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.
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.
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.”