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When competition is not a good idea - Melksham Bus Absurdity

I'm usually all for businesses competing with each other in the market place. But where they're competing in certain industries - for example the travel industry to get people between two different market places - it doesn't always work in the customer's interest. And what a graphic illustration we have of that in Melksham at the moment.

There are two buses an hour on several routes which are described as "commercial" - those are routes which do not attract / require a direct subsidy from the public purse. But it's not half hourly - the buses run close together, sometimes even in convoy as they compete:

Two buses an hour


But they're not really competing on an open field. For the majority of passengers on these buses are seniors, with their fares paid by the taxpayer, and competition on price is zero. This distorts the market. This means that it's in the two company's interest to pick up as many people as they can, rather than to compete on price. So sometimes you'll even see one overtaking another as they compete to pick up the passengers. People who aren't paying themselves will simply get on the first bus to come - it's like a race.

Racing for passengers


Typically, people will use a public transport service and adjust their journeys to suit if it runs at least as frequently as the journey time. Otherwise, they'll only use it if a service happens to be scheduled when they want it. That's a very rough guideline indeed, but it means that on the Bath to Melksham bus service, which takes around 40 minutes, you'll gain significant extra traffic on the route as a whole by running a bus every 30 minutes rather than running a convoy of buses every hour.

The same thing applies on the bus from Chippenham, via Melksham, to Trowbridge and Frome which is pictured here in Melksham. The daily coach from London to Melksham which takes about 3 hours is another example of a service that people will only use if it happens to be schedule when they want to travel; the every-two-hours London to Chippenham coach is fine and people will wait for the next service, and the London to Chippenham train is (in theory) over provided as it runs every half hour. In practice, train loadings got so high when it was only hourly to Chippenham that another was added - which rather proves my "tipping point" theory.

So why don't the bus companies get together and run half an hour apart?
• because one company moving to a new time would disadvantage that company for a year or two while existing passengers slowly changed their habits, and new traffic was generated.
• because the companies risk legal issues if they work together - they could be accused of being a cartel
• because the Unitary Council says "it's a commercial service - we can do nothing" even though they are paying the fares of the majority of passengers!

If a service was starting from scratch, we wouldn't be here with buses "racing each other for passengers" and then leaving unacceptable gaps in service. Everyone agrees it could be so much better. But both companies have a vested interest in sitting pretty and not jumping until the other jumps. They're playing chicken. And it really needs someone to give all the players a proverbial kick up the a**e. At present, they've all got the hatches battened down, they're defending current territory, and wheeling out old arguments, and old letters with standard paragraphs whenever anyone writes to ask about this.

Now is the time for them to be brave. Public transport use is increasing, and people WANT to use the bus and train. With exactly the same number of vehicles, the passenger count could rocket - and from truly paying passengers as well as seniors. But perhaps the Unitary authority secretly does NOT want to boost passenger numbers as they fear having to pay much more out on the senior fares?
(written 2011-11-16, updated 2011-11-27)

 
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  [4547] RUH Hopper - experience and thoughts forward - (2015-10-20)
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  [119] PHP course. Come by train. - (2004-11-15)


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Melksham - changing times, an opportunity for the future
Melksham has a Heart - Montage picture for sale
Melksham has a heart - come and see the pictures. Sunday, 11 to 3, Assembly Hall
Metaclasses (Python) and Metatables (Lua)
When competition is not a good idea - Melksham Bus Absurdity
Networking - North and West Wilts FSB Style
Emergency First Aid at Work (HSE) training in Melksham - places available for 19.1.2012
Quintessentially English - scenes from our Wiltshire town
Python - current versions and implementations (CPython, Jython, IronPython etc)
Melksham House / Melksham Campus - Seniors Input Sought
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