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

Memorandum by the Social Exclusion Unit (Bus 52)



  1.  The Transport Sub Committee has requested that the SEU submit evidence relating to the contribution of bus services to reducing social exclusion. This memorandum covers the work that the SEU has been involved in relevant to the inquiry, and the evidence we have since obtained.


Why is the SEU doing a project on Transport and Social Exclusion?

  2.  A number of the SEU's past reports have mentioned transport as a problem or as a barrier to participation in many activities. For example, during the SEU's work on neighbourhood renewal, transport problems were frequently highlighted as important barriers to improving work, learning and health outcomes in deprived areas. "Bridging the Gap", the report on 16-18 year olds not in education, training or work, also identified transport as a key problem.

  3.  These problems, and the cross-cutting nature of them, were the basis of the Prime Minister's request in Spring 2001 for the SEU to further investigate the links between transport and social exclusion.

The remit of the Project

  4.  The term "social exclusion" is used to describe people with a range of linked problems, such as unemployment, poor educational achievement, low incomes, poor housing, physical barriers and bad health. These tend to have a cumulative and reinforcing effect on each other, preventing people from participating in society.

  5.  Poor transport can be a result of social exclusion. For example people on low incomes may not be able to afford the cost of motoring or may be forced to restrict their use of public transport by the cost of fares.

  6.  Poor transport can also reinforce social exclusion. For example, a lone parent may be unable to take up employment because of the travel costs and complex travel patterns needed to accommodate childcare arrangements and getting to work. Or an elderly or disabled person may be unable to get to key local services and facilities as often as they would like because of intimidation from busy and noisy roads and a lack of accessible crossings.

  7.  However it is important to stress that not everyone who experiences social exclusion will necessarily have a transport problem, and not everyone with transport problems is at risk of social exclusion. For some people, transport can be a major factor limiting their opportunities, while for others, it may not be very important compared to other problems such as a poor education.

  8.  For this reason, the project has carried out an analysis of the problem of poor transport and investigated the extent to which transport contributes to social exclusion. Particular emphasis has been placed on access to work, learning, health and other key social services such as food shops. It also identifies the disproportionate impact of road traffic on deprived areas.

Current stage of the Project

  9.  The SEU has completed its initial analysis of the transport problems for socially excluded groups and has published its findings in an Interim Report "Making the Connections: Transport and Social Exclusion" in May 2002.

The Interim Report:

    —  Examines the extent to which transport contributes to social exclusion

    —  Examines the causes and how past policies have contributed to the problem

    —  Draws on experience from both here and abroad to identify the policy lessons and practical initiatives that can improve the present situation

    —  Identifies a number of financial, regulatory and institutional barriers to a more effective transport system

    —  Lays out the basic principles for working towards a more inclusive system of transport provision

  10.  The next steps for the project will be to publish a final report later in the year. The report will contain details on how policies will address the problems identified in the interim report.


  11.  The Committee has asked us to respond to the following headings:

    (i)  The extent to which transport contributes to social exclusion

    (ii)  Whether fares or frequency of services is the most important factor to buses successfully reducing social exclusion

    (iii)  The extent to which buses are the long-term solution or whether a switch to more flexible forms of transport is more appropriate

    (iv)  The main problems and how they should be tackled.

(i)   The extent to which transport contributes to social exclusion

  12.  There is a growing body of evidence which demonstrates that the transport system in England, and in particular the current bus network and fare structure, restricts access to the activities which significantly enhance life chances, including work, learning and health care. This evidence has been gathered from a wide range of sources both on a national scale, ONS responses, the National Travel Survey, and more localised area-based data.

  13.  Poor public transport can prevent people from attending interviews, can lead people to apply for jobs in a narrow geographical area and can result in people turning down jobs.

    —  Thirty-eight per cent of jobseekers say that transport (lack of personal transport or poor public transport) is a key barrier to getting a job[24]

    —  Two-fifths of long-term unemployed men in rural areas say that getting to jobs is a barrier to finding work[25]

    —  More than one in six people in low-income areas have turned down a job in the last twelve months because of transport problems[26]

    —  One in four people say their job search is inhibited by the cost of travel to interview schemes[27]

    —  Jobseekers with driving licences are twice as likely to get jobs as those without[28]

  14.  Transport can also affect access to post-16 participation in education, before-and-after-school activities and participation in adult learning. Whereas most school children receive concessionary fares and tend to travel relatively small distances to school, young people entering further education, or adults returning to education, usually do not receive travel discounts and often travel longer distances:

    —  Transport costs are the biggest expenditure associated with participation in post-16 education. In 1999 their average annual transport costs were £371 (around £10 per week during term time) [29]

    —  Nearly half of 16-18 year old students say they find their transport costs hard to meet. The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) evaluation shows that a significant proportion of young people use their allowance to subsidise transport costs

    —  Six per cent of 16-24 year olds have turned down training or further education over the past twelve months because of transport problems

    —  A large comprehensive school with a large isolated rural catchment area found that 40-45 per cent of its pupils were missing after-school activities due to transport constraints. Since the introduction of two late bus services no child was forced to miss after-school activities.

  15.  Poor transport can also mean that people miss health appointments or suffer delays in being discharged from hospital—both of which incur large costs to the NHS.

    —  Between 15 and 20 per cent of people find it difficult to travel to hospital. This figures rises to 31 per cent for people without a car[30]

    —  Five to six per cent of people in deprived areas turn down or do not seek medical help because of transport problems

    —  More than half of older people travelling to hospitals and dentist in London experience some difficulties in getting there, and a third of those attending GPs or health centres[31]

(ii)   What are the important contributory factors to reducing social exclusion: fares or frequency of service?

  16.  Our analysis has identified three main barriers to social inclusion and access to services: the cost of fares or motoring, availability and accessibility of transport services, and limited travel horizons. Their contribution to social exclusion varies depending on the group and their location (urban or rural), therefore their contribution to reducing exclusion will vary accordingly.

(a)  Cost

  17.  The cost of using buses has risen considerably—over 30 per cent since 1985. This is a rise that is much faster than motoring costs—which over the last 10-20 years has remained nearly static, benefit levels, or the minimum wage. For certain groups, this can pose particular problems.

  18.  For example, people in post - 16 education spend £371 annually on transport—around £10 per week during term time. This compares to around £319 for all students.

  19.  Public Transport trips also cost more in the UK than other countries—a typical trip by public transport costs an average 15 per cent more than in Germany, 60 per cent more than in France and nearly three times as much as in the Netherlands. Low-income groups may not take up work because of the cost of travel, especially if the route involves a long journey. Similarly, single mothers often have to make complicated journeys, which can be costly when they involve paying for buses to do the school run, and again to get to work.

  20.  Fare initiatives adopted by Trent Buses represent a clear example of an operator identifying costs as a barrier to travel and altering fares accordingly. In an area of Trent with higher than average unemployment levels bus patronage was identified as being far more sensitive to price than the norm. in response Trent Buses developed a range of experimental fare deals including Kids for a Penny throughout the weekend and off peak during the week. This scheme has not affected the company's profits, as adults travelling more frequently have balanced the loss in revenue received via children travelling.

(b)  Access and availability

Physical access

  21.  Only 20 per cent of buses in the UK meet the accessibility requirements of the Disability and Discrimination Act 1995, the deadlines for achieving full compliance range from 2015 to 2020, depending on the type of vehicle. This, combined with a lack of safe crossings at bus stops, and the poor surface of surrounding areas of bus stops, means that for the 14 per cent of adults who have a physical difficulty or long-standing health problem, going out on foot or using the bus is difficult.

Crime and Fear of Crime

  22.  People on low incomes are nearly five times more likely to say that they are concerned about the levels of crime in their area and safety at bus stops than people in the least deprived areas.

  23.  Security fears around bus services are also more acute for people travelling during the evening or early morning and for women. For example, women are much more likely than men to feel unsafe waiting at bus stops—44 per cent of women and 19 per cent of men.

Frequency, reliability and network coverage

  24.  The frequency of services is a particular problem in rural areas. Although accessibility in rural areas has improved significantly in recent years, 50 per cent of people in rural areas do not live within 13 minutes' walk of an hourly daytime bus service. And 29 per cent of rural settlements have no service at all. This means that people may not just be hit by cost or inconvenience of travel, but may simply be unable to get to work or services without their own transport. However, urban areas also experience difficulties, particularly in peripheral areas of estates, where bus services tend not to go.

  25.  However, even when there are regular bus services, bus routes do not always match the location or timing of the journeys people need to make. Bus routes tend to be dominated by radial routes that go in and out of large centres often during peak hours, whereas new sites of employment, such as call centres or supermarkets and key public services such further education colleges, are often located on the periphery of towns. This can mean a long circuitous route or lots of interchanges in order to access such services.

  26.  The Manvers Shuttle in South Yorkshire is a good example of where buses have been sharply focused on improving access to education and work. It is a public transport service, which operates a regular bus route linking people with the local colleges and call centres in the Dearne regeneration area. The fare is 20 pence per trip. The service has attracted more than 170,000 users in its first year.

  27.  The frequency and reliability of public transport is particularly important for women, who often have to combine journeys to work, school/childcare and shopping, thus punctuality and speed is at a premium.

  28.  National Travel Survey data shows that the frequency of bus service is somewhat more important than the distance needed to travel to that service. So even when services are more than 13 minutes away, people make 100 trips annually when it is at least hourly, compared to only around ten trips when the service is less than once an hour.

(c)  Travel Horizons

  29.  People may be reluctant to make journeys that require longer distances, journey times or interchanges. This is often the result of poor route and timetable information about services, network instability—the number of changes to the bus network in recent years has reduced people's trust and familiarity with bus services. For example, one large Passenger Transport Executive experiences up to 20 network changes per week.

  30.  Low-income groups are particularly affected by: a lack of confidence that the bus will be able to get them where they need to go on time; low levels of English language and literary skills—which can prevent people from being able to access transport. A lack of audio-visual or other inclusive design features can also prevent people with physical and learning disabilities accessing transport service.

(iii)   Buses or more flexible forms of transport

  The extent to which buses are the long term solution.

  31.  Buses are likely to remain the primary solution across the majority of the country. In areas of moderate to high demand they have the important advantage of being cost-effective. The example of London illustrates the potential for increasing bus demand where conditions are favourable; bus patronage in London has increased by 11 per cent since the mid-1980s[32].

  Moreover in most EU countries the demand for bus travel has grown substantially in recent years. [33]

  32.  However, there is also an important emerging role for demand and responsive transport (DRT). These more flexible forms of transport can effectively bridge the gap between taxis and buses and are particularly suitable for journeys where demand is weaker and more volatile, such as in rural areas, or during the early mornings and late evenings. The Urban and Rural Bus Challenges have encouraged the development of demand-responsive services and many authorities are considering extending these services more widely.

  33.   InterConnect in Lincolnshire is an example of a public transport service in Britain which combines the advantages of both the bus and DRT, recognising the contrasting circumstances in which they operate most effectively.

  34.  InterConnect combines frequent inter-urban bus routes where the demand is high and predictable, with a series of flexible feeder routes, which connect to these main radial corridors, and serve the outlying rural areas where demand is more dispersed. These feeder services operate flexibly in response to individual telephone bookings—the advantage being a more cost-effective and convenient service where conventional bus services would both miss pockets of demand and not be used to capacity.

  35.  Bus use on the inter-urban routes has increased by 112 per cent and by 40 per cent on the demand-responsive feeder services. Significantly the level of unmet transport demand has been assessed as having decreased by at least 16 per cent.

(iv)   Main problems and how they should be tackled

  36.  Critical barriers to progress include:

    Social costs have not been given due weight in transport policy: The cost of poor access to work, learning and health care falls to a range of departments. Local transport targets are focused on reducing congestion and increasing bus use, not ensuring that people can access work, learning and health care. Nor do they focus on whether some communities suffer disproportionately from the impact of traffic through pollution and child pedestrian accidents. Other non-transport decisions can also impact negatively such as the decisions by local planning authorities relating to the siting of new developments, or health and education authority decisions on where to open or close facilities.

  Local transport planning: Local authorities do not routinely assess whether people can get to work, learning, health care or other activities in a reasonable time or cost. Spending is not tied to outcomes such as improved journey times, accessible vehicles, punctuality or customer satisfaction.

  Revenue funding level: Around £1 billion is spent on revenue support for buses through concessionary fares, fuel duty rebate (FDR) and subsidising unprofitable services. Spending has fallen by nearly a third since 1985, while spending on subsidising unprofitable routes has fallen by almost two-thirds. This reflects falling operating costs during this period. However, tender costs are now rising sharply due to driver shortages and commercial operators withdrawing routes. Local authorities are struggling to maintain existing services, rather than trying to adapt services to more dispersed land use patterns and more flexible working hours.

  Funding equity: Bus expenditure disproportionately benefits lower income groups. But given the balance between spending on different modes, current transport spending is regressive. The majority of transport spending benefits people on higher incomes because they are more likely to use rail and travel longer distances. It is estimated that those in the lowest income quintile will gain 12 per cent of total spending in the 10-Year Transport Plan, while the highest quintile would gain 38 per cent.

  Fragmented funding: while £1 billion is spent by DTLR on bus revenue support, a further £900 million is spent on school, patient and social services transport by several different Government departments.

  Regulatory barriers: Some potential solutions, including demand-response transport, flexibly routed buses, wider use of community transport, integrated ticketing, Quality Contracts, and applying concessionary fares to wider client groups, are prevented because of regulatory barriers.

  Funding sustainability: funding is often available to local authorities and voluntary sector groups for innovative new transport schemes, but they often have great difficulty finding money to sustain the service, even when they are successful.

  37.  Ideas for improvements under consideration by the SEU include:

    —  Clearer accountability at a local level for tackling the ability to access work, learning and health care, through accessibility and impact planning. Someone would need to be responsible for auditing whether people in each area can get to key places. Local targets could then be set to improve availability, affordability, service frequency, crime and fear of crime walking to, waiting for, or travelling on public transport, or other local problems. It would be important that full consideration is given to alternative ways of solving transport problems through changing the location and timing of health and education provision or through ICT and home delivery.

    —  Flexibility to achieve these objectives, possibly including the removal of regulatory barriers to flexibly routed buses, integrated ticketing, the use of concessionary fares for people on low incomes, and reducing the notice period for the implementation of Quality Contracts.

    —  Resources that are distributed more equitably, are more joined up, better targeted, and linked to measurable outcomes defined under accessibility and impact planning. This should ensure that social exclusion objectives are given due weight alongside economic and environmental goals, including through transport appraisal mechanisms.

    —  Skills, expertise and knowledge: local authorities need the skills to ensure transport services adapt to consumers' requirements, and a firmer evidence base on which to assess problems and develop solutions.

  38.  The SEU is also working on improvements to special transport to work, learning and healthcare. It is also considering ways of reducing the need to travel, through better planning of the location of new facilities, as well as methods such as outreach and electronic delivery of services.

May 2002

24   Audit Commission (1999) A Life's Work: Local Authorities' Economic Development and Regeneration. Back

25   Beatty, C and Fothergill s(2001) Labour market detachment in rural England, Countryside Agency. Back

26   Ruston, D (2002) Difficulty in Accessing Key Services, Office for National Statistics. Back

27   Mckay S et al (1999) unemployment and Jobseeking after the introduction of Jobseekers Allowance, Department of Social Security (DSS) research report 99. In recognition of this problem DWP are currently reconsidering the eligibility criteria for help with interview costs. Back

28   Stafford, B et al (1999) Work and Young Men Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Back

29   ONS (2001). Back

30   Ruston (2002). Back

31   Age Concern, cited in the Audit Commission (draft report 2001) Transport of Delight: taking people to and from education, social services and health care. Back

32   Grayling T Any more fares? Delivering better bus services p 8. Back

33   The distance travelled by bus per person in Austria and Sweden has increased by more than 20 per cent, Denmark by more than 40 per cent and Italy by more than half between 1980 and 1998 (Commission for Integrated Transport). Back

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