As Spudda notes

New data shows fall in bus passenger use by 7.5 per cent over the past five years, while fares are up 18 per cent over the same period of time

Changing prices seems to change demand.

And yet:

First of all, we know that pricing does not change demand perfectly.

Amazing how beliefs can trump evidence.

There’s also this loveliness:

If emissions are to be tackled then the bus issue has to be tackled. There have to be more of them, more often, on better routes, at lower cost, with subsidy provided if required to transform local transport with the result that the last mile problem can be solved. That’s what the Green New Deal would look like. It may not be big, bold or that costly. It may not deliver massive political reward. But it would create real change. And that’s what matters.

Now recast your emissions numbers on average passenger usage, not capacity. Running lots of empty buses will reduce emissions now, will it?

44 comments on “As Spudda notes

  1. Not that I’m a fan of your bete noire, but the ‘perfectly’ qualifier is important. I never take a bus, because (a) the service is terrible, (b) in any case the buses don’t go where I want to go, and (c) there’s a limit to what I can carry. However, I do use the car. Does the price of petrol or diesel affect whether I use the car for a journey? Not at all. If I need to go where I’m going, I have to use the car. The price does not affect my demand at all. It just affects how vociferously I’ll complain. And I remember people moaning that if petrol went up to 50p a gallon, they’d have to give up the car, but those who aren’t dead yet are still driving.

    Plus, I need to eat. The amount I eat is unaffected by small price fluctuations, and what I eat is similarly unaffected: it’s driven by my tastes.

    More examples could be cited.

    In other words, there is only an imperfect correlation between price and demand. I’m happy to believe that there is a correlation, but it certainly isn’t perfect.

  2. I can go on the bus for free, but I don’t. Too many damn pensioners on there.

    Seriously, let us look at the revenue, not the fare levels that nobody pays. Or does the bus company get its money direct from the council regardless of price? Whatever, this is a more complex issue than is represented here.

  3. I’ll take notice of spudas green whining when a) he stops living in a 4 bedroom house b) he get’s rid of his car and c) he stops flying to places like scotland . Until then the hypocrite can cease his risible whining. When’s the last time he travelled on a bus?

  4. You know he really means pricing does not affect demand at all, or in any significant degree, but when pressed he will fall back and quibble about the word ‘perfectly’.

  5. Richard Murphy doesn’t give a shit about emissions (if he did he’d shut his pie hole); he gives a shit about having control over the actions of others. Forcing buses on people who drive cars allows for more control, ergo buses are a Good Thing.

  6. I wonder what the statistics look like if you include other forms of ‘public’ transport solving the same problems, like all the boris bikes and other such schemes, let alone things like Uber.

    Busses running on set routes are a very old technology providing a not particularly good solution to the problem. My money in the future would be self driving ‘dial-a-ride’ minibuses with sophisticated route planning algorithms to optimize pickup orderings and route planning. You’d pay by your flexibility (one extreme of course being a dedicated on demand taxi) so for instance you may pre-book your daily commute and a near static ‘timetable’ might be created with optimized stop locations. Local councils could even pay to ‘guarantee’ their portion of the route exists every day.

  7. And as noted by others, Murphy seems to have fallen in love with the “perfectly” qualifier. Evidently in his mind, if a change in x doesn’t result in a “perfect” change in y, then the change is either insignificant or attributable to Other Things (never stated).

  8. One thing about this data is that it doesn’t seem like there’s a direct shift. Bus travel is down, car travel is up, but not by the same amount. Car travel is up very slightly, bus travel is down a lot.

    My guess? Amazon, Ocado, people working from home. It’s not like we’ve had loads of unemployment.

    (funnily enough, I’m loving bus travel – they do a lot of things really well now, especially compared to trains).

  9. Since pensioners travel free and frequently make up a majority of passengers on my local bus services the drop in *paying* bus passengers is probably greater than could be explained simply by the rise in fares.
    The big thing that Murphy has omitted from his list of ‘wants’ for bus services is *reliable*. That’s why I bought a car: 100% failure from state-owned transport when we wanted to go beyomnd walking distance at weekends.

  10. I’d love access to a (free) bus. £15 minicabs each way to/from The Dog & Duck is money better spent across the bar rather than getting there. Unfortunately buses don’t exist in this neck of the woods, and if they did it would probably cost us taxpayers a lot more than the minicabs.

  11. On my rare visits to the smoke I notice that the roads are clogged with nearly empty buses. Quite often you’ll see a jam consisting of nothing but buses, each with about 3 passengers.

  12. Is he really saying that, because prices rose by 18% and usage fell by less than 18%, there isn’t “perfect” correlation, and therefore he can entirely ignore the effect of price on demand?

    Remind me again – this man is a professor of economics?

  13. Lots of empty buses chugging around down here in Dorset. They go amazingly roundabout routes to go through as many little villages as possible, where no-one gets on or off. Apparently that’s more “green” than people driving a car from A to B.

  14. Excavator Man said:
    “Does the price of petrol or diesel affect whether I use the car for a journey? Not at all. If I need to go where I’m going, I have to use the car.”

    It has longer-term effects on fuel consumption – whether people buy a car that does more mpg next time they replace it, that sort of thing. I sometimes drive more slowly (keeping just below 60) when I’ve just had an expensive fill-up. For some journeys it affects whether I go all the way by car or drive to a station and get a train part of the way. Things like that.

  15. Remind me again – this man is a professor of economics?

    No. Has no economics qualification – boasts of having walked out of first year economics lectures because he didn’t believe them – no ego there.

    He is a ‘Professor of Practice’, whatever that is.

    Anyway, regarding buses – who cares if revenue is down – we can have as many buses as we want, just create the money with MMT, and then raise Capital Gains Tax to mop up the excess buses, or something.

  16. @RichardT,

    Once you bought the car, you are stuck with its fuel consumption, and unless you drive on empty roads, your speed is to an extent controlled by the traffic. I’ve got over 70 mpg in a sportscar by not exceeding 1500 rpm and not putting the brakes on (while running the engine in), but that entailed driving along a particular road at a particular time of night. Incidentally, my current car was not bought with fuel consumption in mind. It’s a diesel, because the manufacturer stopped making the petrol version, which I would far rather have had, despite its worse fuel consumption.

    For me, the bus is never an option. The train sometimes is, but only when there is restricted parking at the destination, and again, not what it costs (e.g. London). Again for me, the car is a necessity to even get to a station, and since long journeys need to cross London, change several times etc, I can normally beat the train* on a 200-250 mile journey – and longer than that a plane is better.

    I suspect that your lifestyle is rather different than mine – I don’t get a choice between expensive fill-ups and not. They are all extortionate! Mind you, even with the tax, fuel is still cheaper than bottled water in most shops and especially restaurants …

    *time AND price

  17. “Running lots of empty buses will reduce emissions now, will it?”

    No no – you’re missing his vision.

    Mass transit as a tool of political control.

    Private transit allows people freedom. Freedom to live in the country away from the control of the ‘elite’ in the cities. Freedom to associate. Freedom that screws with the ‘Top Men’s’ planning. Better we were all limited to state-controlled transit options – live where people are told to live, work where they are told to work. With no options to self-adjust to changed in usage. In fact, it makes it very difficult to change usage so those ‘Top Men’s’ plans will *last*. Is there a protest scheduled – cut the bus service. Walk there. Is your neighborhood talking about voting for the ‘wrong’ person? Sorry, budget cuts means we have to curtail service – now there will only be half as many buses serving your district and they stop running at 7 PM. Make sure you get your shopping done early.

    A place for every man and every man in his place.

  18. @Dr Evil…

    We (Walsall) purchased everyone’s leftover trolley buses back in the 60s, were the last town to run them. Nostalgia aside, they will never return.

  19. ‘Changing prices seems to change demand.’

    Sometimes it will; sometimes it won’t.

    Significantly for you Carbon Taxoholics, the U.S. experience with dramatically increased fuel prices in the 1970s led to decreased use. At first. But within a few years, consumption resumed, even at the higher price. Changing price had NO LONG TERM EFFECT.

  20. Strange that taxes on alcohol and tobacco have little effect on demand, and has been the case for hundreds of years; ditto fuel more recently. It’s as if the Government knows this. Uncanny.

  21. Of course, has little effect on the demand for the taxed products, but what about demand for other products? Only so much money to go round.

  22. They imposed a fuel duty here specifically for transit and then acted surprised when the price of fuel went up so there was less fuel purchased resulting in lower revenue to transit at the same time increased passenger count and higher costs to transit from increased fuel
    The ability to consider the impact of policies seems to be lost for the eco-green brigade, same way that also transit gets the parking tax, so the more people use transit and don’t pay to park the less revenue transit receives. Also didn’t stop them getting rid of park and rides and stopping expansion of them as they want bus to be the last mile solution, as it’s an integrated fare system there’s 0 extra revenue from fares if you take bus to train station

  23. “The ability to consider the impact of policies”

    The Left, being mentally 8 years old, have a static view of the world. They expect the only response to their policies are the desired results.

    Then, when their policy doesn’t work, and creates greater problems, they forgive themselves saying, “Judge us on our intent, not our results.”

    The Right is evil for not recognizing their intent.

  24. Electric minivans, driverless running 24/7 at high frequency, ride hailed by phone app, minimum pricing by touch card, both countryside and town/city centre. Larger vehicle gives you instant tram network without digging up the city (think Sydney and Edinburgh schemes that take years, cost a fortune and achieve little). Green, clean and bridge the gap between efficient but polluting private and inefficient public provision. Of course the unions and they taxi drivers will conspire to stop it as usual

  25. High tax and fuel duty has had an odd little advantage for me. I normally cycle to work during the summer and use my car during the winter. Last year I picked up a £100 speeding fine after momentarily straying 5mph over the limit. I calculated that every time that I cycle to work it costs the Government £2 in tax and fuel duty. So, this winter I have carried on cycling and have been putting £2 away for every additional cycle commute that I’ve done. Just a few more rides to go now before I have my £100 back.

  26. @AndrewC
    I was at the count at Alexander Palace, scrutineering in the Referendum Party interest, when Lammy first inherited Bernie Grant’s baronial fiefdom. . He was strolling around like he owned the place accompanied by a posse of n******s in shiny suits. Not a white face amongst them. Of course he isn’t.

  27. Though [trolley buses] are being reborn, with batteries that avoid unsightly catenaries

    The biggest problem with trams is that their routes cannot be varied without changing the infrastructure, which can cost billions, while buses simply take a diversion on existing roads. Trolley buses are a halfway house, while battery buses (not sure if they’re really practical in general use, but there are plenty of hybrids about) are just buses with a different power source.

  28. Lots of empty buses chugging around down here in Dorset. They go amazingly roundabout routes to go through as many little villages as possible, where no-one gets on or off. Apparently that’s more “green” than people driving a car from A to B.”

    They stopped visiting our set of hamlets about 5 years ago. TBF I only ever someone use them on a Wednesday morning to go to Dorchester market, and he died a couple of years ago.

  29. “The biggest problem with trams is that their routes cannot be varied without changing the infrastructure”

    And like trains, you’re also at the mercy of two monopolies: the people who maintain the trams and the drivers. Buses are very competitive on price because it’s markets all the way down: competition on routes, competition on equipment, competition on drivers. Swindon to London on National Express starts at £12.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-45111567

    Tram drivers earn £33K in Manchester. That’s £10K more than bus drivers earn in Manchester.

  30. “the U.S. experience with dramatically increased fuel prices in the 1970s led to decreased use. At first. But within a few years, consumption resumed, even at the higher price. Changing price had NO LONG TERM EFFECT.”

    I think you’re forgetting the ceteris paribus bit of economics. As time goes by, more other factors change as well and the supply/demand equation alters as well. Over time the economy and incomes may have risen, allowing people to return to old patterns of transport use. Or the population may have grown so per capita consumption remained flat but overall consumption grew again. Or people swapped expenditure from other items to spend more on fuel, as they got fed up with cycling to work, things like that.

  31. BoM4;

    The apparent discrepancy in the data could be explained by where the bus journeys take place, as opposed to the car trips.

    If the bulk of bus use is in the cities, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, then the drop could be explained by increased take up of bike schemes, or the introduction of trams (assuming they don’t count as buses).

  32. Afterthought – general inflation was 12.3% over the last five years so bus fares rose by 5.1% in real terms, or 1% p.a. That is not enough to cause any noticeable effect on demand.
    Murphy is again slipping two misleading statements in the hope that we will concentrate on one of them and miss the other

  33. @chris miller
    There are indeed battery buses and I’ve seen trails of systems where you put wireless charging plates in the bus loops so that they can top up during the day as the big issue is range like most battery vehicles

  34. Yes, BniC, I’ve no doubt pure electric battery buses are feasible on city centre bus routes, where mileages (and speeds) are relatively low (the new double deckers coming in this year in London have a range of ‘up to’ 190miles). I can’t see them running rural routes (buses on our local service do nearly 300 miles in a working day), still less the long-distance motorway services.

    Like pure electric cars, they’re a niche product (and we’re unlikely ever to see pure electric trucks).

  35. My dad was a bus conductor in Bristol, early 60s through to mid 80s.

    Is it like “on the buses?” I asked him.

    “No” he replied.

    He didn’t smoke but spent his job in the smoke filled confines of buses – remember when they banned smoking downstairs on double deckers but it continued upstairs? – which may have contributed to the leukaemia that killed him.

  36. Chris Miller,

    I’ve seen videos of quick-replace batteries.

    It isn’t really an issue, though. If your goal is trying to solve pollution, getting people out of cars and onto buses is a far bigger win than petrol to electric.

  37. “If your goal is trying to solve pollution”

    We did that 40 years ago.

    Seems it did no good.

  38. I spend about $200 a month on Uber. Way cheaper than running a car; way better than waiting for the fucking bus.

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