Boris Johnson’s most credible claim for axing the bendy bus was the high level of fare evasion made possible by their rear door entry policy.
Oyster users could evade paying by not swiping their card and, unless a revenue protection officer boarded, no-one was any the wiser.
Get caught and you got a fine (though currently not as high as it should be), get away with it and you’ll feel emboldened to skip paying again – hardly fair to the rest of the travelling public.
But Boris hasn’t really made the problem of rear door entry and its role in fare evasion go away – some of the former bendy routes are serviced by replacement buses which also allow passengers to slip on without paying.
And of course his £11m New Bus for London includes rear entry as a key feature.
Assembly Members Darren Johnson and Caroline Pidgeon have both asked what steps Boris is taking prevent fare evasion when conductors aren’t present?
The Mayor’s response is as follows:
“TfL will require all Oyster card holders to touch in on the New Bus for London (as opposed to those with just pay as you go cards). This in itself will reduce the perception of fare evasion on the vehicle and will limit the potential for “copy cat” behaviour – one of the issues on the bendy buses.
“TfL will monitor evasion rates closely on the initial batch of vehicles, and will develop a revenue protection strategy on the basis of the observed trends.”
So initially it seems TfL will only be managing “the perception of fare evasion” – making it look like fewer people are dodging – rather than clamping down on the practice itself.
That same perception management could of course have been introduced on the bendy buses at far lower cost.
Could it be that Boris himself exploited a widespread perception of fare dodging which he now wants to protect himself against?
Am I alone in being surprised TfL won’t have at least a template revenue protection strategy for when the buses start their trials?
Or maybe I’m expecting a bit much from an organisation which struggles to slap up a few posters in time to comply with a Mayoral instruction?
Update 15.01: Caroline Pidgeon has sent the following comment:
“Given that fare evasion stands at £63 million, it is time the Mayor stopped just talking tough on fare evasion and actually adopted some tough measures. His new London bus with its three sets of doors, will effectively be the new ‘free bus’ in London unless its conductors actually check people’s fares.”
Meanwhile Darren Johnson says: “The Mayor is changing the rules because these buses suffer exactely the same fare evasion problem as the bendy bus.
“It is amazing that someone can bang on about bendies being a free ride and then build a bus from stratch which replicates the same fare evasion problem. If changing the rules on ‘touching in’ is the solution, then why didn’t Transport for London introduce that years ago?”