Some bus operators or transport authorities offer transfer tickets, enabling passengers to transfer from one route to another to complete their journeys. There is usually a time limit, typically one hour or 90 minutes after the initial purchase or validation, within which the second journey must commence.
These arrangements are common on urban transport systems in developed countries, and are particularly appropriate where the route network is based on the “hub-and-spoke” principle, .
Through-ticketing and route transfers
There is a strong case for through-ticketing where the route network necessitates transferring between routes on a high proportion of journeys. It may also be more equitable with a flat fare system, or a sharply tapered graduated system, in which passengers who must travel on more than one route to make a journey will pay a higher fare than a passenger traveling the same distance but who does not have to change.
With a flat fare system the transfer ticket should cost the same as a single journey ticket to be fully equitable. For simplicity it makes sense in such cases for every ticket issued to be valid as a transfer ticket. However, in systems where every ticket permits one transfer, disembarking passengers who are not intending to transfer may hand their tickets to others waiting to board. This could deprive the operator of a significant proportion of revenue.
Through-ticketing makes sense for multi-modal systems
On many transport systems, mostly in urban areas, tickets are available which provide unlimited travel throughout a network, for a specified period, usually one day. They may be valid on the services provided by a single operator, or several. Sometimes they are valid on several modes, such as bus, tram, LRT and metro systems.
They cannot relate cost or fare to the journeys made, but are convenient for the user and are a simple means of selling public transport services. These tickets are often referred to as a travelcard, which has become a generic term in some countries.
Multiple operators limits through-ticketing
Where there are several operators in competition with one another on a particular route, the scope for selling multiple-journey tickets may be limited. Unless operators are able to agree on a revenue-sharing system, tickets will be restricted to the services of a single operator. Many passengers are also unwilling to commit themselves in this way, preferring to retain the option of boarding any bus that comes along.
Sometimes co-operation between operators to accept one another’s multiple-journey tickets is regarded as anti-competitive, and is prohibited by law. Regardless, it is normally practical only where there are relatively few operators, or where a transport authority or an operators’ association is able to organize an equitable revenue-sharing arrangement among them.
Through-ticketing impedes data gathering
A disadvantage of certain types of multiple-journey tickets, particularly those permitting unlimited travel, is that they make it difficult for the operator to obtain detailed passenger statistics. These statistics are required for control and planning purposes.
It’s usually necessary to calculate conversion factors based on surveys, to enable the total number of passengers carried to be estimated from the number of passengers purchasing single journey tickets, on a route-by-route or journey-by-journey basis. The higher the proportion of multiple-journey ticket users, the greater the likelihood of inaccurate figures.
Similarly, where several operators are involved in a joint travelcard system, accurate apportionment of revenue can be very difficult. However, all of these problems can be overcome, albeit at a cost, with smartcard technology.
Through-ticketing is passenger friendly
Despite the challenges associated with transfer tickets from an operator’s point of view, they are popular with riders. Non-availability of transfer tickets increases cost, and aggravates the inconvenience of having to transfer from one bus route to another.