive fares to travel. The letter was drafted with help from students, and the issues we demand change to are issues I know students care for. It is also in line with the Students’ Union’s transport policy that was voted through by our members just last term which included a pledge to lobby bus and train companies to make bus and train services better for students and not increase ticket prices beyond the rate of inflation.
“The bus company have over the past five years increased their ticket prices way beyond the rate of inflation, and again and again fail to address significant issues highlighted by our students. I think our students deserve better than that – and I’m determined to work to get it changed.”
On Facebook, Ms Gustafsson said: “I think the significant increase in [the] price of bus tickets over the past few years is disgraceful.”
In response to the open letter Nick Hill, Head of Commercial Development at B&H, said: “I’ve been in talks with Frida since she became President of the Student Union and have made changes to our offer for students as a direct result wherever it’s been practical to do it. She asked us for more flexibility with a wider range of tickets so we brought in the 28-day ticket and now we’ve introduced two and three-day tickets as well – both were on her wish list.
“Student fares are at least 25 per cent cheaper than adult fares without any subsidy from either university – unlike many other bus services in student towns and cities.”
The letter, which has been signed by around sixty students to date, states that fares add to the costs associated with living in Brighton and are not justified by the level of service provided by B&H Buses. It claims that students are left waiting 20-30 minutes to board a bus at peak times due to a high number of passengers. The letter also accuses drivers of refusing travel to some students at night, being impatient with international students and complains about B&H’s ticket app ‘freezing’.
Addressing these issues, Nick Hill said: “We have a policy never to leave vulnerable people – without the means to pay – stranded. In other scenarios, we empower our drivers to use their common sense such as when groups of drunk revellers want to travel but are a potential safety risk either to themselves, the driver, other passengers or other road-users during the journey.”
He also added that a new, ‘better’ ticket app is to be launched in the spring and is being tested.
When asked about peak time buses being full, Mr Hill told The Badger “The student service in our city – I’m proud to say – is phenomenal… we’ve increased the frequency of the 25 daytime service by adding two more bendy buses… we’ve doubled the frequency of the 23. Of course, there might well be the occasion when something along the route – such as roadworks – has caused a problem and a service has had to be cancelled or is late. But we will follow-up any specific incidents…”
The open letter also asks that B&H buses make it easier for students to prove their student status on board. The company no longer accepts NUS cards as valid student ID and the letter asks that students be allowed to load their student number onto the Company’s app for easier and faster boarding.
With regards to student ID Mr Hill added “In the same way as a student travelling on a train with a discounted ticket would be asked to show their young person’s railcard, we ask to see the student’s ID to ensure the concessionary ticket is being legitimately used. We don’t think this is unreasonable.”
Mr Hill also addressed the issue of bus driver behaviour saying: “I’m dismayed to hear of such incidents – not least as our drivers receive ongoing training which features good customer relations. We haven’t actually received any complaints to our Customer Services department of this nature. But if there are any specific incidents where we’ve fallen short of our standards, we’d really like to know about them – including bus number, time, date and location – so we can take action.”
Kasia Popiołek, a student at The Institute for Development Studies at Sussex, said: “they [Brighton and Hove Buses] have also cut and amended the route for the night buses to Hollingbury (where many students live), leaving us with no night bus that goes directly there. The reason was due to the bus being ‘unpopular'”. She also told The Badger that the night service cuts could entail extra expenses for her and other students living in the same area due to taxi fares and avoiding walking home late at night.
With regards to night services, Nick Hill told The Badger “The N25 bus is the most used service by students. This service has once again increased in frequency at night so now they run every seven to eight minutes until 2.00 a.m and every 10 minutes until 5.00 a.m.”.
Image: Wikimedia Commons: Les Chatfield.