OPINION: Giving freebies can be good for business - Harrogate Bus Company

Giving something away for free is not the initial reaction you may usually have to improve the fortunes of any organisation. However, we believe it is a worthwhile investment and a calculated risk when planned correctly and in an ideal setting.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 2:32 pm

Our Sunday Freeway campaign hopefully typifies this.

We offered free fares every Sunday on our Harrogate Electrics network as part of our ultimate aim to grow customers numbers, deliberately so on a then relaunched bus network with new buses, but also because we knew buses being electric - while a Good Thing - wouldn’t be enough in itself to attract new customers and make a shift from car to bus.

However, just giving something away for free is a lost opportunity without the ideal setting. We obviously need to ensure income is coming in (even if at a limited rate) to allow us to fund our own outgoings - payroll of our team, energy, overheads and so on.

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So Sunday Freeway was created as a partnership scheme. If we could showcase the work of a local partner, who ideally shares the same ambition we have - notably grow the use of sustainable transport, reduce the reliance of the car and congestion, and bring more people into town to support the local economy - then all the better. You need the product to be attractive whether free or not.

Our customers tell us that we have: our Harrogate Electrics buses are spacious and comfortable, offer free WiFi and device charging, and on Sundays we generally run every 30 minutes from morning until night. So, it’s a dependable timetable.

The destination needs to be right too - nobody (except strange ‘bus people’ like me) is going to travel for the sake of travelling. Thankfully, Harrogate is a great destination and we all know how good our shopping and leisure offer can be.

Up to now, we have had a number of separate Sunday Freeway promotions over the course of a few months. They each have involved local organisations including Slingsby Gin, Harrogate Spring Water and, more recently, Harrogate BID.

All want to see Harrogate succeed and are deeply conscious, like us, of their role in the local community.

I am pleased to say it works.

We have been able to secure a base of funding to give us confidence to offer free fares, have seen an increase in customers using buses on Sundays, then leaving a legacy beyond the promotion of overall growth.

This past January and February - thanks to the support of the Harrogate BID - saw an increase of 64% more people taking the bus compared to the usually busy months of November and December.

That all means a success for us, for the BID, for sustainable transport and for our town. All enabled through partnership working, a dollop of creativity, being brave and thinking differently.