Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by FirstGroup (WTC 18)



  FirstGroup is a leading UK based international transport group, with bus, rail and airport operations spanning the UK and USA. The group employs over 45,000 people worldwide and in the UK, with a fleet of over 10,000 buses and 23 per cent market share, the company is the country's largest bus operator. In addition, FirstGroup is the UK's second largest passenger train operator through three major rail franchises.

  FirstGroup is committed to quality; this means the development of new ideas, quality partnerships with local authorities, state of the art technology, industry best equipment and support for the principles contained in the Government's 1998 White Paper on Transport.

  This document contains our response to an invitation to provide evidence to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee inquiry into walking in towns and cities. We understand the committee will be looking at a number of relevant issues; these are listed in the press notice issued on 6 November 2000 and comments are made in this document for those issues which are considered most relevant to our business.


  As noted above, FirstGroup supports local and national Government aspirations for less dependency on private vehicle travel and is committed to improving the quality of public transport journeys. For most of our customers, a trip by bus or train is likely to involve a walking stage. (According to the 1993-95 National Travel Survey a quarter of walk journey stages are associated with car and public transport journeys.) Whether they travel by bus or train therefore can be influenced by their satisfaction with the walk stage. According to the DETR's own research (carried out on its behalf by Crime Concern and Social Research Associates) people see trips they make in a "whole journey" context. Therefore just one weak link in the chain, such as a badly lit path to a bus stop, can lead to the journey being cancelled regardless of whether the bus operator is providing a reliable quality service.

  We therefore support the development of the concept of Quality Walking Routes where a number of key walk routes associated with multi modal journeys are improved in terms of issues such as lighting and traffic danger. Where there are security issues, these can be tackled through quality partnerships which involve the police or other enforcement agencies.

  FirstGroup would encourage local authorities to channel their Local Transport Plan (LTP) funding into such initiatives which can be done through extensions to existing quality partnership agreements.

What should be done to promote walking, including the creation of city squares, the role of pedestrianisation, Home Zones, additional measures to restrain traffic, the harmonisation of walking and public transport and improved safety and security for pedestrians?

  The selective removal of traffic from town and city centres is an important objective in terms of encouraging more sustainable transport behaviour. However, we urge that schemes being promoted to encourage greater priority to pedestrians should distinguish between public transport vehicles and others when considering the impact. If managed properly, providing access for buses when other vehicles are banned or restricted can have a positive impact in terms of meeting policy objectives to make public transport more attractive by:

    —  Increasing journey times for other cars but not for public transport.

    —  Enouraging modal switch to public transport from the private car (modelling work undertaken by Halcrow in connection with World Squares in London forecast a 10 per cent mode switch to public transport if public transport is given priority over other vehicular modes).

    —  Making private vehicle travel less attractive so that there is a general level of traffic reduction (the same Halcrow work indicated an overall 2 per cent reduction in traffic in central London if World Squares was implemented in full)

    —  Making a clear statement that bus travel is more acceptable in environmentally sensitive urban areas than uncontrolled private car use.

  In connection with the last point the progressive introduction of cleaner fuel technology and particulate traps to our bus fleet means that we believe our vehicles are entirely compatible with continuing access to pedestrian priority areas.

Whether the relevant professionals have the appropriate skills and training

  As with may other requirements of transport professionals arising from the "new transport agenda," there is undoubtedly a learning curve not just in infrastructure design but also how to promote and monitor initiatives associated with walking. Firm DETR guidance is therefore helpful as is publication of good practice.

Whether all Government Departments, their agencies, including the Highways Agency and local authorities are taking appropriate measures and in particular whether Local Transport Plans, PPG13 and the Government Paper, Encouraging Walking are adequate

  The response to PPG13 and associated planning guidelines is most relevant here. PPG13 sets out general standards; probably most important is Design Bulletin 32 (September 1998) issued by the DETR which emphasises that the layout of new residential roads should be based on people friendly considerations and not just the needs of the motor car. This principle should apply to all development but our experience is that its application is mixed.

  Some local authorities embrace these ideas fully (as do some innovative developers such as English Partnerships) and incorporate them into development briefs. Others pay lip service but fail to apply the basics such as development master planning which takes into account the needs of pedestrians and access to public transport nodes at an early stage of the design process. Time pressure on local government planning officials can also mean that agreed guidelines with developers are not properly enforced leading to poor surfacing, lighting and landscape design and/or no maintenance regime. This means that opportunities are lost to improve the harmonisation of walking and public transport, which can be disappointing especially as in some areas development can account for five per cent of urban renewal per annum.


  Walking is an extremely important component of the integrated transport agenda. As most trips are below one mile and are considered to be fairly informal means that it can be neglected. The fact that studies have demonstrated that people take into account the quality of the whole journey when making trip decisions show that it must be seriously considered when taking into account initiatives to encourage greater public transport use.

Moir Lockhead

Chief Executive


January 2001

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 2 February 2001