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Bus Travel,  Fares,  Go North East

Go North East: Fare Game?

Following the recent announcement of service changes to take place on 21st July 2019, a more unexpected announcement landed on Monday: Go North East are to scrap Buzzfare – say hello to ‘GoZones

I actually heard about this second hand, so I logged on to the Go North East website, to see if I could find more information. Surprisingly, given the size of the announcement, it didn’t (and still doesn’t!) appear on the company’s News Room. However, a little bit digging, and following a link from the Go North East Facebook page, and it appears there is a new page under the ‘Tickets’ section of the website – not very useful for those who don’t use Social Media. The following day, this appeared on the slide show on their homepage.

Better  Bus Fares: Now Even Better to Travel By Bus. Ticket changes from 21 July.

So a summary of the boundary changes:
* Orange, Cherry, Turquoise and Blue Zones – scrapped
* Purple Zone extended to cover the old Blue Zone and the Northern part of the Orange Zone (Ashington, Bedlington, Blyth and Seaton Sluice)
* Red Zone extended to cover Peterlee and Hartlepool.
* Washington now covered by Purple AND Red Zones.
* Green Zone extended to cover the Tudhoe, Spennymoor and Bishop Auckland part of the Turquoise Zone.
* Billingham, Stockton and Middlesbrough taken out of the zone system.

As for ticket zones, Go North East will now only offer a single zone ticket priced at £5.30 a day (a 10p increase from the previous ticket price), and an ‘All Zones’ ticket priced at £7.00 – a 30p increase or £1.20 decrease, depending on your travel patterns. Weekly, Monthly and Annual tickets remain available, for those making more regular journeys.

Go Zones: A map showing the new zones from Go North East

A notable exclusion is the X9/X10, which now has its own set of tickets. A resurrection of the old X10 ticket from the late 90s/early 00s, before it was amalgamated with the then ‘Regionwide’ Go ‘n’ Save ticket. This is priced at £8.50 for a day ticket, but Go North East appear to be offering a ‘North’ and ‘South’ version of the ticket, priced at £7.00 each.

Whilst the full X9/X10 ticket is also valid on all Go North East Buses, with the usual exceptions, it does not appear that the ‘North’ version of the ticket will be. Leaving Peterlee customers with no option than to purchase the £8.50 ticket, unless they live in walking distance of the bus station, or fancy a slow journey to Houghton-le-Spring, followed by an X1 to Newcastle…

For more regular commuters, there is a big saving of £15 a month, for those previously using a 3+ Zone ticket, except on the X9 or X10, who will instead have a price freeze for now at £110.

Those using a 1 Zone or 2 Zone ticket previously, will see their monthly fee increase by £3.00 and £1.00 respectively.

Despite the big announcement in January that weekly tickets would now be available on the bus via contactless payment, due to a new £30 cap, it now appears that we have our first weekly ticket that exceeds this cap. I did query this with Go North East to see if the cap would be revised, but they have instead informed that this will be available on the bus by cash payment only.

Having had some time to think about the boundary changes for the new ‘GoZones’ tickets, it doesn’t really offer much in the way of surprise. The key competitive areas have seen zones and price reductions, such as the North of Tyne and Coast Road corridor, the Tynedale services to and from Hexham, the X21 between Durham and Bishop Auckland, and of course the competition between Arriva between Sunderland, Peterlee and Hartlepool.

The boundary changes in the North of the Tyne area, will be the largest competitive changes put in place, since the infamous Bus War of the early 2010s. And maybe a positive move by Go North East, to new North of Tyne Mayor, Jamie Driscoll, who has his own ideas about public transport in the area

The Green Zone remains largely intact, given there is no real fight from Arriva between Durham and Newcastle, with the rest of the Green Zone being largely dominated by Arriva. Speaking of Arriva, it will be interesting to see what their move will be, given the rumours about a potential sale…

Consett, similarly, remains in confinement, but now within the new Yellow zone. Although users of the scenic 689 service will now be able to enjoy travel within a single zone, for the full length of the route.

Another big change is that quite a number of return fares will be scrapped, as they are price capped by the relevant day ticket. Return fares were launched in the early 2010s as ‘Cheap Day Returns’, with a big fanfare approach, bus stop publicity, posters, and the usual jazz… the ‘Cheap’ was silently dropped a couple of years later, presumably because very few were actually cheap in price.

I assume that this will mean the fares are removed from the ETM, prompting the driver to recommend a day ticket, if no return fare is available for issue. Very little information is available at this stage, with only a foot note being available on the Go North East website.

This sounds like a common-sense approach, and quite frankly one that should have been in place sooner. It remains to be seen what will happen if there’s only 10p or 20p difference between the return fare and the day ticket. I hope that this will result in the customer being offered the option of which of the two tickets, but I will not hold my breath…

I took to Twitter yesterday to query a long-existing discrepancy, or an ‘evening premium’, as I call it. Currently it is £4.60 to travel between Durham and Washington (via the 50), but on an evening that will now cost £7.00. This is the cheaper option of £3.60 on the 21 and £3.60 on the 50A.

I have questioned the fairness of this with Go North East on a number of occasions, without such luck of an informed response. My view is that it shouldn’t be more expensive to travel between A and B, depending on what time of day you travel. Let alone with the added inconvenience of changing buses and a 10+ minute wait.

The response wasn’t forthcoming, so with a little nudge the following day, but soon wished that I hadn’t bothered.

I really dislike this level of customer service. The question I have asked has been outright ignored, with a response instead giving only what they want to tell me. Quite clearly I never asked about return fares or day tickets, nor did I show an interest of wanting to travel further. Why would I on an evening, when there are very few regular services about?

Going from a negative to what I’d class as a huge positive, is the news that Washington will *finally* sit within both the Newcastle and Sunderland Zones!

Since the introduction of Buzzfare in 2008, this has been something that has been a gripe of those living in Washington and Sunderland, as well as the surrounding areas, such as Penshaw and Shiney Row. The ability to now travel on a single zone ticket can only be seen as a positive.

In summary, I think that the changes are largely positive, but it will remain to be seen for how long the prices can be sustained at this level. For a company that has made several fare increases in the not too distant past (…and let us not get started on the 5p fiasco!), this is a massive change of direction.

Of course, as operators will tell you, there are always winners and losers in boundary reviews, so I’d be keen to hear other people’s experiences.

Adrian

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