Fears that FTR bus company monopoly could force fare rise

Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome

Senior figures at the University have raised concerns that recent changes to bus services to and from campus could impact adversely on students in the future.

FTR, the University’s old bus provider, was dropped at the start of this academic year after a series of disputes, during which FTR refused to extend its route to cover the new Heslington East campus, and to lower its student bus fares.

A contract was instead signed to subsidise a small local company, York Pullman, who agreed to meet the University’s stipulations with regards to fares and bus route.

According to the Managing Director of York Pullman, Tom Jones, since FTR was dropped and Pullman began to receive the £180,000 a year subsidy, FTR have decided to lower their prices and fares to match Pullman’s, putting them directly in competition with each other.

Jones alleges that FTR have only made these concessions in an attempt to force Pullman to run on reduced profits and “withdraw from the competition.”

York Pullman

– Founded: 2007
– Cost of each bus: £120,000
– Frequency of service: Every 15 minutes monday to Saturday. Evening bus to and from Heslington East between 21.15 and 23.15
– Local company with a turnover of approximately £4 Million a year
PROS
– Have pledged to keep student fares low
– Local Company
CONS
– Buses run every 15 minutes, instead of every 10 minutes like FTR
– No bus conductors may lead to a slower service

The company alleges that FTR are trying to put them out of business in order to “reclaim a monopoly on the University route [and] put their prices up”

He stated: “If [York Pullman] are forced to pull out of the University route because of the fierce competition from the more financially secure FTR, then FTR will not carry on with the £2 ticket. They have only made this reduction since York Pullman became competition.”

An FTR Spokesman, Duncan McGraw, responded to these allegation, saying: “It is being implied that we are the bad guys. This is just fair competition.”

However, when asked if FTR intended to raise their student prices should they regain a monopoly of the University route, McGraw refused to confirm that there would be no fare rise, saying: “We can’t comment on market forces… in a business you can’t guess what’s going to happen.” He continued: “But we are aware that in the current climate students are struggling financially.”

McGraw also denied that FTR’s initial decision to lower prices and alter their route had anything to do with York Pullman’s decision to do the same, saying: “We made our price and route changes before Pullman made theirs.”

According to Jones, “Morally and ethically FTR are not in it for the right reasons… they are an over-jealous company. We [Pullman] are in it for the right reasons.”

First

– Founded: 1989
– Cost of each bus: £300,000
– Frequency of service: Every 10 minutes Monday to Saturdays, every 20 minutes Monday to Saturday evenings and Sundays
– Listed on the London stock exchange and the FTSE 250 index
PROS
– Bus conductors collect fares quickly to speed up the journey
– Modern vehicles
– Disabled access
CONS
– A recent Nouse investigation uncovered allegations from international students of racist behaviour from FTR staff

The company refused to confirm that they would not raise student bus fares, stating, “We can’t comment on market forces… in a business you can’t guess what’s going to happen”

He continued: “The University negotiated with FTR for three years [over route and price change] and FTR declined at every opportunity for three years. ­They refused a reasonable request… now competition’s arrived they’ve done it.”

However, a Langwith student, who asked to remain anonymous, commented: “It sounds like Pullman is bitter about the competition. If there is going to be lots of buses with low fares, surely that is a good thing.”­­

A senior University source, who was present at negotiations with FTR, has claimed that the company said they couldn’t extend their route to Heslington East because their “bendy buses were too long to turn left around the roundabout outside Heslington Hall and up Field Lane.”

The source continued: “Now York Pullman have altered their route to cover Heslington East, FTR has decided to extend their route and somehow their buses are now turning around that corner.”

Jones stated: “It’s obvious FTR were lying about their buses not being able to turn that corner; now they just look like fools.”

McGraw refused to comment on why FTR originally said their buses couldn’t turn the corner, stating: “I didn’t attend any meetings so I don’t know.”

Jones said students must be “reminded of the history of FTR. This is not a nice company. We [York Pullman] will do our best to market our service and maximise business. We are prepared to stick it out.”

What they said…

“Students should always opt for a York Pullman bus over the FTR bus when they can.”
“If York Pullman are forced to pull out, FTR will recover their monopoly and student bus fares will go up.”
Jane Grenville, University Pro-Vice Chancellor

“FTR have now gone back on their words which highlights the dishonesty in their relationship with the University and students”
“Pullman’s Unibus has had great feedback from students and this can only strengthen it’s position.”
Tim Ngwena, YUSU President

“We can’t comment on market forces… in a business you can’t guess what’s going to happen.”
Duncan McGraw, FTR Spokesman, refused to confirm that FTR would not raise student fares in the future

“FTR will put their fares up if York Pullman are forced to pull out.”
“Students need to be reminded of the history of FTR. This is not a nice company.”
Tom Jones, York Pullman’s Managing Director

YUSU President, Tim Ngwena stated: “FTR for the last year has continuously received al lot of criticism about its customer service as well as refusing to co-operate with the University on extending the number four to Heslington East. They have now gone back on their words which again highlights the dishonesty in their relationship with the University and students.”

He continued: “York Pullman are a strong operator and competition is nothing new to them. Pullman’s UniBus has had great feedback from students and this can only strengthen their position.”

Jane Grenville, Pro-Vice Chancellor for students commented: “With both FTR and Pullman in the picture, there will obviously be a better service for students, especially as both companies are offering free travel between the Wentworth bus stop and Heslington East.

“The University is also running its own free minibus service around campus south and Heslington East so we’ll notice a big improvement all round in the short term, but there could be long-term consequences of competition that are less beneficial.”

Grenville urged students to consider “the long-term implications of an apparently simple consumer choice between FTR and York Pullman. The fact that the University has put a substantial sum of money behind the Pullman deal shows that a £2 fare is uneconomic”. She continued: “If the Pullman operation fails then FTR, as sole operator, is likely to put its prices back up.”­­

One comment

  1. 17 Oct ’10 at 7:12 pm

    they are not FIRST they are LAST

    When Wes Streeting (former NUS president) stood up to speak at a recent conference he stated I am form Bristol and I am ashamed to say ‘the city that spawned the evil company that is First’.

    Their policy is very simple undercut the competition in a town at a fiscal loss until all other bus companies go out of business, then put up the rates. It is a policy that anyone who favours a free fair marketplace with consumer choice and competition should oppose and therefore they should do everything to drive First and its overarching centralised purple tentacles out of any town they see them.

    our response to this immoral business should be simple. we just don’t use them. bus times can be checked with your phone at most stops. if there is a first bus only minutes earlier than the york pullman use york pullman. besides it will save you 50p whether your taking a return or one way!

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