Unfair bus fares for Leeds children ‘punishing poverty’, councillor says

Bus fares for West Yorkshire children are “punishing poverty” a Labour councillor has claimed.

By David Spereall
Sunday, 10th July 2022, 4:30 pm
Coun Bowden has suggested children from low income households could feel locked out of bus travel.
Coun Bowden has suggested children from low income households could feel locked out of bus travel.

Jordan Bowden, who represents the Roundhay ward on Leeds City Council, criticised the price difference between mobile tickets sold through an app and tickets sold on the bus itself.

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An under 19s weekly pass for unlimited travel across West Yorkshire costs £9 through the MCard app, which is run jointly by the bus operators and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA).

However, such passes can’t be bought on the bus itself.

A day pass for unlimited travel for under 19s can be bought on the bus for £2.50, according to MCard’s website. Buying seven of these across successive days would bring the total cost to £17.50 for the week.

Councillor Bowden suggested the system was hurting families who couldn’t afford to buy their children a mobile phone.

In response, MCard later said that child weekly passes can be purchased on a physical “smartcard”, which can be topped up with cash at bus stations across the region.

But speaking at a scrutiny meeting on Wednesday, Councillor Bowden had said: “To get the cheapest passes requires you to have a mobile phone.

“And it also requires you to have access to digital banking and your parents’ digital banking.

“So while it’s great to get a cheaper pass, which I think for a week is £9, to me it would make more sense for the bus companies just to allow access to those cheaper passes just by being able to pay in cash.”

He added: “If you live in the inner city and you want to access a big green space, like Roundhay Park for example, you’re going to need a bus. You can’t walk it.

“To me, it’s basically punishment for poverty.”

In response, MCard’s commercial development manager Joanna Chew, said that the Under 19 weekly pass could be bought either through the app or via “top-ups to their Under 19 smartcard at bus station travel centres, bus station ticket machines, over 700 payzone outlets and via the Android MCard app.”

She added: “If a customer does not have a smartphone, then they still have over 700 outlets to choose from to top-up their smartcards with daily, weekly or monthly bus tickets.

“None of our weekly or monthly tickets – whether they are for adults, students or Under 19 year olds – have ever been sold on the bus.

“There are various reasons for this: the main one being that operators have no means to top up smartcards so that bus usage can be tracked and multi-operator tickets can be fairly apportioned back to all operators in the network.

“Operators also want to reduce boarding times as much as possible so that services are not delayed.

“Additionally, for Under 19 tickets, parents are often concerned about giving their children larger amounts of money for fares and younger children don’t have their own debit or credit cards.

“There is also the added risk that paper tickets can more easily be lost or spoiled, whereas with smartcards and app devices our customer services team may be able to track usage and reimburse the customer.”