Choosing how to pay

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Prior to becoming self-employed I worked for a company who kindly included a bus pass (Edinburgh’s Ridacard) as one of our employment benefits. I certainly appreciated it at the time, but only realised quite how great a benefit it was once I had to give it up. Becoming self-employed meant I would be working from home for the vast majority of the time, and would only need to travel to the occasional meeting. There was no sense in having a monthly pass, but I quickly missed it.

After the bus pass, there were two main options available to me:

  1. Good old cash – pop £1.50 into the farebox and away you go, or
  2. Download the mobile ticketing app, where you purchase at least £10 worth of tickets which you then redeem as you need them by activating it in the app and showing your smart phone’s screen to the driver.

I began to notice what these options meant for my experience.

Cash

  • The usual struggle to find £1.50 and then having purse weighed down with change
  • Good option to get a paper ticket to use as a receipt when I needed to claim expenses
  • Made me think about the cost / necessity of every single trip

App

  • No need for change – great!
  • Stress when app crashes, or logs you out, moments before you are about to board the bus – not great!
  • Some personal security concern that I had to have my iPhone on show whilst waiting at the bus stop simply because you feel that you have to be ready with the app as you board
  • Realised that the ‘virtual nature’ of this transaction meant I barely thought anything of buying my tickets – somehow the £10.50 (my regular purchase of 7 single tickets to get over the £10 limit) felt like less than the £1.50 when I paid in cash.

In the end, I mostly settled with using the app. However, its certainly not perfect.

Over the last few months my work has changed again. I am now travelling into the city centre by bus much more often. However, this travel isn’t regular – sometimes its 1 or 2 days per week, while other times it is 3 or 4 days per week. I decided to investigate whether a monthly pass might have become a suitable option for me. A quick mental calculation suggested I probably wasn’t travelling enough for it to be worth it. Similarly, Lothian Buses Ridacard Calculator told me I should stick to using single tickets. However, I decided to press ahead with my experiment.

Actually I should really say that two weeks later I decided to press ahead with my experiment. The problem here was that to get a Ridacard and load on the first monthly pass, I needed to go to one of Lothian Buses’ three TravelShops. Eventually I happened to be passing one, so dived in. I must say at this point that this part of getting the pass was pretty easy – I was sorted within minutes.

The Adult ‘Advance Purchase 4 week’ pass costs £51 plus £3 for a card issuing fee. Over the four weeks I kept a note of how many trips I did.

Cost of Pass = £51 (+ £3 but I’ll ignore this for now)

Trips taken = equivalent of 25 singles + 1 day ticket

Equivalent cash cost = £41

Overall I was out of pocket by £10.

BUT there were some important non-monetary benefits…

  • Having a pass was almost stress free – no worrying about having the right change or apps crashing. The only thing you would need to be aware of would be remembering to top it up if you didn’t have it on a direct debit.
  • I felt free to travel more – it was quite liberating to know that once I’d paid for the pass the trips were effectively free. There were a couple of occasions when this encouraged me to take a trip which I may otherwise have put off.
  • Similarly, there was one trip that I nearly made by car but chose the longer bus route instead simply because I had my pass

So some really positive side effects for me personally. However, sadly I don’t think they justify the extra £10 per month. I’m not sure how low the difference would have needed to be to encourage me to continue my experiment for another month. I have kept my Ridacard for the time being but it is pretty much just abandoned in my purse. If I know for certain that I will be travelling a lot for any given week I may be tempted to top up with a one week pass. However, at £17 for one week I think this is unlikely. Instead I’m mostly back to using the app, although I now keep an emergency £1.50 in my bag just in case!

Lessons

I can’t help but think that Lothian Buses are missing a trick here. Surely it’s better to have me as a ‘committed’ traveller – paying a bit more and travelling a bit more – than a reticent cash or app traveller? Also, while I am all for technology advancements, there are issues with the reliability with the app. For me personally, using the Ridacard made for a much better travel experience.

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