Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 132)



  120. I am not really your problem. I spend all my time studying transport and I travel all the time.
  (Mr Dean) I would not disagree. We do have a number of initiatives but we need to address some people who do not use public transport at all and are not used to looking for timetables and we need to make it as user friendly as we can. Another thing we are doing is improving our internet information. If you have somebody who is very technical but does not travel by train—

  121. I do not think many pensioners actually use the internet.
  (Mr Dean) We use a range of media. It is not just the internet. We do leafleting and all sorts of copy.

Mrs Ellman

  122. Does the rail industry give top priority to station access by pedestrians or by car?
  (Mr Dean) Our policy is to try to give priority to everybody because it is truly multi-modal. In the past the emphasis was very much on car access and that was not necessarily the right way forward. To go totally to pedestrian and cycle access without any access for cars would not be the right image for an integrated transport jigsaw. What we try to do is have an holistic approach to our traffic management planning stations. What you often find is that a lot of forecourts do actually have quite a bit of room to do good schemes. The good thing about pedestrian access is that it does not necessarily require an awful lot of space. It is just a question of looking at it comprehensively from the beginning of the planning process and organising it properly so you can develop schemes where everybody is happy. Sometimes in particular areas it can be a bit of a challenge and you do have tradeoffs where you have to make a choice. I should say for the majority of schemes you can try to keep everybody happy.

Mrs Gorman

  123. I want to put a question to the FirstGroup people because you do buses as well as trains, do you not? How much attention do you pay to the desire of passengers or potential passengers to be picked up closer to their homes, that is to say a more flexible pickup policy, which does operate in other parts of the world?
  (Mr Dean) One of the things we are looking at at the moment is demand-responsive transport, which is the idea that you have flexible services which can go off the line of route, so they can go closer to where people might want to pick up a bus service. The technology is starting to emerge in a cost-effective way and it is something we are looking at. We actually have a bid in at the moment for rural bus challenge funding from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, for a scheme in Cornwall which we are doing with Cornwall County Council. We are also working with a supplier and Essex County Council on the possibilities in that part of the world. It is something we are looking at. You will remember as well that one of the things after deregulation of bus services was a sudden spread of minibus services, smaller buses, which did mean that they were able to access roads which larger buses were not able to.

Mrs Dunwoody

  124. They did not last very long, did they?
  (Mr Dean) The buses have got a bit bigger now, but that is mainly because the passenger capacity was exceeded because they were so popular.

  Mrs Dunwoody: Say that again. They were so popular you do not use them any more.

Mrs Gorman

  125. You simply have to use bigger buses because they were popular.
  (Mr Dean) The buses were very popular so the inability of the buses to take those people, but you will find we still have smaller vehicles than the conventional large vehicles which run on the major corridors which still do go into the housing estates and housing areas in a way which larger buses cannot do.

  126. Do you have any obstacles to that? Are you able to go down whichever streets you want to, or do you have to spend years wrangling with a local council about whether you can do that?
  (Mr Dean) Nothing stops us from doing that, but good practice is that you would consult with residents and the local authority if you were planning to go down a road which had not been served by buses before. Sometimes it is not received very well. The local authority can impose a traffic order banning buses from a particular road if it wanted to do so, but the route we normally go down is to consult and talk to people about it.


  127. How compatible is pedestrianisation of the town centres with bus access? Is it really possible to have buses going down the same street with pedestrians walking with no other traffic?
  (Mr Dean) We think so. We think good bus access to town and city centres is actually essential, not just for our business but also meeting local and central government policy objectives. If we want to make public transport more attractive there is no point dropping people off a mile from where they really want to be. We think bus access to town centres is very important. We think it can be achieved and it is things like good design. For example, if you are designing a pedestrian priority area with bus access, it is making sure you know what the pedestrian desire lines are so that you do not design something which pedestrians do not like and which tempt them to cross in dangerous areas. It is also things like training of our staff to make them aware of what to look out for in pedestrian areas. In addition, procedures such as headlights being turned on to warn people of buses coming into the central area. There are some very good examples. The other area which is very important is that if you have buses in the town centre, then it helps in terms of having a presence at night time. If you have total pedestrianisation, when the shops shut there is nobody there. If you have buses running through the city centre and you still have people waiting for buses as well, it all acts as a deterrent to people who might be up to something.

  128. People are talking about pedestrianising Trafalgar Square and Whitehall. Could you really envisage that having the impact of producing a nice attractive pedestrianised area if buses were still to run through Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall?
  (Mr Dean) It depends upon the extent. If it is total pedestrianisation, where all four sides of Trafalgar Square are banned to all traffic, speaking off the cuff I am sure we would have a bit of a problem with that. That would damage our services. If you are talking of pedestrianising one side of Trafalgar Square and putting in bus priority on the approach roads, then I believe the feeling, certainly from London Transport, is that that can be accommodated in terms of making sure that it does not affect the reliability of buses. It is all down to good design. It takes a lot of thought.

Mrs Gorman

  129. You as a company clearly understand the theory but if I as a passenger want to be dropped off nearer to my home than a mile away, why can you not just arrange for your bus driver to accept that request from the passenger and do it, or are you doing it?
  (Mr Dean) It depends upon the service. We are looking at services where we are looking to make them more flexible. If you have a fixed route service, that is based on a schedule and the schedule is a legal requirement in terms of drivers' hours. If we asked a driver to drive somebody off their line of route so it took ten minutes more, if the driver was close to his limit in terms of drivers' hours for the day, then that could cause a problem. It is necessary to look at what the market is. If people do want to access their homes or wherever they are going a lot better, then the technology is available now and let us see how we can exploit it with another type of bus service.

Miss McIntosh

  130. If your scheme is going to be successful, what chance is there of your buses, particularly in York, actually reaching a station on time? Are you actually able to say what proportion of your budget every year is spent on the safety and security issues like lighting and CCTV?
  (Mr Dean) I shall have to get back to you with a note on your last point. I cannot tell you now but I can certainly get back to you on that. Reliability is a key issue. We think we work very hard to achieve that, but it is something we need to achieve in partnership because we do not own the highway. Some local authorities are prepared to give us a significant amount of bus priority and that has an impact. In other places, for whatever reason, the highway authority finds it difficult and that means it does cause problems in terms of reliability of our services. We can do things to try to address that. We put extra buses in the schedule so that if it takes longer we maintain the frequency, even though there is a cost to us for that. We have done that in Bristol. We are always looking at ways of trying to manage congestion, but the best way to do it is to manage it in partnership with the highway authority. If we get real priority then we can deliver on reliability, as you have heard from Oxford. There is significant bus priority there and there is a figure of something like 80 per cent passenger growth over the last ten years in the number of bus passengers. It does have an impact.


  131. The balance between the objective of letting people walk to stations and engineering priorities within Railtrack. Are you satisfied that sometimes actual engineering decisions do not make it harder for people to walk to railway stations?
  (Ms Richards) I am not aware of any conflicts.

  132. If I look at the West Coast Main Line alterations which have been made, in one or two places, it does appear that access to stations is being made harder in order to achieve engineering successes. How does this work within the board? Who makes the decisions?
  (Ms Richards) I am not familiar with the example you have given there. We would have to come back to you on that point. I am not aware of any conflicts which would exist between an engineering operation and an access to a station unless it was on a temporary basis to facilitate those engineering works.

  Chairman: I shall leave that at that point. Thank you very much for your evidence.

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