Warwick’s Students’ Union announced that it will no longer be promoting Stagecoach bus passes until the company makes “meaningful progress” on longstanding issues with the university bus service.
Late June, the SU wrote to Stagecoach with three demands on improving the service. This afternoon, the Union announced that having received “no satisfactory response,” it would no longer be promoting Stagecoach nor allowing the company to promote or sell its products in Union buildings until policy is changed.
Stagecoach managing director Steve Burd responded that, “unfortunately, it is not my Company’s policy to enter into discussions with any organisation whilst subject to threats of duress.” Burd has offered to arrange a meeting if the SU agrees to defer the ban until next January.
This is the latest of a longstanding series of disputes between Stagecoach and the SU, whose incoming Sabbatical team have made improving the bus service a priority.
Democracy and Development officer (DDO) Michael Kynaston and Education officer Liam Jackson commented: “This not a boycott. We are taking on Stagecoach on behalf of and alongside our student body and we are taking action to push for them to run a better service which students deserve.”
“We are hoping for constructive and positive talks with Stagecoach, engaging with them to provide a better service; Stagecoach, however, are currently unwilling to meet us for such discussions but we will continue to push for talks on behalf of the student body to secure a better standard of service.”
Lost bus passes
As of November last year, Stagecoach changed its policy so that students who lost their bus passes would no longer be able to simply replace them for a fee of £25 — and would instead have to re-purchase the original ticket, which could cost up to £301 for three terms.
By the end of the month, a petition was launched to “stop Stagecoach blatantly exploiting us as a captive audience of students.” The petition reached over 1,000 signatures by January, and was followed by an SU referendum in May.
The motion “Stagecoach: Stop Taking Us For A Ride,” proposed by SU Welfare Chair Sara Boiten, passed with 91% and the highest turnout in favour in SU history.
Burd defended the policy in an email to former SU President Luke Pilot: “Stagecoach Midlands is within its rights to take appropriate steps to protect itself from passenger fraud,” adding that “more rigorous enforcement of bus pass replacement policy was prompted by a number of increasingly blatant false claims for lost passes.”
Given that overcrowding is a given with this company, to add to that by exploiting generally strapped for cash young people is shameful.
It added that only in 10 out of 51 cases had replacement passes been refused after a full investigation. To obtain a £25 replacement bus pass, students were required to provide proof of theft through a police number, or evidence that other items were also stolen.
While the SU has demanded that Stagecoach resume replacing lost bus passes at “minimal cost to students,” the company has indicated that it will not be changing its policy until more secure smart cards are introduced next spring.
An anonymous commuter commented that the “simple addition of photos to the bus pass —like National Express bus passes have— would solve this if it were genuinely about people abusing the system.”
“It is obviously about maximising profits, they’ve simply looked at the amount of replacement passes being issued, multiplied the fee and licked their greedy lips.”
“Given that overcrowding is a given with this company, to add to that by exploiting generally strapped for cash young people is shameful.”
The SU have also demanded that Stagecoach improve their technology to allow for contactless payment. The move away from paper tickets has been advocated by several Sabbatical officers as well as Leamington and Warwick MP Matt Western.
The former Labour councillor told The Boar he was pushing for an Oyster Card-type pass to be introduced this autumn: “If it is lost they can immediately shut it down so there is no chance of fraud, but likewise students don’t face the risk of losing £300 of cash just like that.”
“Additionally it will give us data on times and frequency of travel so we can start building a better quality of service in terms of frequency at certain times of the day.”
Stagecoach is in the process of rolling out contactless payment across the country. While the Midlands director could not guarantee they would be introduced in Warwickshire by January, they are expected to be available by the end of March next year.
Better out-of-term service
Lastly, the SU demanded that Stagecoach improve their out-of-term bus provision to match student demand; noting particularly the lack of evening buses after term time, with the last one scheduled for 10.35pm on weekdays.
Burd stated: “Overall, the University of Warwick’s Unibus services have the highest level of frequency across the year and the lowest level of fares of any service operated in Warwickshire.”
Despite a fare hike last April, he underlined that “the current level of service provided during the University vacations does not cover its costs of operation, but the Company has maintained this level of service as part of its commitment to the University and its students.”
He added that, at over £3million in the last few years, Stagecoach Midlands had provided “a level of investment not matched by any other operator.”
It’s incomprehensible that the university bus service doesn’t have sufficient capacity.
However, during term-time the buses are frequently over-crowded, with over 200 complaints registered in just three days in October 2015 — culminating in an open letter from the then-SU president.
Leamington Green Party councillor Jonathan Chilvers commented: “Public transport works best when large number of people want to travel regularly between two points, so it’s incomprehensible that the university bus service doesn’t have sufficient capacity.”
“I’m a Warwick graduate and the same issues existed when I traveled in from Leam.”
“Competition between National Express and Stagecoach isn’t working, as on the Leamington-Coventry route, and finding ways to make this work better might reap dividends for students.”
While National Express operates a few routes through Leamington, most students living in the area have little choice but to rely on the Stagecoach buses.
UPDATE: Stagecoach has advised The Boar that they have always considered replacement bus passes, and that has not changed with the new policy brought in last November.