Memories · Notes from West London · Word of the week

Word of the week: Hopper

The Hopper Fare was introduced here in London back in 2016. It allowed you to make two bus journeys for the price of one, as long as the second journey started within an hour of the first. This was a simple, easily understood change to the fares system. It saved people money. From what I could see the main benefit was for the least well-off: Hopper fares helped some of the poorest Londoners financially. This is exactly the kind of initiative that I expect from a Labour Mayor of London and on its own justifies the election of Sadiq Khan to the post. Would Zac Goldsmith, Khan’s main rival in the mayoral election, have introduced a fare structure that benefits poorer Londoners? What do you think?

In that opening paragraph, I wrote about Hopper fares in the past tense because they are not the same in 2018 as they were in 2016. Remarkably, they have been improved. These days Londoners can make unlimited bus journeys for the price of a single fare, as long as all the journeys start within an hour of the first. You can, literally, take four bus journeys for the price of one. I did it myself last week.

Two years ago I wrote this piece about being a “Tariff Bore”. It detailed the costs of buying and using mobile phones from the mid-1990s onwards. I anticipated writing more such pieces, finishing with the words “I’m rather warming to my role as a self-confessed tariff bore”, but have not returned to the subject till now. The tariff bore is back. The rest of this piece looks at the costs of bus and train travel here in London (past and present), and at a lesson many of us learnt when we first started travelling independently on public transport.

There are, unquestionably, many people who take buses because they can’t afford to take the tube. A tube journey into central London from Zone 4, for example, costs £3.90 at peak times. (The fares listed in this piece are for Oyster or contactless payment: nobody should buy a single ticket for journeys in London.) The flat fare for bus travel is £1.50. Before the Hopper fare was introduced two bus journeys would cost £3.00 (not much of a saving compared to tube travel) and three bus journeys would cost £4.50. Now people can get from Zone 4 to Zone 1 on multiple buses and still only pay £1.50, saving £2.40 on their commute compared to taking the tube. For someone travelling to and from Zone 1 every weekday that’s £24 per week, a significant amount of cash for the lowest paid. The down side is the extra time it takes to go by bus, but there is usually a trade-off between the cost of travel and the time it takes. Buses are cheaper than tubes, coaches are cheaper than trains and it costs less to put a car on a ferry than on the Eurostar.

Like all under-16s, my children get free bus travel with their Zip Cards (another worthwhile Transport for London initiative that was only introduced in the last 10 years). Zip Cards also give them heavily discounted tube travel, but it’s still 75p per journey. The bus might be slower, but it is free. This is helping them to understand the trade-off between time and money. Three journeys by bus rather than by train will save them £2.25, enough for an ice cream at our local gelateria. I learnt a similar thing when I was younger than they are (and when I had never heard the word gelateria). There was no free travel in those days, even for 9-year-olds taking the bus to school. My fare was 2½p each way. I learnt that it was only 1½p if I got off one stop earlier. It meant a slightly longer walk but it saved me a penny on each journey, up to 10p a week. Back then that was a whole lot of Wagon Wheels (2p each) and Cheesy Crunchies (3p per packet) at the school tuck shop.

When I’d discovered this way of increasing my tiny amount of disposable income I told my mum, fully prepared to have my travel budget reduced. She wasn’t bothered. If I wanted to walk to and from Hammersmith, and save the entire 2½p on every journey, that was fine by her. This option would have generated even more tuck shop cash but it would have made me late for school. I continued to get off the bus one stop earlier.

Most people of my generation will be familiar with the scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” in which John Cleese’s character asks a crowd of people, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” It featured in an episode of “Tenable” last month, so it can be counted as general knowledge. You can read what the 10 things are in this piece (jump to the questions and answers for 18 September, or search for “Roman”), or check out this clip from the movie. To paraphrase Cleese’s character, “What has Sadiq Khan ever done for us?” He’s introduced Hopper fares. Excellent idea.





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