Aesthetics aside, York Pullman run a refreshingly pleasant service. The staff are by and large reflective of the ‘good’ Yorkshire stereotype: friendly, a bit loud and hard-working. Were it not for their week-old rhubarb and custard livery, they’d be the ideal company to run students around York. The contrast with the less kind First FTR service is telling. Clearly quite comfortable with the willingess of students to spend money with them and the lack of competition, the quality of experience with the multinational privatisers was the public transport equivalent of catching your funny bone on the corner of a desk. There’s hardly a shortage of people at the University with a story of getting treated impolitely by a surly conductor with a hatred of fivers.
Quite upsetting is the fact that the University administration, who are often criticised for doing exactly the opposite, have seen their decision to invest a significant subsidy with the local and more ethical option blow up in their face. Instead of it influencing the balance of power in favour of York Pullman and encouraging their move to properly service the isolated Heslington East site, the enormous First Group sees the move as yet another commercial battleground to wage war over.
The term ‘bus wars’ was coined to describe what may be about to hit York: it’s what happens when public transport operators attempt to drive each other off of a route. It’s usually initiated and won by the big companies – Stagecoach, First and Arriva against either each other or small independent busineses like York Pullman. The odds are enormously stacked against the little guy; when they run a route, they do so on tight margins and run the risk of bankruptcy if they cut prices. But when the bigger operators move into an area, they have the massive infrastructure and capacity to invest that permits them to make a loss on a few routes when frequency is dramatically increased and fares are cut. It scarcely impacts on their profits because they’ve got several hundred other routes nationwide to subsidise making a loss. Unlike the classic underdog story where the villainous big guy collapses, the tale typically ends with one of the big operators taking an effective monopoly on the route that permits them to begin raising prices and worrying a lot less about the standard of service they offer.
the outcome of price gouging in York will go unnoticed in the First Group boardroom
It’s entirely up to the student body of York to reject that ending and think a bit longer term. We’re in the midst of the new intake, so there’s no reason why STYCs shouldn’t encourage the freshers they take under their wing to ride on the friendlier York Pullman rather than FTR. It’s hardly as if it can’t be justified anyway; York Pullman is a local business that has bent over backwards to try and capture the student market. First’s FTR on the other hand, if the short memory of readership will recall, were nastily caught up in allegations of racism last year.
The failure of York students to ride the uglier set of buses would be a catastrophe for the relatively young York Pullman business. They’ve put their necks on the line to purchase the infrastructure required to actually run the routes that the University demands in return for their subsidy, and the fact that they may now be forced into a race to the bottom with a multinational FTSE250 listed transport giant could potentially drive them to redundancies or even bankruptcy. It’s sink or swim time for them, but the outcome of price gouging in York will go unnoticed in the First Group boardroom. When the first years moving into the area roll round to their third year, the cheap and regular service we are being presented with will cease to be. It is hardly a coincidence that when faced with competition at last, the long established FTR policy that they will not service Heslington East has been reversed in favour of an extended route.
Invest your pennies wisely, unless you’re happy to see Heslington East once again ignored and fares go up. The future of a local business is depending on you.