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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-217)




  200. Have you ever done an estimate of how many hours you have spent and whether or not you got the Challenge Fund at the end of it?

  201. I do not think we have actually sat down and done that. In Oxfordshire's case, we probably submitted something like 20-30 Rural Bus Challenge Fund bids. We got four awarded all in the same year which gave us a particular problem: other years we got nothing.

Andrew Bennett

  202. Bus lane enforcement: what can you tell us about that?
  (Mr Preston) Absolutely vital.


  203. Mr Donald?
  (Mr Donald) Absolutely vital.

Andrew Bennett

  204. Decriminalise it, and—
  (Mr Donald) Yes, as we say in our evidence. Understandably, it is never going to be sufficiently high up the priorities of the normal police force to police that, and, therefore, we think that the best way of doing this in our areas seems to be evolving into decriminalisation. The additional power that Government is promising later this year is in terms of that force being able to deal with spot fines for moving offences, at the moment they can only deal with parking offences, and to ensure the use of cameras both on buses and beside the bus lanes as the combination of the way forward on that.

  205. So you think Mr Spellar's remarks were unfortunate, as reported in the Times?
  (Mr Donald) You might well say that; I could not possibly comment.

  Chairman: You should always comment on Mr Spellar. He enjoys it.

Andrew Bennett

  206. Quality bus partnerships: is there a problem about getting bus companies to coordinate timetables?
  (Mr Donald) Yes, because the legislation, which we argued quite long and hard against for this very reason, does not allow a specification of frequencies in the statutory quality partnership.

  207. Right. Coventry seemed to have a slightly different view, is that right, about this question of quality contracts, not partnerships?
  (Mr Russell) Yes, Coventry is wedded to the bus. There is no realistic alternative to the bus for the vast majority of people. Heavy rail plays a very small part. There is no realistic chance of us getting a metro system in the foreseeable future, so public transport in Coventry rests on buses, and, to a very small extent, on taxis, so we actually see that what we want to do is to have a twin approach. The City Council, through the LTP, is making a major bid for an enhancement of the network with all the physical improvements that is necessary—showcase, super showcase; we are going for decriminalisation. We are working with the PTA and CENTRO on Smartcard in terms of technological improvements. We see that as the only way we can then guarantee the quality efficiency in timeliness of the services on those routes, and that is what we want, that is what passengers stood at bus stops want, they want guarantees, and our view is the only way that we can guarantee those services for the reasons in our evidence, it is a contract, not a partnership.

  208. If you can arrange those standards, would it not be reasonable to say that the bus companies can change their timetable twice a year, like railways, rather than every 56 days?
  (Mr Russell) It would be reasonable, yes.

  209. Is there any reason why you would not want to, say, have timetables that lasted for six months?
  (Mr Russell) Again, it is down to what passengers want. Passengers expect buses to turn up at certain times. Passengers are fairly conservative. I think that frequent changes of times is the thing—


  210. Yes, it is boring to want things to turn up on time when you are waiting for public transport. I had not regarded that as conservative.
  (Mr Newson) Can I add a view on that, because I think they are both points that I have made in my written evidence. Dealing with the second one first, the timetable issue, we feel very strongly that we should be restricted on the dates on which timetables can be changed. The public know that a timetable is valid until a certain date, and they have that confidence.

Andrew Bennett

  211. So the confidence is a date rather than—and I think some of you suggested if it went from 56 days to 84, that would solve the problem. What you would really like to have is that it can only change the timetable on certain days in the year?
  (Mr Newson) That sounds like my evidence you have been reading, and I make both points in a different context. The timetable date is important for the public confidence so they do not turn up and find the service has changed and they did not know anything about it. If they know the date of a timetable change is due, people will check to see if the services have changed. It gives them that chance. The 84 days point was in relation to the time that we believe we need to actually respond to commercial withdrawals and arrange consultation and put replacement services in place. The 56 days, although it is better than 42 days, do not allow us to go through that process of consultation first.

  212. Do you think even when a published timetable is there, the commercial operator should be able to withdraw in a shorter period than the published timetable covers?
  (Mr Newson) No. If you were fixed to the dates, clearly that would not be the case. They are two different things. If we had a fixed timetable date, then the requirements of the notice period would obviously have to adjust to reflect that. 1
  (Mr Donald) I would add that the stability in the marketplace is also related to the costs of providing much better information, not least at bus stops, that we all want to see. So there is a correlation there as well in terms of efficiency and cost efficiencies.


  213. But how often is the PTE cost really openly identified for those sorts of things—new information, services, reprinting of timetables?

1 Note by witness: We would like fixed service change dates, but we would still wish to have a minimum of 84 days notice ahead of these dates, to enable us to put in place replacement services, where the planned changes involve retiming or withdrawal of journeys.

  (Mr Donald) Openly identified in terms of can we please specify there is the cost? No, that can be done, and that is done as part of the accounts that we produce.

  214. And that is part of your negotiation with the companies, do you think?
  (Mr Donald) The point I was making there was on the issue of if we live, as you do, in a deregulated market with a degree of continual service change, as well as agreeing entirely with what has been said in terms of the importance of stability from a passenger point of view, we are making, I have to say, slow progress in all the PTE areas in terms of developing improved bus passenger information, again, under the powers in the Act. I think part of that is a realisation of the high cost of not just putting the information out, but maintaining it in a continually flowing situation in terms of changes in timetables.
  (Mr Newson) Can I just add Oxfordshire's experience. We have stopped trying to attempt to provide coordinated timetable information.

  215. So you do not even bother?
  (Mr Newson) We do not attempt to because it is out of date before we have printed it.

  216. It must add a nice element of indecision to deciding whether or not you want to go on a bus.
  (Mr Newson) This is true, and this is why I am arguing the case for clear dates. The timetable—

  217. I have to say, when I went to school in Oxfordshire, we knew exactly when the buses were going to turn up. Gentlemen, is there anything else particularly that you would like to say to us? Is there any aspect of concessionary fares schemes you want changed?
  (Mr Donald) As we have said earlier, we spend almost £200 million per year in the PT areas funding concessionary travel. It does seem very strange to us, given the other Public/Private Partnerships we are involved in in various ways that the public sector is not even able to specify the quality of service that the passengers, of whom it is paying, actually get in various ways. They cannot specify that at all.

  Chairman: Gentlemen, you have been very helpful, and I am very, very grateful to you. Thank you very much.

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