Transport for London ready to launch new premium rate telephone service for London Travel Information
Transport for London requires a “non-geographic” telephone number for a new Travel Information service which will ultimately replace that offered on 020 7222 1234. Ignoring Ofcom advice and the practice now being followed by many public bodies it has not selected a 03xx number, which would be charged to all callers on exactly the same basis, but has gone for a number that provides it with a subsidy, at the expense of callers.
All 084x numbers are “revenue sharing”, which means that the recipient of the call benefits (through their telephone service provider) from the premium rates charged to callers.
The number selected by TfL , 0843 222 1234, is from the group (call type “g6”) that is the most expensive to call, and thereby most generous in revenue share income to the user, short of those which are formally classified as being used for Premium Rate Services. The premium rate that is charged for calls to this number is not quite sufficient to warrant the acknowledgement that a genuine “Premium Rate Service” is provided.
Over two years ago, Ofcom introduced the 03 range for those, especially public service providers, who need the benefits of non-geographic numbers but find it inappropriate or undesirable for callers to incur more than the cost of an “ordinary” call to a 01/02 number, which may be included in a package. By regulation, calls to 03 numbers must be charged on the same, or better, terms. For this reason the Metropolitan Police chose a 03 number for its new London-wide non-emergency contact service around a year ago. I was pleased to welcome this, and the example it set for others, on BBC TV
– see this clip.
BBC Breakfast 17 October 2008
The effect of partial regulation on BT’s charges causes perverse effects for some of its customers during the working day, however it is generally true to say that all callers will pay a premium over what they pay for an “ordinary” call to call this 0843 number.
The higher cost of calling is due to the fact that a revenue share of around 4p per minute is paid over from the originating to the terminating telephone company on calls to numbers of this type. This means that callers incur a premium rate as well as a connection fee in some cases and are denied the benefits of competitive prices for ordinary calls. This loss of benefit is seen in exclusion from packages and in some mobile callers paying a premium of 100%, e.g. 40p per minute, rather than 20p, for Orange PAYG. The benefit gained by TfL may not be seen in a fat monthly cheque, but one hopes that it is reflected in the price it will pay for its telephone service. If not, then TfL is allowing its telephone service provider to simply profiteer. One may dress this up in various ways and refer to peripheral issues, however choice of a 084 number means that TfL is charging its users for its service.
I would never suggest that TfL should meet the costs of callers by offering a “freephone” service, however if it is to impose an indirect charge on callers then it is right that this be acknowledged, declared and justified. If TFL is ready to provide a proper acknowledgement of the situation, a proper declaration of the costs to callers (other than quoting the exceptionally regulated prices perversely available to some BT customers) and its justification for the introduction of a charge for a previously free service (so far as TfL is concerned) then I would be ready to join in proper debate of the issue. The argument that a non-geographic number is needed fails to address the relevant issues, given that 03 is available.
I hope that it is not too late for the option of using a 03 number to be reconsidered. Whilst some undoubtedly call TfL from BT lines, it is important to understand that it is BT’s charging structure that is unusual, because it alone is regulated in its charges for calls to 084 numbers. It is BT that varies from the general pattern, not the other way around.
As a renowned campaigner on these issues, I will be delighted to assist TfL and anyone else in gaining a proper and complete understanding of the issues and in ensuring that the right decision is taken.