We are the Walrus

Liverpool is about to enter a new era in paying for bus and train travel.  Liverpool is about to enter the era of the Walrus.

Currently the fare system across Merseyside is quite confusing and oddly random.  Unlike London, which has uniform fares regardless of which company is supplying buses for a route, Meresyside fares change from company to company operating buses on the routes.  Additionally there are weekly or daily tickets that will only be accepted by the company that issued them. Try to get on a bus run by a different company and your ticket won’t be valid.

There are many operators covering the Merseyside area, but the two majors are Arriva and Stagecoach.  Buy a daily on a Stagecoach bus and it’s not welcome on an Arriva bus.  Well, unless it’s a bus on one of the very few unified routes which is served by both companies.

Confused yet?

The whole area is ‘controlled’ by Merseytravel.  Or rather, the bus stops in the whole area are looked after by Merseytravel.  They don’t appear to have any say over what the bus operators actually do.  This is a radical departure from the Transport for London methodology of ‘owning’ the routes and licensing the bus operators to service them to a particular standard.  The tickets sold on London buses and the prices are controlled by Transport for London, and are transferable across every route in London regardless of the operator.

Merseytravel, apart from looking after the bus stops (and why the feck doesn’t it display prominently on the top the route numbers of the buses that will stop at them??), does hold a centralised supply of timetables, if the operators can be bothered to tell them when they are running their buses.

Merseytravel can also issue daily (for use after 9:30am), weekly and monthly tickets that can be used on any operator’s bus.  Annoyingly, these cannot be bought on boarding a bus, but instead from one of the very few ‘travel centres’ run by Merseytravel.

The most popular daily bus ticket is called the ‘Saveaway‘ and its popularity really is huge.  This is mainly because it can be fraudulently used day after day for free travel, even though a ‘Saveaway‘ is only supposed to be valid for a single day.  It is abused by almost everybody.

The ‘Saveaway‘ is basically a scratch card.  The user scratches off today’s day, date and month, and then seals the entire card, including what is revealed under the scratched off bits, with a layer of transparent sticky backed plastic.

Scousers wishing to ensure multiple days of use will board a bus pretending they have only just remembered to scratch off that day’s day, month and date.  Indeed, for authenticity they will usually ask the driver to confirm the date, and they will show him the coin they have hovering ready to scratch away.  As they walk on and to their seats, they will move the coin back and forth in a simulated frantic ‘scratching away’ motion without making any actual contact with the card.

They will repeat this process every journey, every day, never actually validating their ‘Saveaway‘ and so ensuring free travel for months at a time.

In London, although cash is still acceptable (as long as you don’t mind paying a much higher fare for cash), everything has moved to the ‘Oyster‘ card (Why they picked the name Oyster nobody seems to know!).  This is a smart card that has to be tapped onto a reader attached to the driver’s ticket machine, and will debit from the smart card the appropriate fare.  If it is tapped for one journey, the card will debit the cost of one journey.  The same for the next journey.  When it reaches the cost of an ‘all day any routes’ fare it knows and stops debiting any more, whilst still allowing the holder to make their journey.  Likewise ‘weekly’ and ‘monthly’ tickets are stored on the Oyster card, allowing for seamless journeys across bus, tram, underground, and suburban train networks.

Oyster cards, similar to Electricity ‘keys‘, can be ‘charged-up’ (topped up) by pre-paying at most newsagents, or by linking them to a direct debit from a bank account.  When I lived in London, my Oyster card just automatically topped itself up as and when it needed to, and I didn’t even have to think about it.

The Merseytravel version of London’s Oyster card is the Walrus card.  The Walrus card is being slowly phased in over the next 18 months, although for now most Merseysiders have never heard of it.

I assume the Walrus card will confuse those currently pretending they are scratching away at their Saveaways, but no doubt they’ll come up with an electronic version of their fare dodging scam.  They’ve got until 2014 to work out how to confuse the issue. Goo goo g’joob.

One comment

  1. The scratch card sounds similar to the time validation machines used in other countries. I assume you never have inspectors get on the buses. Also I notice Bath has a similar random fare system to yours: I bought a return ticket there only to find there were 3 operators and I could not use it on the other two buses. its to see if you are tight enough to wait for your bus or get annoyed and buy another ticket.

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