Choices About Urban Public Transport Fares and Timetables: Social Vs. Commercial Factors

Choices About Urban Public Transport Fares and Timetables: Social Vs. Commercial Factors


Paul Hodson, European Commission, INT


It is common to contrast ?social? and ?commercial? decision-making in public transport. This paper uses data from European cities to ask if ?social? prices and timetables are usually found together, and how regulatory arrangements affect the outcome.


Public transport decision-makers (authorities under some regulatory regimes, operators under others) make choices about fares and service levels. These choices can be compared on a number of dimensions. In public and professional debate, one of the most significant dimensions contrasts ?social? and ?commercial? approaches. It is interesting to examine the relative importance placed on these two approaches in public transport decision-making in different cities.

To do this, empirical data is needed. This paper will be based on data on public transport prices and service provision from cities with a population of 200 000 or more in several European countries, including (at least) the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Sweden and the UK.

The paper will discuss the merits of using different price and timetable variables as indicators of the weight placed on social or commercial factors in decision-making. In the case of prices, it is likely that fare levels and discounts for young or elderly people will be retained as indicators. In the case of timetables, it is likely that the retained indicator will be the extent to which service is provided outside peak hours of travel to and from work and school.

By comparing cities with others in the same country and internationally, the paper will address two questions:

1) Are social practices in pricing associated with ?social? timetables?

2) How do regulatory arrangements and institutional factors tend to affect the choice between social and commercial approaches?

The regulatory and institutional factors examined will include types of competition, types of authority, ownership of operators and division of roles between operator and authority

This paper will draw on an enhanced version of the data-set that formed the basis for a paper from the same author at the 2005 European Transport Conference (?Price differentiation and fare integration in urban public transport?). Exploratory work with these data suggests that the following relationships may hold:

- Where authorities have most influence on prices and timetables, these are likely to be more socially oriented than where operators have most influence;

- Competition has less effect on outcomes than does the division of responsibility between authorities and operators;

- However, deregulated competition makes it impractical to use certain types of social pricing and timetabling;

- Social pricing is often associated with commercial timetabling and vice versa. There is no particular evidence of policy coherence.

This is the type of relationship that the paper will examine in detail.


Association for European Transport