Image Credit: Dan Sellers
First Bus have come under criticism by students over the past few weeks due to changes in their operations in York. Specifically, First Bus has restricted the use of Yorkey cards (the card that grants cheaper bus fares for students) to only University services, such as the 66 and the new 67. Additionally, the company was criticised earlier this month for only allowing students the option to purchase block bookings of 20 for £20 tickets and removing the option for only buying 10.
The issue of only allowing students to purchase £20 worth of tickets at a time was resolved after the problem was brought to the attention of both YUSU and First Bus. In a statement on his official Sabb Facebook account, YUSU President, Patrick O’Donnell, confirmed that “the restrictions on purchasing tickets in blocks of 20 (instead of 10) was ‘an error,’” and that First Bus were “updating their systems” so to fix the issue and allow students the option of a £10 ticket bundle.
We reached out to Carly Precious, YUSU’s Community and Wellbeing Officer, who is also overseeing the ongoing #BUStice campaign. We enquired as to whether she believes that this ticket “error” from First Bus was, indeed, an error. She told us that: “I believe we need to act in good faith that this was 'an error'; it has since been corrected on the App and I have been assured it will be added to the website student tickets list.”
We also contacted First Bus themselves in regard to this, asking them whether this “error” will remain a blip in the system and not become a reality in the future. In response to this, First Bus’ Managing Director, Marc Bichtemann, simply told us:
“We can reassure students that the recent difficulty in block booking 10 tickets on the First Bus app was simply a technical error, which has been sorted out and these tickets are now available again.” From this, it is unclear whether First Bus will ever remove the option for a block booking of 10 permanently, but for now at least, that option will remain.
However, whilst the issue with block bookings was quickly resolved, another surprise to students was the news that these tickets can now only be used exclusively on the 66 and other University services such as the new 67, however the tickets cannot be used on any of First Bus’ other routes, such as the 10 and 8. For students, this is widely disappointing as the previously well-priced travel available to them has now been greatly diminished to the university services routes.
Precious commented on this decision, citing that: “restricting the Yorkey tickets is unfortunate, as it impacts students who have used them on other services. This change makes it more difficult for students to access places of work or other activity.” She later went on to describe the financial reasons behind First Bus’ decision, telling us that:
“First Bus have made it clear that previously doing this meant making a loss for that journey on most routes. They have had this under review prior and given restrictions on capacity of these bus routes in the current climate, have decided this is no longer possible.” Nouse asked Precious what the union would do to help tackle this issue, she stated that to do so “we as a Union will continue to highlight how students use other services beyond campus, with the need for flexibility within tickets.”
When asked, Bichtemann expanded further upon the company’s decision to restrict the use of Yorkey, explaining how the COVID-19 pandemic has also had an impact upon this. He said:
“We must continue to manage capacity with social distancing restrictions to ensure bus travel continues to be safe and this includes the use of certain fares on the network. At £1 we know the Yorkey offers great value but the services it can be used on have to be limited to help make it sustainable in the future.”
He went on to add, however, that “the price of the Yorkey has also been frozen for this year as have all our student products to help with budgeting,” and that they have also “introduced a new monthly direct debit option to enable more flexible bus travel.”
However, despite the company claiming that social distancing measures are a large factor in their restriction of Yorkey Cards, when asked whether this will be a permanent restriction First Bus simply told us that “the Yorkey card is now exclusively for use on the 66 and University services as part of our plans to create a dedicated service to manage the return of students and spread capacity across the network to benefit all customers with social distancing restrictions in place.” This would suggest that the new change is to stay for the foreseeable future and could remain in place in a time where social distancing is not necessary.