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

Memorandum by Planet Practice (Bus 22)


  It is hoped that the following small observations may be helpful to the committee.

  If buses are to play a full part in an integrated transport system, either as feeder services to Tram and Rail systems or in their own right, they must not exclude potential passengers or operators. Shortages of bus drivers are made worse by a lack of nearby affordable housing. Services that reflect local needs may be jeopardised if Employment policies make it difficult for staff to work only part-time on marginal services.


  For the first time in the UK, scheduled wheelchair accessible coach services between Bath and London were announced on 21 March 2002, running a regular Timetabled service. Four coaches are fitted with wheelchair-lifts, another four will be in service by the autumn.

  The practical experience gained with coaches shall, with proper leadership and encouragement, open doors to improve access on other transport systems including where it is badly needed on air services and on all channel tunnel services, including Eurostar trains.


  In the City of Bath, Bath and Northeast Somerset Council operates a small fleet of low floor buses that are fully accessible to people who use self propelled wheelchairs. These "midi-sized" OPTARE ALERO buses are versatile and small enough to provide services on estates and to schools where traditional full size buses would be too big and mini-buses too small.

  Elsewhere in the city the numbers of full-size low floor buses are increasing as a proportion of the whole fleet, however even if the whole fleet was low floor wheelchair accessible it would not meet the wider needs of the City nearly as well as the proposed comprehensive tram system needed to regenerate the 50 acre brownfield site known as the Western Riverside Area. Trams integrate the needs of the wheelchair user better than buses in the same way that trams are perceived by the motorist as a more realistic invitation to leave the car and use public transport.


  Bus lanes in Bath come and go with confusing regularity. Bus lanes are an essential part of delivering a swift, efficient and safe bus service that is seen not so much as impeding the motorist as encouraging the walker and passenger.

  Bus drivers who are cheerful considerate members of the community encourage this virtuous circle. Smokey, noisy, smelly buses that fill the air with particulates from badly maintained engines and over-worked brakes and tyres do not.

  Operators using bus lanes must demonstrate real best value to justify a privileged position on the road. Could government do more to encourage green buses that burn gas and composite power buses that run on stored electricity when in town centres? Could help be given to local authorities to convert all traffic lights on bus routes to give automatic green light priority to an approaching bus in the same way that the better tram systems automatically stop other traffic from impeding trams?

  In Cambridge, bollards that admit buses, certain taxis and emergency vehicles only during the day, have helped to produce areas that are substantially traffic free.

  In Bath, by contrast, the success of the "Bus Gate", with several months of the experimental period to run, is less clear. Opportunities for reclaiming, for pedestrians, civic spaces, that would have been an integral part of the tram option, have not been taken as part of the bus gate scheme. Buses are slowed by traffic that itself is confused by the absence of signed alternative routes. There is confusion of function and form. "Bus gates" alone do not create attractive civic space or less delay for buses. Elsewhere simple community proposals for road alterations that would speed the bus and all other traffic, and make squares and streets free of through traffic are given low budget priority. In a World Heritage City this is surprising. In vital respects Prague and Krakow do it better.


  A local example illustrates how ticketing can not only give transport options to those who had none but encourages those with cars, to rediscover the attractiveness of not having to drive to work. There may be hidden health benefits too.

  The Bath Bus Company offers single and return tickets. Return tickets can be purchased at any time including morning and evening peak times, meaning return tickets can be used for the journey to work or to school.

  Most significant, the return ticket can be used for another unrelated journey either the same day or kept for use at a later date. This means that if a passenger's plans for the day change there is no financial loss to the passenger and the bus operator retains for the future a contented fairly treated customer who is regarded as a partner in the same endeavour because the news of the good bus service is spread by such people.

  At the re-tender stage Ryans took over some of the "Prescott Initiative" rural services. Now no return tickets are sold before 9 o'clock. Unused ticket portions purchased cannot be retained for later use. Were the principles of "best value" really applied to examining the tenders or was it simply a return to the bad old days of going for the cheapest even if it was the less user friendly option?

  The ease and flexibility of ticketing under the Bath Bus Co system meant that young and old could commit to buying a return ticket safe in the knowledge that if they were lucky enough to get a different bus or to share a lift back home at an earlier or later time than the bus timetable permitted, they would not lose out or feel ripped off by public transport. They were getting best value. Their good example educates the unconvinced and also benefits the environment for the whole community.


  Last August some local authorities and education authorities announced that they were going to address the problem of the rush hour congestion caused by the school run by teaming up with First Group.

  The type of bus to be chosen is manufactured in America by the Bluebird Corporation, which was bought in 1999 by vehicle maker Henlys.

  These buses are not universally accessible in the way that low floor buses are. Wheelchair using pupils will be segregated. Able-bodied pupils may gain the impression that even in the 21st century, it is acceptable for society to invest in transport that structurally and institutionally discriminates.

  The American Embassy stated that these buses are no longer compliant with disability legislation in some Counties and States, although they are not yet prohibited by Federal Legislation.

  There are good reasons for testing "yellow buses" as a concept. All stakeholders, including wheelchair users must be included in the process. The test for best value must include universal access for wheelchair users.

  There is some disquiet that in some quarters support has been given for using Yellow School Buses from America. However the Disability Rights Commission takes the view that the time to object is at the end of the trial. Diptac, and the Department of Transport Mobility and Inclusion Unit take similar views but have serious or very serious reservations.

  Given that there are many types and sizes of low floor bus in service already in the United Kingdom, is it a wasted opportunity not to have parallel trials involving "low floor" buses painted the same distinctive yellow if desired? These are accessible to all pupils including the minority who use wheelchairs or those who from time to time may be injured playing football or in other ways.

  If an educational or transport facility such as a bus is not universally accessible those responsible must be accountable and justify why it is too expensive or technically impossible to use an alternative.


  The essential characteristic of a good public transport system is that it should be used by the public, out of choice not cold necessity. For the Bus Industry to play its part in an integrated transport system it has to recognise at every decision making stage that it must listen to the local needs of the passenger and learn to see them as long term partners in the same endeavour. Trams do this. Some Bus Operators do. Can the Bus Industry?

Mark Blathwayt

12 April 2002

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