Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 884-899)




  884. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Before I ask you to introduce yourselves could I say that we are very grateful to you all for coming this afternoon, but if you do agree we would be grateful if you did not all say the same thing. If you do not agree, if you can catch my eye then we can get the benefit of your evidence. Can I now ask you identify yourselves for the record.
  (Mr Rawlinson) My name is Richard Rawlinson and I am head of Traffic and Transport with Bristol City Council.
  (Councillor Holland) I am Helen Holland, Executive Member for Environment, Transport and Leisure in Bristol.
  (Mr Henkel) My name is John Henkel and I am Director of Passenger Services at West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, known as METRO.
  (Mr Ciaburro) Tony Ciaburro, Head of Transportation Policy at Hampshire County Council.
  (Ms Henley) I am Sheila Henley, Team Leader in Transport Policy at Hampshire County Council.

  885. Thank you very much. Do each one of you have something you want to say very briefly or can we go straight to questions?

  (Councillor Holland) We very much welcome the opportunity of talking to you this afternoon and bringing the perspective of a city which welcomed the 10 Year Plan and the move to five-year planning in local authorities in the LTP process. We are one of the first 14—and I understand that we were joined by two more yesterday—Centres of Excellence for integrated transport planning and we are working very hard to deliver the Government's agenda at a local level. We want to share some of the experience of what life is like at the sharp end when you are trying to do that. Obviously we will answer questions about anything but particularly on traffic congestion reduction targets, on skills shortages, on the difficulty of finding the revenue to match what we acknowledge is lots of new money for capital projects, and on buses which I understand you may be particularly interested in. Just to bring you right up-to-date, and to show you what life is like in the real world, this morning we had a notice from First Group that they were withdrawing a further five of the supported services in the city. That is just today. Those are the sorts of things we have to cope with.

  Chairman: Perhaps we will give you a chance to talk about that later. Miss McIntosh?

  Miss McIntosh: I should remind the Committee that I do have a pecuniary interest in First Group.

  Chairman: Miss McIntosh, we are not astonished when you have a pecuniary interest, we are only astonished that you do not have a pecuniary interest in them all!

  Miss McIntosh: Can I ask about the buses because we have a similar problem in the Vale of York which is a largely rural constituency but we do have a number of First Group/First Bus/First York services into the centre of York.

  Chairman: A little louder. We are not ashamed of First Bus, are we?

  Miss McIntosh: Not at all.

  Chairman: So we can speak louder.

Miss McIntosh

  886. Do you believe that the 10 Year Transport Plan is an answer to the bus problem?
  (Councillor Holland) The difficulties that we have in some ways are because First is in a more or less monopoly situation in Bristol. We have got some of the figures, and it has about 96 per cent of commercial services in the city.


  887. Do I remember correctly that they were offering cheap bus services as well as their existing services?
  (Councillor Holland) They did bring in a cheap service although that does not now exist.

  888. They abandoned that?
  (Councillor Holland) Yes and they did that by buying up other smaller operators in the city. About 87 per cent of supported services are run by First in the city. We have got a quality partnership with them and we do set great store by that, but in terms of delivering the sorts of numbers of additional passengers we want and people having real choice, that has to be in partnership. People have got to see real improvements in reliability so we are working very hard with them. Obviously there is not the competition in the market and they are the only people we can talk to.
  (Mr Henkel) From the West Yorkshire perspective we have 46 bus operators, two major groups, First and Arriva, and likewise we have achieved a great deal through partnership, including our three guided busway schemes, and we are very proud of that. However, we do feel there are limits to what can be achieved through partnership. At some point the commercial pressures on managing directors locally are not consistent with the social inclusion agenda and environmental objectives. We have examples where we feel that the actions of operators, although we understand the reason they have taken them, are not consistent with those objectives or with integrated transport as such. We have particular issues at the moment over ticketing. We have an all-operator all-mode ticket known as the METRO Card, which is a family of tickets. Operators have chosen deliberately to introduce their company-only tickets at a lower price than that. They are clearly after market share with less interest, arguably, in market size. We have a whole host of complaints arising from that where somebody has bought what they believe is a ticket which will give them access to bus services and they try and use it on a bus service and the driver will not accept it. They are stuck there or they have to pay the additional fare. We feel that there is much that can be done in partnership but, unfortunately, there are limits to what we can do to achieve our and the Government's objectives.
  (Mr Ciaburro) We have had a strong working relationship for many years. In terms of quality partnerships we have been working only over last year.

  889. So you have a little way to go yet?
  (Mr Ciaburro) We have a little way to go with First particularly, but with others we have introduced schemes and measures jointly where the investment put in by the bus companies has been significantly higher than ours and we have seen in very short periods of time very increased patronage which has been sustained, so they are working.
  (Mr Rawlinson) If I could say a little bit about the answer on the 10 Year Plan. While the 10 Year Plan is about the capital to put into bus priorities and bus lanes and infrastructure, it is the revenue support that is of real concern because the commercial services which we have heard about which have been withdrawn in Bristol (and they have withdrawn three just recently) has meant we had to take on supported services, which have cost an additional 200,000 in supported service revenues. We have also seen the bus company withdrawing and handing back supported services and then increase their prices. We have had one increase in an emergency contracts of 300 per cent recently. We believe there is a further five or six to be returned which will have a 7 per cent increase. There is a real revenue drain associated with quality partnership.

Miss McIntosh

  890. Could I ask one question to Bristol but one question to all of you. Are you surprised that the ratio of capital investment allocation is from the private sector vis-a"-vis the public contribution is so small in relation to local transport?
  (Mr Rawlinson) Am I surprised? I think we would have liked to have seen a slightly higher ratio of private sector investment, but we are grateful for any investment, whether public sector or private sector. There is a great deal of risk attached to transport quite often which is why the private sector do not bring in as much money as we would like to see.
  (Mr Henkel) We have been successful in partnership schemes, as I mentioned before, including investment by the private sector in infrastructure, notably on two guided busway schemes. We have to remember that private sector investment will come through the fare box and that money will be recovered from the passengers ultimately and we see some tensions between the aspiration for a high quality service and for new vehicles and the need to generate revenue to pay for those and the social inclusion agenda. We have poor parts of West Yorkshire where people are on low incomes. We do have evidence that in West Yorkshire, where fare levels are low compared to the rest of the country, people are prevented from accessing opportunities because of fare levels on public transport.

  891. In principle, I believe Bristol have approved a road user charging scheme and just in view of what Mr Rawlinson just said and the tensions that Mr Henkel referred to, do you think this is the right time to be introducing road charging when we are trying to encourage people to go onto public transport?
  (Councillor Holland) First to be clear, we have not introduced the scheme yet. We are working on consulting with people, winning the argument, winning hearts and minds in Bristol. Very recently we had the Chamber of Commerce coming out in support of those plans because they know the cost of congestion in the city to businesses and residents alike. What we have always said is that we would not introduce congestion charging until there was a public transport system that was worthy of the name" was a quote that was once used. Obviously the system we have got at the moment does not meet everybody's needs. We would not be introducing it in advance of those sorts of improvements C principally our tram but a lot of bus improvements as well.
  (Mr Rawlinson) The lead-in time for something like a road user charging scheme is quite extensive and the lead-in time for a major public investment like a light rail system is fairly long as well, so you have got to start the process early, particularly going through the statutory processes. What we found from studies in Bristol, to pick up the Chairman's question on targets on congestion reduction, is that if we do introduce charging (which will be a political decision of course) it is for two reasons; one is to reduce traffic levels and traffic congestion and the other is to raise finances. The reduction of traffic levels and traffic congestion is extremely important for the reasons that Councillor Holland gave. If you do not have restraints, from the studies we have done, you will not get anything like the traffic reduction targets that the Government is hoping to achieve. In the Bristol situation what we learnt from the Brites Study, which was a study of alternatives, is we demonstrated that with a combination of a light rapid transit system and charging we would only get reductions in the years 2000-2015 of about seven per cent in traffic growth, which is quite significantly lower than the Government predictions. My concern is that if we are having to do that in Bristol I am not sure how they will achieve that elsewhere. Road user charging is part of that package.

Mr Campbell

  892. Would the decision in London and the success, let us say, of the scheme there affect your decision in Bristol?
  (Mr Rawlinson) It is a political decision as to whether to bring in charging so I will ask Councillor Holland.
  (Councillor Holland) Obviously we are watching the Mayor's proposals with great interest. Although there are some similarities with it being very much a city centre scheme, there are some differences about how the scheme has been developed with our proposals having peak hours only and inbound charging. We have been working very closely with Edinburgh, with Leeds, with some of the other United Kingdom and European cities and in many ways we see our scheme as being more like theirs than the Mayor's scheme, although we certainly wish him great success in trying to put it forward.

  Mr O'Brien: The question to METRO, which covers my constituency, concerns an issue which is giving us cause for concern particularly with the congestion charging scheme. I know that METRO is not responsible for the charging, it is for the five authorities, but METRO is on record as saying they do not think charging—

  Chairman: I am sorry, Mr O'Brien, I am going to have to stop you. I think it must be Miss McIntosh. We do need a little bit more voice. It is not fair on our witnesses and it certainly is not fair on those who are taking a record. I know you have a good voice, Mr O'Brien.

  Mr O'Brien: I am concerned about the congestion situation and the question of not being able to apply a procedure which may reduce congestion before the Supertram or the light rail system comes into being. How do you work that out, Mr Henkel? Where does METRO come from on that?


  893. Mr Henkel, where are you coming from?
  (Mr Henkel) The regional planning guidance for Yorkshire and the Humber and the local transport plan identify a role for road user charging, and that is currently under review. We are in the position that the Leeds supertram is proceeding without the need for revenue raised from road user charging. We are delighted that we will be able to deliver a significant improvement to public transport in West Yorkshire by 2007 through the Leeds supertram scheme.

Mr O'Brien

  894. You may be aware that Nottingham University have now identified that pollution from road vehicles is a cause of asthma and the more that the vehicles are idling or travelling slowly the more it exacerbates the situation. What is your view on trying to speed up the vehicles or trying to reduce the amount of pollution from vehicles that are either standing or travelling slow because of congestion? Is it not time we did something to remove that problem?
  (Mr Henkel) METRO's role as the Passenger Transport Executive is to do all within our power to improve passenger transport and we are working very hard to do that. Last year after many years of decline we had a small growth in bus patronage in West Yorkshire of around two and a half per cent. We have had very significant growth in rail patronage over recent years although there was a blip in the last year. Our primary function is to do all within our powers working within the current framework to improve public transport and to attract people away from using their cars, at the same time keeping our eye firmly on social inclusion and environmental agendas.

  895. Would it be true to say that the increase in bus passengers is because of an increase in bus services available to them?
  (Mr Henkel) I believe that was a factor but it is not the only factor. Last year in West Yorkshire bus patronage went up by five million journeys per annum, from 200 to 205. The decline in rail patronage was due to a combination of events, including flooding in the autumn, Hatfield, and we had the closure of Leeds station for three weeks last Christmas—


  896. Some of us do remember that.
  (Mr Henkel) And we have had poor performance from our local train operator. The loss of rail passengers was more akin to one million so the increase in bus patronage is not solely accounted for by the loss in rail passengers.

Mr O'Brien

  897. Can I put it another way. What would the increase in public service passenger movements have been had we not had that disturbance with the rail service?
  (Mr Henkel) We have had a 40 per cent growth of peak hours rail passengers' commuting into Leeds over the past five years. I would have expected there to be further growth, in part driven by the employment growth in Leeds which has been very strong. Clearly last year has not been good on the rail network because of the circumstances I have described and that has fed through to a loss of rail passengers.

  898. One of the problems we have got in West Yorkshire is that there is only one city and that is Leeds, but there are four other cities in West Yorkshire covered by the METRO. What can you say to my constituents who say, We are not getting our fair share of resources to provide public transport"?
  (Mr Henkel) I am very aware that we have five major centres in West Yorkshire. It is a very interesting conurbation for that reason. Whilst we recognise Leeds as a regional centre, it is not the only centre. You may be aware that we recently opened a new 3 million bus station in Wakefield to which METRO made a very significant contribution. We opened a guided busway scheme in Bradford in January of this year and in February we opened another 3 million bus station in Keighley. I believe that we are doing what we should be doing in spreading the benefits of investment across West Yorkshire and not just concentrating on Leeds.

  899. If we do not reduce congestion in our cities we will reduce the amount of investment coming to our cities. That is the point I am making. What are you doing about it?
  (Mr Henkel) Our primary role is to do all we can to make public transport attractive.

  Mr O'Brien: I know that but what are you doing about it? Can you tell us what is happening?


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