Passengers who buy bus tickets in advance will have to pay more from next month.

Brighton and Hove Bus Company customers will face an above inflation increase in prices when buying pre-paid fares through the mobile app or The Key card.

However, there is good news for those who buy their ticket on the bus, with a price freeze on the cards.

Martin Harris, company managing director said the pre-paid ticket increase would be less than 1%.

Speaking to The Argus, he assured passengers they would still reap the benefits of “significant” savings if they buy before they travel.

The 0.8% increase will mean the price of a one-day saver ticket bought on The Key Card – an Oyster card style electronic system – would end up costing 10p more.

He said: “We have tried to keep the increase to a minimum but we need to look at the bigger picture. The money has to come from somewhere and it will cover operating costs such as wages, equipment and buses.

“We don’t set out to increase fares and we avoid it where we can – and you can see that in spades here.

“If you track the rises of our heavily used tickets over several years, the rises have been broadly in line with inflation.

“We have been in a series of talks and have found a way to freeze some fares for a bit longer.

“We really wanted to get the message across that we were freezing all cash fares bought on the bus.

“I don’t want to guarantee anything we may not be able to deliver, but my intention is to freeze the cash fares until at least 2016 if possible.

“We have also frozen all pre-paid and on-bus student and child fares until April 2016 and more discounts have been introduced.”

He added that the introduction of travel zones has been postponed for another year because of the freeze.

If rolled out, passengers travelling into Brighton and Hove from north of Shoreham, north of Lewes and east of Seaford will have to pay more for their journey. The zones will now not be introduced until at least April 2016.

Mr Harris said: “Passengers travelling the furthest will have to pay a little more for their journeys. We think people will feel this is fair as they are travelling huge distances.”

He said the company is aiming for “simplicity” and “great value for money” in the way it operates.

The news comes as a number of under-threat bus routes, due to Brighton and Hove City Council cuts, have been protected.

In a joint announcement on Friday the local authority and the company said it had found a way to save the services.

Brighton and Hove Bus Company will continue to operate the 84 and most Sunday and evening services on the 21/21A routes.

From April, bus company Compass Travel will operate the main daytime route between Meadowview, the city centre, and the Bristol Estate, with a new 37 service. It will incorporate the 38 route and complement their existing 37B service.

Negotiations about the evening 37 service are ongoing between the council and Compass Travel with an announcement expected within days.

Mr Harris said Brighton and Hove Bus Company was committed to finding a solution because bus cuts were such a concern.

He said: “Buses are essential travel for our city. The company contributes significantly to the economic and social life of the city and our success is inextricably linked to the success of the city.”

He said Department for Transport statistics showed more people used the bus in Brighton than in other areas outside of London, adding: “Our prices compare well with many cities around the country and our smartcard and mobile phone ticket, or m-ticket, prices compare well with London’s prices.”


Where does all the money go?

The network – At least one or two services become more frequent each year with extra buses and drivers to be paid for.

The company said 85% of customers can now use a bus service which runs at least every ten minutes in the daytime.

Mr Harris said: “We have commercially provided a night bus network. Our network has hardly any services that are funded by the council.

“By December this year all of our network will be commercially operated, that is without the council operating any subsidy.”

Buses and other capital investment – Mr Harris said: “Every year we invest several million of pounds in new buses to improve passenger comfort and environmental performance.

“We are making a massive investment in improving the environmental performance of our fleet to support the city’s aims to improve air quality.

“We invest in upgrading our equipment and in maintain and expanding our depot capacity so we can keep providing more buses for the city.”

Service – Mr Harris said: “We invest heavily in improving technology. Smart cards, m-tickets – which have been phenomenally popular so far – information apps, and real time information.

“This is undergoing a major upgrade at the moment funded jointly with the council.”

He said the company is constantly improving the accessibility of services with programmes like Helping Hand – launched in September – which allows passengers who have conditions like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s or dementia and may need extra assistance to discreetly hand the driver a personalised instruction card.

The free, yellow, credit card-sized information cards can include an emergency contact number and messages such as “help me count my change” or “please be patient if I’m confused.”


New prices for services

A ONE day saver on The Key will rise by 10p to £4.20 from April but still 50p cheaper than buying tickets onboard.

A one week saver on The Key will rise by £1 to £19 but will still be a 35% saving on seven one-day tickets.

A 28-day saver on The Key will cost £69 from April but a saving of £7 on buying four lots of seven-day tickets.

An annual saver on The Key will rise by £30 to £540 but will still be 40% cheaper than if customer bought 13 lots of 28-day tickets.

The centrefare bought from a bus driver will remain £2 – the fourth year this has been frozen.

For visitors, the one-day City Saver bought from a bus driver at £4.70 or a £9 family ticket will remain the same.

The price of seven-day, 90-day and annual savers on The Key for students have all been frozen.


Questions and answers with Martin Harris

The Argus: Fuel prices have dipped recently. Why has that not affected ticket prices?

Martin Harris: We don’t want to change our bus fares every time there are fluctuations with fuel price so we buy ahead at fixed prices for long periods – called hedging – to give stability for our customers and our business.

If the fuel price dips we may lose out, and we may gain if the fuel price goes above our hedged price.

Most big operators, who have negotiation powers, hedge because it is a sound approach.

Fuel accounts for 9% of our costs so even if that costs dropped to zero, 91% of our costs would see no change.

The one time we did single out fuel cost increases was in 2012 when there was a big change in the amount of fuel duty paid by bus operators.

Increasing the fuel duty paid by bus services inevitably would increase fares for passengers. Aviation does not pay any fuel duty.

TA: What does the future hold?

MH: The next step on fares and ticketing is going to be the introduction, late this year, of phase one of the city’s multi-operator ticket. The mobile ticket will continue to grow and be used across other operator services in due course too.

Contactless payment technology is rapidly making inroads in public transport payment and we will certainly be looking to adopt the latest technologies to make paying travel as easy and as quick as possible.

More and more people will choose to pay before they travel – that is certainly an important part of our strategy and it’s going to be essential to keep buses moving in our congested city to keep reducing the number of payments made by cash.

Although we won’t be banning cash across the network like we have seen in London.

TA: How will families be affected?

MH: We recognise people have budget pressures and no more so than families.

We have progressively improved the family offerings from the BusID scheme, which has been saving families on bus fares for children and parents for many years, through to the most recent developments, such as our family day ticket which will stay at £9 for a third year.

There are new and more flexible and better value ticketing for students, and the latest addition – the sibling saver – will help families with two or more children using the bus every day to go to school.

Discussions about school buses and speaking to families about how costs can add up with more than one led to the sibling saver.

We listened to the comments of parents and have responded and the discount is available immediately.

TA: What about people on a low income?

MH: The challenge is trying to find specific ways to help people on low incomes. We are working on four new initiatives and we aim to have these in place for April too.

We are launching a pilot scheme with the Bridge Community Centre to help people who are training to get back into work with the travel bills, which can be an obstacle.

This is about testing out the mechanics. If it is successful we will look at rolling it out with other organisations in the city.

We are having discussions with businesses around the city to help their newest employees ease their way into their new job with a new starter discount.

This will help with a little less pressure on their expenses before they have collected their first pay packets.

This may particularly help young people when they start a new job – you are faced with the costs of new clothes and travel which you may not have had before but you are waiting a month to get paid.

Talks have begun with the East Sussex Credit Union to provide a means for their members to be able to access the most heavily discounted tickets.

We are also in talks with the Brighton Housing Trust to find a method of helping their clients with the transition from homelessness into a better life to be a little easier.