Battle of the Bus cards

ARRIVA announce 350% increase in price of bus card, MWT offer rival card for a third of the price

Arriva Buses Wales caused outrage amongst Aber students earlier this month by announcing a price hike for the AHA student bus card from last year’s £40 to £180, along with an increase of single fares to £1.30.

A spokesperson for Arriva cited the current economic climate, fuel and insurance amongst the reasons for the rapid hike but refused to give further comment as to why such a substantial increase had occurred so rapidly. Instead Arriva cited the ‘value’ of the card in relation to other universities across the UK, the numerous routes it gives access to and a new service. These justifications have done little to placate the student body, which has seen an active facebook campaign with over 730 supporters venting their disbelief at the 350% spike. It has emerged the grant of £70,000 given by Aberystwyth University to keep prices reasonable was rejected in negotiations with Arriva announcing their desire to run AHA as a ‘fully commercial’ service.

The viability of this plan, however, has been brought into question by a recent campus opinion survey. Of the 214 aber students questioned over 80% had previously bought cards, following the price hike 93% responded they would not be buying one again. One respondent called the changes “out of the blue and extortionate”.

The rise also came as a surprise for the Aber Guild with president Ben Meakin stating he was left with an ultimatum by the university ‘approve the deal or be responsible for no student 2011/2012 passes’, Sabbs were left with two days to make the decision. Questions remain as to why student reps were excluded from negotiations until such a late stage, with the Guild asserting they received no consultation as negotiations being handled by Nigel Owen and Tim Macy on behalf of Estate services. (from whom no-one was available to comment)

Competing companies have not been blind to the situation. Mid Wales Transport, who operate the white park and ride buses for town, have swooped in to offer their own version, the MWT card, undercutting their rival at £65 per year.

In investigating deeper into the causes for the price hike, The Courier has heard allegations of the struggling position of the company, with sources suggesting the withdrawal of council funding has played a key role in their recent fortunes. A Guild source suggesting the increased was planned for last year but shelved following Arriva promotional material mistakenly promoting “£40 a year” instead of “£40 a semester”. The company refused to either confirm or deny the allegations linking instead back to a general statement.

Ben Meakin also expresses concern about the sudden disappearance of the £70,000 University travel subsidy. Having not been allocated to Mid-Wales Transport the money has become unavailable for funding any further transport alternatives. This leaves unaddressed concerns raised back in 2009 in a University Green Paper on Sustainable Travel of the need to expand travel options for Students, Staff and visitors. Instead it appears there is no move to begin any new travel initiatives this year.

The courier will be pushing for further answers this semester as to how we ended up here. With the University using the situation as a chance to reclaim funds, Arriva trying to increase their profit margin and rival companies making their bid for the student market the situation is changing rapidly. What remains clear, however, is that the days of cheap and effective useful student travel has passed.