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

Memorandum by Coventry City Council and Centro (WMPTE) (Bus 43)



  1.  This submission sets out the work that Coventry and Centro are doing in order to develop an area wide improvement in local bus services. There is concern that the delivery of sustainable improvements quickly and effectively, and sustaining them, may not be achieved through the application of a Quality Bus Partnership. This paper proposes that the Quality Contract mechanism needs to be considered as a means of addressing this issue, but also highlights potential difficulties in delivering a Quality Contract due to the current Government position on the matter.


  2.  Coventry is a Metropolitan District Council in the West Midlands Metropolitan County.

  3.  Centro is the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive implementing the policies of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority comprising 27 elected Members drawn from the seven West Midlands Metropolitan Councils of which Coventry is one. WMPTA is funded by a levy on the seven Metropolitan Councils drawn on a per capita basis and the levy is set jointly by all seven councils.

  4.  The powers and regulations relating to Bus Quality Partnerships (QBP's) and Bus Quality Contracts (QBC's) are set in the Transport Act 2000. The Passenger Transport Authority is the nominated Authority with powers to implement QBP's and QBC's.


  5.  Coventry lies on the Eastern extremity of the West Midlands, surrounded to the South, East and North by Warwickshire, bordering Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council and the rest of the West Midlands to the West.

  6.  A public transport network of bus and rail serves Coventry, with direct rail services to Birmingham, Rugby, Leamington, Warwick and Nuneaton. The bus network is predominantly made up of radial routes serving the population in the major corridors surrounding the City Centre.

  7.  Population of Coventry in 2000 was 301,900, representing 11.6 per cent of total West Midlands Population (Centro Annual Statistical Report 2000-01).

  8.  The area is well served by the road network. The M6 is within a few miles of the City Centre to the North, with dual carriageway "A" roads serving the conurbation with a network of radial routes. Car modal share has increased from 74.7 per cent in 1997 to 75.2 per cent in 1999 (Centro Annual Statistical Report 2000-01).

  9.  Buses account for the majority of public transport trips in the area, the majority of which are run on a commercial basis. Currently Centro subsidises socially necessary bus services at a cost of £555,000 per annum. Average weekly bus service kilometres operated in Coventry are 222,000 km, of which only 20,000 km are subsidised routes. This represents 7.9 per cent of the total West Midlands bus vehicle kilometres (Centro Annual Statistical Report 2000-01).

  10.  Travel West Midlands (TWM) is the dominant operator in the West Midlands, operating over 80 per cent of all commercial services in Centro's area and has invested heavily in new buses in recent times, introducing low floor buses across the fleet. However, it still returned a pre-tax profit margin of 25 per cent during 2001. This profit level, of some £44 million, equates to the concessionary travel payments made to the company by Centro.

  11.  In Coventry, TWM predominantly runs services within the main conurbation, with Stagecoach running cross boundary services from Coventry into Warwickshire.

  12.  Currently one Bus Showcase route "Primeline", running between Coventry and Nuneaton, has been developed in Coventry. This scheme is a partnership between Centro, Coventry City Council, Warwickshire County Council and bus operators TWM and Stagecoach. Both companies operate services along the route.

  13.  Plans for further Showcase schemes in the current Local Transport Plan are:

Binley Road (Routes 13, 34)
Lockhurst Lane and Wheelwright Lane2002-03
City centre to Walsgrave (Routes 32/33) 2004
City centre to Tanyard Farm (Routes 32/33) 2004
Bell Green to Willenhall (Route 21)2004

  14.  Additional bus routes are being considered for Showcase and there is a Local Transport Plan bid being made for a Bus Showcase Network for Coventry.

  15.  There are currently two bus based Park and Ride schemes. The North Park and Ride operates from Bell Green to the City Centre, with the South Park and Ride running into the City Centre from the Memorial Park. There are plans to develop Park and Ride in the West and East of the City in the coming years. The remainder of the Coventry bus network is based upon a set of historically based routes that have remained unchanged for a long period of time.


  16.  Coventry City Council is of the view that the network does not serve the Coventry population well and the Coventry Area Network Study (CANS) was commissioned in June 2001 to see how this situation could be improved. Oscar Faber undertook the work managed by a steering Group comprising of Centro, Coventry City Council and Warwickshire County Council. The aim of the CANS study was to develop a strategy for improving public transport provision in Coventry and the surrounding area of Warwickshire.

  17.  The Study concluded that the only viable public transport option in the short to medium term is through improved bus services. The constituent parts of a quality bus network are well known and include bus priority, turn-up-and-go frequency, a reliable timetable with realistic layovers, real time information and integrated ticketing. The report highlights the problems associated with achieving this if the operating costs exceed the revenue and hence the service provision is not attractive to commercial companies. Attracting capital funding for bus priority is straight forward and a bid is being prepared for the next Local Transport Plan submission.

  18.  The outcome of the study focused on the difficulty in delivering improved bus services led to the issue of quality contracts versus quality partnerships being addressed in the report. The debate around the merits of the two approaches focused on the ability to specify service levels, procure new routes, increase frequencies, better serve communities with poor passenger transport provision and possibly re-invest a higher proportion of profits into service provision than what currently occurs. The report highlighted the above issues for further attention.

  19.  A further element of the Study included a visit to Karlisruhe, Saarbrucken and Nancy. The high quality of public transport service integration and co-ordination was apparent from the higher level of transport regulation administered by the local transport authorities. Additionally, the attractiveness of Light Rapid Transit and Guided Light Transit ("People Mover") was recommended by the study due to the schemes being able to deliver reliability and be operated on a contract basis.


  20.  During July and August 2001 when the CANS work was in progress bus services in Coventry were particularly unreliable, leading to public complaints and subsequent frustration of the City Council and Passenger Transport Authority Members being powerless to correct matters. Equally the Traffic Commissioner had little evidence on which to take action. The problem was apparently caused by a severe bus driver shortage affecting mainly TWM services. This situation has been resolved to some degree but the recruitment and retention of drivers remains an issue.

  21.  This event gives real cause for concern in the implementation of area wide bus improvement strategies and there is doubt that an area Quality partnership would enable such events to be dealt with effectively.


  22.  Centro and Coventry are proposing to take CANS forward by developing a joint Coventry Bus Strategy for an area wide improvement in bus services including recent changes to bus access in Coventry city centre, improvements to local estate services and to main radial routes.

  23.  The West Midlands Local Transport Plan 2000 Bus Strategy recognises the importance of bus services in Coventry and acknowledges that CANS will provide the basis for a local area strategy. The Bus Strategy also refers to the objective of a City Centre Statutory Bus Quality Partnership which would seek to maintain bus service quality in the city centre following the recent strategic changes in bus access. These features would be part of an area wide agreement or contract.

  24.  The advantages of a bus network investment package are that:

    It provides the greatest benefit to achieving transport policy of optimising overall transport capacity by radically improving the attractiveness of the public transport "offer".

    It enables a rapid and comprehensive improvement benefiting most bus users in Coventry, the Warwickshire hinterland and assisting social inclusion objectives.

    It responds very effectively to the Government's Bus Agenda developing from the 10 Year Transport Plan.

    It provides clarity for local highway authorities, Centro and bus operators in focussing resources over a defined three to five year implementation programme.

  25.  An integrated bus strategy for Coventry includes a range of service quality standards including:

    —  Improved bus reliability and journey times through comprehensive measures and enforcement on bus traffic routes supported by bus lanes and junction improvements and key "bus trouble spots" addressed off the main network.

    —  Inclusion of key cross boundary bus routes with new park and ride developments to attract customers.

    —  Comprehensive easy access bus boarder provision at stops with quality shelters and at-stop bus information.

    —  Improved interchange facilities at key intersections and development of the City Centre Bus Hubs, to provide improved access for "estate" services.

    —  Improved daytime and evening frequencies including "estate" services.

    —  Smartcard ticketing system (current LTP project) and review of fare levels with operators.

  26.  Bus Operators will be invited to propose how they might deliver the Strategy. The Coventry Bus Strategy is being worked up for approval of Authority and Coventry City Council during the summer.


  27.  The memorandum submitted to this Sub Committee by Passenger Transport Executive Group (PTEG) is supported.

  28.  A comparison of bus patronage levels in London and the West Midlands PTE area between 1990-91 and 2000-01 shows a very different picture. Annual patronage in London has grown by 15 per cent from 1.178 to 1.359 million whereas annual patronage for the West Midlands has declined by 12 per cent from 403 to 353 million (Source: DTLR Regional Transport Statistics, November 2001).

  29.  The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) examined issues relating to the provision of better buses in the UK and published a book on the subject in February 2001. IPPR could find no justification for there being one means of delivering bus services in London and a completely different approach in the major conurbations outside London. IPPR recommended the use of bus quality contracts in the latter.

  30.  However, one difficulty with the implementation of bus quality contracts is the time needed to introduce them. Following all the processes means that quality contracts cannot be introduced within three years. One major issue is the stipulation that there has to be a 21 month period between approval by the Secretary of State for Transport and introduction. This period is considered to be excessive and unnecessary.

  31.  Legislation states that it is for PTA's/PTE's to initiate Quality Bus Partnerships and Quality Bus Contracts. It is expected that the WMPTA will endorse this approach on 13 May 2002.

  32.  The West Midlands Bus Strategy document states that, "implementation of the Strategy will be based on existing delivery mechanisms, new voluntary arrangements and statutory Bus Quality Partnerships. However, WMPTA is sceptical that all improvements can be achieved in these ways and does not accept the Government's view that Statutory Quality Contracts should only be seen as a tool of last resort to deliver improvements. Delivery of the strategy will therefore be monitored, and if delivery mechanisms fail to bring to fruition the improvements needed, then WMPTA will seek to pursue Statutory Quality Contracts in the West Midlands". Centro and Coventry will examine the extent to which quality partnerships or quality contracts are the most economic, efficient and effective way of the bus improvements identified in the Coventry Area Network Study.

  33.  In the late 1990s, the Passenger Transport Executive Group, looked at the possibilities of revising legislation to improve the quality of bus services. As part of this work, Coventry was chosen as a potential test bed for "bus franchising" and a prototype area specification was drawn up. This work will be reviewed as part of the joint work in developing the Coventry Bus Strategy.


  34.  The work on the Coventry Bus Strategy will incorporate the following quality items. It will include consideration of how best to set and monitor service performance standards, including how these might be applied for bus services on congested highways.

  The following table sets down quality features that users would like to see and gives an initial analysis of the extent to which they can be delivered under QBPs and QCs.
Service elementQBP QC
Real competitionNo change Yes
FrequencyCannot be specified Yes
Service stabilityVoluntary agreement only Yes
Responsiveness to complaintsVoluntary agreement only Yes
Affordability—faresCannot be specified Yes
Fare collection systems eg change giving Operators may resistYes
Integrated ticketingVoluntary agreement only Yes
Vehicle specificationYes Yes
Customer care—driver trainingVoluntary agreement only Yes
Specify network of servicesNo Yes
Passenger informationOperator obligation under Transport Act 2000 Yes
Integration with other servicesUnlikely Yes
Data captureVoluntary agreement only Yes
Performance standardsVoluntary agreement only Yes
Enforcement powersThrough Traffic Commissioner only Yes
Punctuality/reliabilityLimited under Traffic Commissioner Yes
Concessionary fare calculationExisting costly arrangements continue Less cost, part of overall contract
Marketing of the NetworkLikely Yes


  35.  This submission reflects work in progress. There is an urgency to deliver the improvements to bus services across Coventry in order to achieve the changes to modal shift and improve accessibility for the community as a whole in line with the Government's 10 Year Plan and the Transport Act 2000. Centro and Coventry want a Quality Contract to be available as a practical option as well as a Quality Partnership to be available as options for implementation of the Coventry Bus Strategy.

  36.  Centro and Coventry are entering into discussions with the DTLR to determine how to move the issue forward.

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