Navigating the craziness of day tickets in Manchester’s public transport network

Published on 15 January 2020 in , , ,

GMPTE's M logo on the glass of Stockport bus station
The wavey M of the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive. Now replaced by a less wavy M of Transport for Greater Manchester.

A common complaint about rail fares is how complex they are. That trying to work out the cheapest fare often requires a great deal of research and knowledge. Given how many times friends and family have asked me what the best ticket to buy for whatever scenario, there has to be some truth in this.

But it’s not a problem isolated to trains. It’s true of buses as well. And other modes of travel like trams too.

Take the permutations to you need to consider to get the best fare in Greater Manchester. You need to know what mode you will travelling in advance. How many days will you be travelling for? How many of you will be travelling? Will it be bus, train, tram, or any combination of the three? If travelling by tram or train, will you be journeying in peak time or off-peak? (Peak times are different between train and Metrolink by the way?) If travelling just by bus, will you be travelling on just one operator’s buses? Or will you be travelling by multiple companies?

I had this over the weekend. I had a walk planned that would run from the centre of Manchester to East Didsbury. This offered multiple transport options. I could get the train to Manchester. Or I could get two buses. From East Didsbury I could get two buses home, or I could get a tram and a train. And to get the best ticket, I needed to plan all this in advance. I needed to choose between a System One One-Day Any Bus&Tram ticket, a System One One-Day Any Bus&Train ticket, a System One One-Day Any Bus&Train&Tram ticket, a System One One-Day Any Bus ticket, or a Stagecoach One-Day Dayrider. Each with benefits and drawbacks.

Does your head hurt yet? Mine did.

I was travelling on Sunday and the trains round my way aren’t amazing on Sundays. In fact, they are terrible. My closest station doesn’t even get a service. The other nearby station has just one train an hour. The journey times Google Maps showed me for my journey to Manchester were roughly similar between bus and train, probably because the roads are much quieter on a Sunday. The journey home from East Didsbury was also much quicker by bus. So I decided, what the heck, I’d take the bus.

That got me down to a choice of two tickets. I could get the System One One-Day Any Bus ticket at £5.80. Or I could get a Stagecoach 1-Day Dayrider for £5.00. The cheaper one would restrict me to Stagecoach’s services only. That extra 80p would get me on any bus signed up to the System One travelcard scheme. That’s most of the companies who serve Stockport. Probably. Who knows? For it’s easier to find out who does support System One, than who doesn’t. (System One claims to be “the largest integrated multi-operator travelcard scheme in the UK” outside London. In case you were wondering.)

Now Stagecoach run the vast majority of bus services in the Stockport area. They run the local bus service from where I live to Stockport. I knew two of the four buses I’d need were run by them. What about the other two? Could I save 80p and just get a Dayrider?

I tapped a lot on Google Maps, checking the bus timetables. Yes, it seemed. They were all Stagecoach services. Sorted. I got on my first bus, bought a Dayrider, and wondered what I’d do with the money I’d saved.

Some time later I rock up at Stockport bus station ready for bus 2. Only to find out that whilst Stagecoach run that bus doing the week, on a Sunday it’s run by Manchester Community Transport. Who, of course, don’t take Stagecoach tickets. Google Maps had told me the wrong information.

In this case it was easily resolved as there was another bus I could take that was operated by Stagecoach. It would be a bit less convenient for where I wanted to go, but I could live with it. But if there hadn’t, I would have ended up spending even more money.

That I got myself into this situation – having done my research – was annoying. But how many people are struggling daily to work out the best way through this quagmire? Greater Manchester has 2.8 million residents, but the above tale must be a familiar one on most of our major cities. Only those travelling in Greater London have a simple system. Tap your Oystercard or contactless bank card, and the system works it all out for you. It’s been around for years. The rest of the country is far, far behind.

That could change in Greater Manchester if proposals to radically re-write the way buses are run in the county are taken forward. But it will take years to implement the reforms, and get all the systems running. And in the meantime, we’ll all still be sat here either planning journeys in minute detail to work out the best ticket, or paying way over the odds for not doing so.

In the meantime, how many people are paying over the odds for their travel? Or worse, how many people are being put off public transport in the belief it’s too expensive when they’re missing out on big savings?

Change really is long overdue.