UEA and First Bus have announced that students will soon be able to buy bus passes on their smart phones, despite criticism of the policy from the Union of UEA Students (UUEAS) and a lack of clarity over the future of paper bus passes.

The announcement means that as of September, students will be able to buy bus passes on their smart phones via a new application called “First Mobile Tickets”. Students will no longer have to fill out paper applications and provide passport photos to purchase 3-month, Annual Zone 1-5, Annual Network or “the Trio” bus passes. While the university has hailed the changes as “very exciting”, arguing that it “makes perfect sense to provide a platform that suits [students’] lifestyle”, the student union has raised a number of objections around cost, lack of consultation and accessibility.

The new “m-tickets” are only available on iOS and Android devices, which according to student union officers means that users of Windows and Blackberry devices will not be able to use the new system. In addition, those students forced to buy paper bus passes will apparently have to pay £20-£35 more than those able to use the application.

Photo: Flickr - eastleighbusman
Photo: Flickr – eastleighbusman

 

Bintu Foday, Community & Students’ Rights Officer at UUEAS, said: “Whilst we welcome the move towards new technology, it’s just unacceptable that those without certain types of smartphone will have to pay up to £35 more than others for a bus pass – especially when these are students likely to have the lowest incomes. There are also unanswered questions for when students’ phone batteries go flat. We call on UEA and Firstbus to look at these issues closely and ensure that proper consultation with the union is carried out in the future. I am very disappointed at the way this decision has been made. There has been no consultation with the Union or the wider student body. Worse still, there has been no consideration for the consequences, particularly for those who cannot afford a smart-phone. I am solely against this initiative and will continue to fight for a better alternative.”

Union officers also told Concrete that the student union was not consulted on the policy before it was announced by UEA, and pointed out that there will now be no place on campus where students can apply for bus passes.

The university disagreed, however, telling Concrete that “The introduction of new ticketing options from First was discussed between UEA and representatives of the Union of UEA Students since the start of the process. Bus travel focus groups for staff and students were also widely advertised and held on campus, most recently in March.”

First Buses told Concrete that students will be able to purchase bus passes at www.firstgroup.com/students, although there will be an admin fee and tickets will cost slightly more.

A university spokesperson told Concrete:

“Following demand from staff and students taking our annual travel survey, we are pleased to be working with First to introduce a convenient new bus pass option, available to all those with a smartphone. The mTicket annual bus pass allows users to download a ticket to their phone, allowing students to buy their annual bus passes even before they arrive on campus.

The mTicket is offered at a slightly reduced rate from the standard-priced e-ticket available online, thanks to the elimination of any administration costs in supplying the pass. Those without a smartphone can still benefit from the 65% discount on First Annual passes negotiated by the university for all staff and students.

UEA launched the mTicket on campus last week and the response from students has been wholly positive. The mTicket has been shown to be a great success in other cities, and this is the first time a ticket of this type has been exclusively offered to a university.”

UUEAS is an independent and democratically run charity that represents students within the University of East Anglia, campaigns on behalf of students and provides services such as the Shop and the Hive.


UPDATE 23/05/2014: 

Following the news earlier in the week on bus ticket pricing in the year ahead, discussions between the Union, the University and FirstBus have resulted in FirstBus agreeing to reduce the price for physical tickets to bring them into line with their mobile offering.

Bintu Foday, Community and Student Rights Officer, said:

“We think FirstBus have done the right thing by listening to students and levelling the pricing for mobile and physical ticketing. In this economic climate it’s also great that prices have been frozen. We reckon most students can and will do the smart thing and use their smart phone – but for those that can’t there’s now a fair option for their bus fares.”


8 COMMENTS

  1. I think that the policy of bringing the price of physical tickets inline with those available to students with smart phones is the more sensible policy. I will most likely get mine on my phone, but there is no need to scrap physical tickets, could be handy if your phone tends to run out of battery or you’re prone to fatally damaging your handset.

  2. “those students forced to buy paper bus passes will apparently have to pay £20-£35 more than those able to use the application.”

    Now, wait up just one second here. Isn’t it that this ‘£35 extra’ is simply included in the price that every student who wants a bus pass has had to pay in previous years? In that case, it’s simply saying: “You can use this paper application – and pay the same as you would in previous years – or you can use this new, zippy smartphone application, and get money off because we no longer have to pay the man-hours to process paper applications.” That would make this new mobile application a sensible money-off discount – albeit one that (a few) students won’t get. In that situation, it really doesn’t seem so bad.

    Or is it an entirely new charge that has been brought in this year, where people without smartphones will specifically have to pay more to apply on paper than in previous years?

    Which is it?

    See, it’s kind of the difference between, “Dominos Pizza offers students who order with our mobile app £20 off on their pizza order – but students who walk into the shop and ask for their pizza there will pay the same regular, full-price amount for their pizza as they do every year, without the smartphone discount.”…

    … and Dominos saying: “As a result of our move to digital, we want to force every student to start buying pizza online. So we’ve decided to start charging every student who walks into the shop and orders pizza there, an extra £20 for their pizza. If you don’t like it, order online. Our regular pizza prices are now only available online there.”

    I suspect the former, but this article makes it sound like the latter.

    (After all, the Domino’s app is not available on the Blackberry store or Nokia Ovi store, either!)

  3. Will – it doesn’t make a difference: you pay exactly the same price that you would have paid First not introduced this scheme. You would have known when you got a windows phone that you were signing up to an ecosystem with less mainstream app support, just like as an Android user I accept that some apps are for iOS only and even when there are both, the Android version tends to lag behind.

    • Well no. I do not expect for a university and bus company to provide cheaper tickets to those on a certain OS. The ability to have this on windows phone is there they just didn’t make the app. It’s a very different argument to saying that the phone doesn’t have the ability to have the app on it. Around 10% of UK mobile users (Study by Kantar Worldpanel ComTech) have this operating system and its growing at around 4% a year.

      • Well why doesn’t the Union call on the bus company to develop a Windows Phone app for this, then? That would be a sensible and progressive thing to do, rather than rejecting m-ticketing point blank, because under 10% of students have the wrong kind of phone.

        Unfortunately, the bus company can’t bring prices down by £25 or so across the board, because – guess what? – m-ticketing only saves money because there is no paper to process. If you reduce the costs of paper applications by the same £25, but you still have to process all that paper, there will be a lot of people not getting paid, which is not good for workers. The bus company also can’t immediately roll out apps for mobile platforms that relatively few people use, because there are actually relatively few people who will initially use their smartphones for tickets, and out of *those* people, they can’t afford to spend money developing an expensive app that they think that few will use and they might lose money on. It’s a simple question of economics.

        Y’know, back when ticketing apps for EasyJet, and thetrainline, and redspottedhanky came out? They were all only available for ioS at first. As an Andoid user, I initially missed out, and it was VERY frustrating. But you know what I did? I got over it, and waited until they developed it for my platform. Which they did, because they saw that the ioS mobile version was so popular, and there was great demand for it on other platforms too.

        But stopping a much-appreciated discount just because ‘not everyone can have it yet’ is unfair to the 90% of students who do have these phones, and want to save their money now.

        Frankly, the far more worrying aspect of all this plan will be what happens when your phone runs out of charge just as you’re getting on the bus ride home. How are they going to deal with that, I wonder?

        • I completely agree with your point about getting over it, but there are two main points why people should have to.

          Its not just people with windows phone but also those without smart phones. This isn’t just a public company this is third party outsourced company that own a public services contract, we have no choice of which bus company to take as their is only the one. Hence it is their job to make sure their service is accessible to everyone as possible that means not leaving a ,admittedly small, group of students out from a 20% reduction in the bus passes. Also they are no longer selling on campus and appear to be printing in large batches so the cost is not much higher.

          Secondly, As a computer science student I can tell you it is just laziness that stops them. From experience its far more difficult to build for ios than windows. Also I look forward to seeing how many people are not allowed on buses when their phone dies or they can’t get online.

          If First gave a reliable service I wouldn’t mind but i just find it hard to swallow a decision from First who give a largely varying service this year.

    • Oh I agree. I didn’t mind when there wasn’t a Flappy Bird app straight away. Or Snapchat, or a few others I can’t think of at the moment. I realise the WP OS has a smaller pool of the app (although that isn’t the case anymore – I’ve yet to find an app I want but can’t get).
      But, it seems to me that if they’re going to introduce such a system, it should at least include the WP OS. Especially as it’s the third largest and fastest growing platform. You might also be interested in this: http://www.wired.com/2012/06/why-idc-predicts-windows-phone-will-surpass-ios-by-2016/.

      What’s more, it wouldn’t take them any effort to port the app over to WP.

      Also, update:
      “Following the news earlier in the week on bus ticket pricing in the year ahead, discussions between the Union, the University and FirstBus have resulted in FirstBus agreeing to reduce the price for physical tickets to bring them into line with their mobile offering.”

      I suppose all this was rather moot, in hindsight.

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