Memorandum by Devon County Council (Bus
THE BUS INDUSTRY
This memorandum of evidence from Devon County
Council, submitted at the Committee's invitation, focuses on the
bus industry and bus services in the rural context. It addresses
four aspects of the bus industry which the Transport Sub-Committee
has identified that it wishes to explore as part of its Inquiry:
Subsidies in the United Kingdom bus
industry, and the result of bus challenge initiatives in rural
and urban communities.
The importance of bus priority measures
and their enforcement.
Regulation of the bus industry.
The contribution of bus services
to reducing social exclusion.
Devon is the largest local authority in the
South West Region: it is over 100 miles by road from Start Point
in the South Hams to Ilfracombe in North Devon. The major centre
of population is the Cathedral City of Exeter (population 110,000)
with other towns, Exmouth (32,400), Newton Abbot (23,600) and
Barnstaple (20,800), acting as focal points for a large rural
hinterland. Unlike many other shire counties, Devon has no medium
sized towns with populations in the 50,000 to 100,000 range. The
country is characterised by small market and coastal towns which
play a key role in serving the surrounding villages and rural
communities. About 75 per cent of the county's 424 Parishes have
a population of less than 1,000.
The county has an extensive network of local
bus services, about 95 per cent of which are provided by two major
operators: Stagecoach and First Group. The map below shows the
strategic bus network; a map of all bus services in the county
can also be made available to the Committee.
The Devon "Quality of Life" survey
undertaken in 1998, on the Council's behalf by MORI, identified
more frequent and cheaper public transport as the top priority
for people in Devon. The next highest priorities were reductions
in the level of crime and the provision of more affordable housing
for local people.
The County Council has identified improvements
to bus services and infrastructure as part of its statutory five
year Local Transport Plan programme. Government has also designated
it as one of the 17 Centres of Excellence for Integrated Transport
Planning, partly through its good practice in rural public transport.
The Authority has also been a finalist in the Bus Industry Awards
and recently presented its own "Good Bus Driver Award"
to four Devon bus drivers.
2.1 Rural Bus Subsidy Grant
Most of Devon's rural bus services are financially
supported through the Government's Rural Bus Subsidy Grant and
the County Council's revenue budget. Allocations of Grant funding,
which began in 1998, are based on the proportion of the population
in settlements of 3,000 or less. In the first tranche of funding,
Devon County Council received £1.41 million per year for
the period 1998-99 to 2000-01. The allocations in the second tranche
were £1.799 millon for 2001-02, £2,059 millon for 2002-03
and an indicative allocation of £2.102 millon for 2003-04.
The County Council's revenue bus service support budget for transport
for 2001-02 was £1.623millon.
These subsidies have enabled the County Council
to put in place new and improved bus services which link Devon's
market and coastal towns, and surrounding rural areas, with Exeter,
Barnstaple and Newton Abbot. The funding has also contributed
Services linking communities in Devon
with towns in the adjacent counties of Cornwall, Somerset and
Dorset (funded jointly with those local authorities).
Increasing the fleet of higher specification,
more accessible, vehicles which meet the Disabled Persons Transport
Advisory Committee (DPTAC) specifications and Disability Discrimination
Improving timetable and information
Experimenting with "flexible"
bus services and shared taxis (in partnership with the Countryside
Fares experiments to increase patronage.
The County Council has carefully targeted the
available financial support for rural bus services to ensure that
increases in patronage represent value for money. The table below
shows the growth in passenger numbers on Rural Bus Subsidy Grant
funded services. The current total annual number of passenger
trips on all of Devon's supported buses is 3,584,000.
PASSENGER NUMBERS ON RURAL BUS SUBSIDY GRANT
|Date||Additional annual passengernumbers*
*Based on patronage of Rural Bus Subsidy Grant services compared
with baseline patronage of the same group of services (where they
existed) in September 1998.
The Council has calculated that an increase in the Rural
Bus Subsidy Grant to about £6 millon per annum would:
Provide all communities of 1,000 or more with
a daily bus service for shopping/work.
Enable vehicle standards to be improved.
Establish more frequent services to market and
coastal towns operated to a uniform and predictable standard.
Support fares experiments.
Bus operators have experienced increased operating costs
over the last four years as a result of varying fuel costs, higher
insurance premiums, increases in drivers' pay, training costs
and improved vehicle standards. This has led to the withdrawal
of bus services that are no longer commercially viable and higher
service contract prices. Tender prices have increased by between
20 per cent and 100 per cent. As a result the County Council had
to take some difficult decisions in reviewing supported services
with consequent service reductions and withdrawals.
The County Council's research has shown that patronage increases
on enhanced rural bus services are not immediate and that it takes
some time for passenger numbers to grow. More certainty about
longer term Rural Bus Subsidy Grant funding levels would enable
the Authority to plan ahead with more confidence. Government should
link funding for rural bus services to local authorities' five
year Local Transport Plans.
There is a need for Government to permit local authorities
to use the Rural Bus Subsidy Grant more flexibly: to overtly support
fare schemes that encourage regular bus travel and bus services
which link urban and rural areas. Local authorities would also
find it helpful to have clear confirmation from Government that
the purchase of vehicles, for use by bus operators, is a legitimate
use of Local Transport Plan capital funding. Vehicles provided
in this way could help to support bus services which are on the
margins of commercial viability.
The County Council's experience is that some bus operators
do not have well defined processes for measuring and analysing
numbers of passengers, journeys and fares. Whilst the provisions
of the Transport Act 2000 empower local authorities to request
such information from bus operators in respect of commercial bus
services the date is not always reliable or of good quality.
2.2 Rural Bus Challenge
The Government's funding through the Rural Bus Challenge
has enabled the County Council to establish two projects:
"Life in the Bus Lane"A partnership between
Devon County Council, First Red Bus and North Devon College. Smartcards
issued to scheme members qualify them for free or half price bus
travel to and from college, half price bus travel after 6pm, at
weekends and during college holidays and discounts from local
businesses. The project has attracted three allocations of Challenge
funding£640,000 for 2000-01, £300,000 for 2001-92
and £373,000 for 2002-03.
"Devon Fare Cars"£472,000 has been awarded
for three years for this scheme, piloted in the Honiton area,
which offers people in rural parishes free membership of a Fare
Car Travel Club. It enables customers to pre-book a door-to-door
service to and from Honiton at a special rate and with opportunities
to connect to other services. The Fare Car concept will be extended
to eight targeted areas which at present are not served by daily
The Government's Rural Bus Challenge has proved to be an
effective way of stimulating local authorities to develop innovative
solutions to rural transport problems. However, it provides short
term funding and does not encourage bus companies to take risks.
It may also be detrimental to the continued operation of existing
well-established community and voluntary transport schemes. Whilst
recognising the difficulties of assessing Bus Challenge bids,
local authorities would benefit from more feedback from Government
when their bids are unsuccessful.
2.3 Bus Operators Grant (Fuel Duty Rebate)
Registered local bus services receive a fuel duty rebate
at a standard rate per gallon based on the amount of fuel consumed.
This system does nothing to encourage through financial incentives,
investment in higher quality or more efficient vehicles.
The Bus Operators Grant should provide an incentive for investment
in cleaner and more efficient vehicles and the use of alternative
fuels. Consideration should be given to enabling local authorities
to allocate the Grant themselves.
3. THE IMPORTANCE
Bus priority is important in rural areas. The County Council
is improving bus stops and boarding facilities on strategic bus
routes. The design of bus lay-bys and build outs is an important
consideration in managing traffic and giving buses priority.
The County Council recognises that the police often have
higher priorities than the enforcement of restrictions prohibiting
parking in bus lay-bys. The result, however, is that improvement
to waiting and boarding facilities are poor value for money and
a cause of traffic congestion. A levy both on bus operators and
local authorities to employ more traffic wardens may be an effective
way to remedy those problems.
4. REGULATION OF
There is a need for some of the legislation governing the
industry to be consolidated and clarified. For example, the establishment
of the Fare Car schemes referred to above has not been easy, and
has involved reliance on a variety of clauses in the Public Passenger
Vehicles Act 1981 and Transport Act 1985.
Community groups that have established and registered a town/community
bus service cannot legally pay their drivers. One key legislative
change would be to enable the operators of community bus services
to employ paid (rather than voluntary) drivers under Section 22
of the Transport Act 1985.
The case study below highlights the complexity of current
The operation of the Bray Travel Club, a new local Fare Car
scheme operating on the edge of Exmoor, aims to provide a flexible
solution to meeting local transport needs. If the operator runs
a car, it is covered by his Private Hire licence. If passenger
demand, or vehicle availability, requires him to run a 16-seat
minibus (he owns one under his Restricted PSV Operators Licence),
it is not covered by Private Hire but would normally need to be
a registered local bus service. But, contrary to the Fare Car
concept, the minibus could not run purely on demand. The solution
was to register an "excursion". In order to achieve
flexibility of operation, the County Council had to explore numerous
options and legal implications before arriving at a solution to
suit the circumstances.
5. THE CONTRIBUTION
Social inclusion is central to the county's rural bus network:
it provides access to work and education opportunities and to
shopping, cultural, and leisure facilities.
For sparsely populated rural areas, the County Council's
experience is that registered bus services are not always the
best way to contribute to social inclusion and improve accessibility.
The Authority, working in partnership with local communities is
contributing to a variety of other solutions: "Wheels to
Work" schemes, car share clubs (such as the one being developed
in Ashburton), Fare Cars, cycle racks on buses and flexi-buses
(which provide a door-to-door service). The costs, measured in
"pounds per passenger", of providing services of this
type are significantly higher than a scheduled bus service. The
benefits are not easy to quantify: savings to the National Health
Service, higher levels of employment and educational attainment.
The Government should recognise the special issues of rural
transport in remoter rural areas. It should offer support and
guidance to local authorities to continue to invest and develop
a range of alternative types of rural public transport to reduce
County Environment Director and Deputy Chief Executive, Devon