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


Memorandum by Ray Wilkes Esq (Bus 28)

SUBSIDIES IN THE UK BUS INDUSTRY

  1.  In recent years much publicity has been given to new services operating under Rural Bus Grant. This initiative is to be welcomed, but in practice many such services have been unsuccessful.

  2.  Many of the Rural Bus Grant (RBG) services have very tiny markets of potential users, most of whom have not used public transport for many years. It is therefore unsurprising that many RBG schemes have failed to attract sufficient patronage and have been withdrawn after their initial trial periods. Whilst local authorities have been devoting resources to such schemes, including the appointment of Rural Partnership Officers etc, the support for existing conventional bus services has been declining. This has led to the withdrawal of many previously commercial and tendered services that would have carried far more passengers than the RBG schemes. Many local authorities are now saying that their transport budgets are under pressure, which coupled with the increasing cost of recruiting and retaining bus drivers, means that a large number of bus services are under threat. Priority must be given to the maintenance and development of existing services, in preference to the development of entirely new schemes in very remote areas.

  3.  It is important to provide public transport facilities seven days a week, daytime and evenings. There are many routes in the Yorkshire area that have relatively frequent weekday daytime services, but no provision at all other times. This does not tackle car-dependency, nor provide social inclusion. Therefore priority should be given to the provision of subsidies to allow a comprehensive service to be provided along such routes.

  4.  However, subsidy should be regarded as a hand up not a hand out—if bus services are doing a good job in the context of an integrated and sustainable transport policy, they should be viable or nearly so.

QUALITY CONTRACTS AND PARTNERSHIPS

  5.  Quality partnerships and contracts have much to offer in terms of obtaining additional funding for public transport infrastructure, which is much needed. However, increased regulation of bus services through quality contracts may not necessarily help, as this may stifle the imagination and flair of the good operators. Many local authorities have not been good at regulating bus companies or administrating quality contracts. Local Authorities are under great pressure and often there are too many very difficult economic and political decisions to be made. Should more be spent on transport or social services, education etc? Should a vociferous group of residents be able to divert a bus route to the detriment of a majority? However, local authorities can help the bus user if their tendering policies are customer focused. Please see Appendix 4. [In case we sound too harsh about politicians running the buses, we would take an equally jaundiced view if a bus company sought to run the council! Politicians are valued by people who value democracy—and I do.]

  6.  The commercial motive is very important in the provision of high quality bus services—operators have to be kept on their toes. Only best practice will tempt motorists from their cars. Local authorities are subject to political pressures that do not readily translate into the provision of a high quality service that people actually want to travel on, as opposed to a service that they travel on because they have no other alternative. Quality is always better; a high quality frequent route that attracts all sectors of society will be financially self-sufficient, giving good quality transport to everyone. This is social inclusion. Unfortunately many bus companies fail to provide a sufficiently high standard to attract a broad cross-section of society to use their services. It is worth noting here the example of Blazefield's Harrogate & District, which provides a high quality service on the wholly commercial Leeds to Ripon service attracting many affluent passengers, and creating a high standard of socially-inclusive transport provision, at no cost to the tax-payer.

  7.  One of the main aims of regulation should be to set minimum standards. In particular, bus companies should be required to meet the following standards:

    —  Drivers to be given advanced driver training, not primarily for bus safety reasons—see appendix 4.

    —  Drivers to be given customer care training

    —  New low floor easy access buses to be introduced at an increased rate

    —  All new buses to have CCTV—see Appendix 3

    —  All new buses to have catalytic after burners

    —  Good quality timetables and road side publicity to be produced—see Appendix 2

  Issues:

    —  the extent to which this should be encouraged by incentives such as grants and tax breaks

    —  how these changes should be phased in.

  8.  Bus companies should be encouraged to produce plans to progressively improve services so that:

    —  daytime frequencies operate from 07.00 till 19.00 to fully cater for all daytime workers

    —  evening and Sunday services operate at last half daytime frequency to cater for shift workers and provide proper leisure and social opportunities to everyone.

  9.  Where off-peak services cannot be provided commercially the services should be run at marginal cost with the local authorities making up any deficit. However, there should be joint action on marketing and publicity to bring the services into commercial operation or to reduce subsidy levels.

  10.  Rural Areas. In most rural areas services had been run down over recent decades to a point where support would be needed. However, if a well thought out and well promoted integrated quality service for residents, schoolchildren and visitors was provided, many routes could be revived to commercial operation over the next five years.

  11.  Phasing in high standards of road safety and pedestrian and cycling priority will also shift the balance away from cars and towards public transport. Any sustainable transport policy and any successful policy to help the socially excluded will require good standards of road safety. The present road safety standards are unacceptable on safety and environmental grounds. They militate against public transport, walking and cycling.

  12.  The select committee should recommend a reasonable financial and legal framework for these changes to occur, with appropriate roles for bus companies, local authorities and the Traffic Commissioners.

THE ROLE OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES

  13.  Despite the concerns raised earlier, local authorities can massively contribute to good quality services:

    —  They can provide high quality bus stations/interchanges, eg Metro's excellent bus stations in West Yorkshire.

    —  They can provide a comprehensive network of tendered services filling the gaps in commercial services, demanding high standards in terms of vehicles, driver training, joint ticketing etc.

    —  They can provide good bus priority—vital for attractive bus services and good vehicle utilisation. Without it, costs go up while revenue goes down—the vicious circle of decline.

    —    They can enforce speed limits and provide safe road crossings so that people can safely access public transport. The walk to the bus stop is essential exercise and health care—but if the roads are not safe the use of a car will be sought, adding to the problem.

    —  They can help with publicity and marketing partnerships.

    —  They can help with green transport partnerships.

BUS PRIORITY MEASURES

  14.  Bus priority measures are absolutely essential to allow the operation of effective, attractive bus services amidst the increasing gridlock of many urban areas. Present measures are both insufficient and insufficiently enforced. There is a requirement for greater funding for such schemes, both for their design and implementation, but also for ongoing enforcement.

REGULATION OF THE BUS INDUSTRY

  15.  The role of central government agencies in the regulation of the bus industry requires urgent change in two areas.

  16.  Firstly, the Office of Fair Trading is very keen to ensure that companies compete rather than co-operate with each other. Unfortunately, they have sought to apply their standardised philosophy to the bus industry where instead of improving the passenger's lot, they have achieved the opposite result. In many areas more than one operator shares a section of route, with each operator running relatively infrequently. The passenger would like to be able to buy a return ticket which is valid for return on either company's buses. However, the OFT have indicated that this is anti-competitive and many joint ticketing arrangements have recently been terminated through fear of prosecution. Joint ticketing arrangements are often very useful and should be encouraged. The OFT should exempt the bus industry from such regulation as an urgent priority.

  17.  Secondly, the Traffic Commissioners have recently introduced new standards for timekeeping, in an attempt to make bus services more reliable and hence attractive to new users. Unfortunately this policy has not been carefully thought through, and it is in fact having a detrimental effect on the provision of high quality bus services.

  18.  The level of unpredictable congestion on Britain's roads is such that it is frequently impossible to accurately predict the exact time that a particular journey will take. In order to meet the required performance targets bus operators will be forced to take the "lowest common denominator" and schedule their services for the slowest possible traffic conditions. On most days the traffic will move faster, but the bus will be required to "wait for time", creating unacceptable delays and frustration for many passengers. In addition to the allocation of more resources for bus priority measures, it is also necessary for the Traffic Commissioners to urgently introduce a more realistic performance measure for bus operators, which is actually acting in the passengers' interests rather than against them as at present.

  19.  The present TC policy of fining bus companies for delays caused by traffic congestion punishes bus users twice over. Their journeys are delayed and then they have to bear the costs of the fines in increased fares, reduced services or slower fleet modernisation.

  20.  Safety regulation is also a key issue for the bus industry. Although buses provide the safest form of travel, equivalent to rail, a large number of low-cost operators on school contracts give serious cause for concern. This not only endangers the lives of our most precious bus cargo, it makes it difficult and expensive to provide quality tendered bus services. Carting children around in sub-standard vehicles with badly behaved children setting the general standards, puts children off public transport for life. Local authorities should be required to specify safe, modern buses with on-board CCTV so that decent discipline standards can be enforced.

  21.  Following on from the fact that, apart from some low-cost operators, buses are the safest and best maintained vehicles on the road, it should be borne in mind that buses are not responsible for the 10 deaths and 100 serious injuries on our roads every day. Increased regulation of buses, in the absence of proper regulation of other road vehicles will cause a switch away from buses (due to increased costs) to more dangerous forms of travel.

  22.  For instance, the Traffic Commissioners regulate Heavy Goods Vehicles. The majority of these vehicles are run by responsible companies whose quality standards are similar to the best bus companies. However, a significant minority, quite large in absolute numbers operate to lower standards.

  23.  Buses are often held up by:

    —  HGV vehicles parking at bus stops or in bus lanes while drivers check their route.

    —  Manoeuvres such as U-turns at inappropriate places after route checking.

    —  Unacceptable levels of breakdowns—much more frequent than the rare bus breakdown and causing much more serious congestion.

    —  Serious accidents, such as a lorry tipping over happen at unacceptable frequencies—the frequency of such an event should be zero.

    —  Flouting of loading and parking restrictions by commercial vehicles is widespread.

Why should bus companies be fined for the inevitable consequences of poor commercial vehicle regulation?

  24.  Most vehicles are regulated even less than HGVs and cause even greater problems for buses and their passengers

  25.  Of course punctuality and reliability are essential features of a quality bus service, however, partnerships are required for this and each partner must deliver. There is no rationality or user benefit in tough regulation of one party only.

  26.  All regulation should be thought out very carefully to ensure that it is customer focused. The regulations should be monitored so that they can be modified if there are unforeseen negative consequences for customers.

  27.  Regulation should also be thought out to minimise economic costs to the bus companies as these also have an adverse consequence for bus users. Nevertheless, some forms of regulation can improve the economics, for instance high-standard of driver training and good management of vehicle maintenance.

SOCIAL EXCLUSION

  28.  The main points have already been discussed. Two points need emphasis:

    —  The provision of effective public transport is very important in tackling social exclusion, but this is best achieved through seeking to provide a high standard of provision for everyone, rather than purely focusing on provision for the socially excluded. Social inclusion is all social classes using the bus, not just the ones who cannot afford a car.

    —  It is important in tackling social exclusion that car-dependency is also tackled through the provision of bus services whenever people want to travel, including evenings and Sundays.

APPENDIX 1. BENEFITS OF ON -BUS CCTV:

    —  Improved driver safety, morale and staff retention.

    —  Perceived and actual passenger safety is improved leading to better patronage.

    —  Reduction of vehicle vandalism.

    —  An unexpected benefit is the ability to prove that many claims from passengers or other drivers against bus companies are dubious or fraudulent. Consequently the economic benefit to a bus company is much greater than might be expected.

    —  The footage is also very useful to the police in the event of crime near the vehicle. This can lead to the police being much more supportive of the bus industry and bus priority.

APPENDIX 2. A TIMETABLE FROM A GOOD OPERATOR

  It would be useful if a couple of select committee members could travel on this service and then meet the operator to discuss how all bus users could have this quality of service. Note that the timetable is clear, easy to understand, includes maps and tourist information and is also aesthetic and interesting.

  In November 1998 the daytime frequency was increased from 30 minutes to 20 minutes. The Sunday period of operation was made earlier from about 10.00 to about 7.30. In 2001 the Sunday daytime frequency was doubled from hourly to half hourly. No quality contract or subsidy was required.

  There are other good operators. What is required is that all operators are brought up to high standards using partnerships and intelligent regulation.

APPENDIX 3. SOME ISSUES CONCERNING LOCAL AUTHORITY TENDERED SERVICES

  Often, local authorities try to include too much mileage on tendered services. This results in late running and uncomfortable journeys. They also sometimes try to serve too many communities with one service leading to slow circuitous journeys. Low patronage and poor value for money usually results.

  Specifying easy-access buses will ensure that elderly people and parents with young children will be more likely to choose a bus rather than use a car or beg a lift, again giving value for money and ensuring that the buses reduce social exclusion for those who have no access to a car.

  Local authorities need to be aware of the fact that buses have a "brand" value. People are aware that particular bus companies serve particular routes and territories. If the contract is awarded to an "out of area" company, people are likely to think that it is on private hire rather operating a bus service. Often there is strong brand loyalty to a bus company and this is an important factor in the success of tendered services. If the local company is really too expensive or cannot provide the quality, it must be recognised that having an "out-of-area" operator requires much more publicity and marketing for the services to succeed.

  Having different peak and off-peak operators is confusing for bus users. It is particularly counter-productive if the off-peak operator is a low-cost operator. It is then harder for the daytime operator to develop the service so that at some future time full commercial responsibility can be assumed for the off-peak services.

  When tendering for rural services, local authorities need to take account of the needs of visitors as well as residents, thereby enhancing the economics of the service.

  Community Transport Services can complement normal bus services or undermine them depending on how they are managed. The award-winning Harrogate Area Community Transport is an excellent example of community transport/local operator collaboration.

APPENDIX 4. THE BENEFITS OF HIGHER DRIVER TRAINING STANDARDS

  The main benefits are much higher safety standards. Although this is the most important reason for training at-work drivers, buses already have high safety standards. However, there are also compelling economic reasons for advanced driver training.

  1.  Reduced fuel consumption—more than one study (below) indicates an average of 7 per cent. This saving alone would return many subsidised services to the commercial sector. Air pollution is reduced.

  2.  Significantly reduced maintenance cost. Reduced brake and tyre wear reduces dirt and pollution.

  3.  Significantly reduced vehicle damage and improved fleet appearance.

  4.  Reduced insurance cost.

  5.  Improved staff morale and staff retention.

  6.  Reduced accidents.

  Illness-related absenteeism is reduced by 5 and 6.

  Additional benefits for bus and taxi operators:

    —  Increased passenger confidence, greatly increased passenger comfort, leading to increased patronage.

    —  Good public relations-positive message to media on the bus industry commitment to road safety and improved road environment. Moral high ground when seeking improved bus priority.

  Some bus companies take the view that NVQ (which is more focused on customer care than advanced driving) is more appropriate for the bus industry. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. The Institute of Advanced Motorist qualification has more resonance with the media and the public and gives more status to the driver. However, NVQ gives an opportunity to make the advanced driver training more relevant to the bus industry and to deal with regional variations can be a problem with the Advanced Motorist training system.

SOME CASE HISTORIES FROM HSE HTTP://WWW.HSE.GOV.UK/ROAD/CONTENT/TRAFFIC1.PDF

  NEWS Transport, a road haulier operating 10 large goods vehicles and five cars carried out an assessment in 1990 of their accident, repair and associated costs. They found these to be around £64,000 and set about putting in place measures to reduce these overheads. They introduced a structured one-to-one driver training programme, added vehicle safety measures and better managed driving schedules. As a result, they have enjoyed nine continuous years of no insurance claims, less garage down time and seen the residual value of their vehicles maximised.

  Bell and Howell, a document management company, ran a fleet of 250 vehicles when, in the early 1990s, they conducted a review of their accident claims history. They found that many of their 180 claims were for fairly minor collisions that nonetheless amounted to a hefty insurance bill. They introduced measures to increase individual choice of vehicle and more responsibility for bearing the cost when drivers were found to be at fault, supported by driver training. This programme increased the sense of ownership of employees towards their vehicles. Five years after the programme was introduced, claims fell from £812 per vehicle to £211 per vehicle.

  During the 1980s, Leo Pharmaceuticals experienced mounting insurance costs from its fleet of 170 vehicles. In response they initiated better driver training, greater employee education and individual responsibility, gained senior management commitment and resources, appropriate vehicle selection criteria and regular servicing and maintenance. The effect was dramatic. For example, over a three-year period, £35,000 was saved in insurance premiums. A much improved fleet safety culture has raised standards all round and line managers are able to monitor performance not least through petrol consumption, tyre and brake wear and general repair bills.

  For detailed case study of energy efficiency, staff morale, cost and accident reduction at McKelvie and Co Trucks see case study 311 ETSU, Harwell, OC11 ORA, [email protected] http://www.energy-efficency.gov.uk/transport/


 
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