Memorandum by Planet Practice (Bus 22)
THE BUS INDUSTRY; ACCESS FOR ALL DIFFERENT
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?
12 April 2002