Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560-568)
MR JOHN CARR, MR PAUL MATTHEWS AND MR GILES FEARNLEY
TUESDAY 21 MAY 2002
560. Does the 10 Year Transport Plan give you any reassurance that that is now seen to be a high priority?
(Mr Carr) This has to be a personal view, Chairman. I think the 10 Year Transport Plan has splendid objectives but the 10 Year Transport Plan at the moment regrettably does not show that it has sufficient policy teeth in order to deliver on everything that it promises. With the high costs flowing from unfortunate events on the railways, I would suggest in line with Institute policy, that the reluctance to really go seriously for a charging regime for motorists mean that the achievement of the targets is in jeopardy to say the least.
561. Where you have got cities like Oxford which have integrated a charging scheme with bus priority and park and ride it appears to work.
(Mr Carr) Yes.
562. Why has that not become a model that has been taken up by local authorities around the country?
(Mr Carr) I think one has to say that in Oxford and a number of the other historic towns where they have attempted to go down the same route there are fairly unique circumstances. You have a very dense central core in which you can severely restrict parking, in which you can aggressively manage the general traffic flow. Being reasonably compact they have also got the land available to develop reasonable scale park and ride sites. Because of the aggressive management of traffic they have managed to free up a reasonable amount of road space to ensure that those park and ride services can be successful. I think they have then reaped the benefit of synergy in that having got that far you have then got a greater inflow of commercial income and it is in those circumstances that I think competition can be most beneficial, as I think it probably has been in Oxford.
(Mr Matthews) Could I perhaps add to that as the Go Ahead Group operates in Oxford and indeed Brighton, which I think is the other case study that is often used as a good example of growth. The additional factor to what Mr Carr has said is there is a history of strong partnership working in those locations between both the private and the public sector and that is so fundamental to the success stories where they exist. They are not things that are just brought together in some artificial way, both parties have a genuine interest to make public transport work and that is not a new innovation, it probably existed way before the term Quality Partnership existed. It is the strength of that partnership working which I think the Institute's proposal about the middle way attempts to try and develop into a further mode.
563. Where you have good partnership working and there are still logistical reasons why bus priority does not work, are there ways in which you think the Government can take a more proactive role to encourage other areas?
(Mr Matthews) I think the keys have to be that both the public sector and the private sector need to be confident and need to be able to see the outputs from their efforts. Many of the partnership schemes are failing at the moment because of an emerging adversarial relationship between the two. I think what the Institute is saying is the last thing the industry wants is a change to the framework in which we operate. It needs to be developed further along the lines we are saying and, therefore, the issues we have already spoken about, like the OFT and the impact that would have upon the network conference idea, have to be resolved one way or the other. I think Government has a role to try and facilitate that. The willingness of both the public sector and the private sector exists at the moment and it is making sure that they do come together to deliver what both parties actually want.
564. So is that what went wrong, that there was not a partnership in Leicester which you described as being an example where there was a decent proposal put forward but the interests of the private motorcar and public transport clashed so it did not work?
(Mr Matthews) I have no experience of Leicester. There are lots of examples of good partnership working. There are also plenty of examples where it has not worked. I think my concern is that there is an assumption that we should rush to observe what has happened in London as being a good example and using the reasons behind London's growth as being, therefore, the formula which should be adopted elsewhere. My argument is there is growth being experienced in other parts of the country in an alternative regulatory framework and we need to understand what the contributory factors are. My belief is that the contributory factors in London and in Brighton and Oxford are the same and they have nothing to do with the framework in which those operations thrive.
565. You do not think, for example, that one way out of this would be for the Government to set up a number of pilot projects of Quality Contracts to see whether they work or not? The very dissimilarity that you highlighted yourself that you apportioned to good management on both sides of the argument does rather demonstrate that it may be rather more than simply personalities involved.
(Mr Matthews) I think it may be more. In my own area that I am responsible for in Tyne and Wear, for example, we have a number of Quality Partnerships, small ones, within the area but in spite of all the present debate and discussions which understandably are happening about the future there is already a partnership developing on an area wide basis that we hope will turn into a statutory Quality Partnership. As to whether or not that then needs to become a trial area, I think it is too early to be able to
566. Would it not be one way forward? What we are saying to you, Mr Matthews, is that since we do not know and since we do not have the proper evidence, would it not be a good idea for Government to say "we are not sure the system is working so if we set up a number of Quality Contracts around the country, we will get an idea of whether it works"?
(Mr Matthews) There are some dangers and some negatives associated with Quality Contracts which the Institute's report tries to summarise. Although they will be on a small scale if adopted on a pilot basis, I think the negatives outweigh the positives.
567. They might then show up. If you are correct and there are negatives as well as positives in the arrangement then we would have some way of judging the difference between the two systems. At the moment we only have a failure of Quality Partnerships in some areas.
(Mr Carr) I think I probably have to say to you Hereford and Worcester at this point. Yes, it is attractive to say let us have a significant trial, and maybe Coventry, because to my knowledge that is the most advanced of the talks that have been held so far, might be sufficiently large and sufficiently representative to be a trial but, remember again, thinking back to the bad old days of 1985, we looked at Hereford and Worcester and we said, "How on earth can this be typical of what goes on in the heart of the West Midlands or the heart of Tyne and Wear" and so on and so on? and indeed they were not typical! I think you have to be very careful about saying let us go for some trial areas. The alternative approach is to say why is Switzerland so successful, why is Germany successful, why is France successful and we are not? Why has London worked better? It is a more academic approach but let us find the good features out of it. Ms Jackson has identified and got the response from us as to what some of the good features are in places like Oxford and Brighton where tangibly the results are better than the norm. If we look at that and use the research capabilities that we have got that the previous witnesses demonstrated then surely we can get some pretty quick pointers and maybe some quick wins as to where you can generally improve things.
(Mr Fearnley) I believe that statutory Quality Partnerships should be encouraged and would go a long way to very quickly alleviate a lot of the concerns of local authorities and yourselves. A statutory Quality Partnership in return for local authority commitment to the infrastructure would require and see a commitment from operators not only to get investment but such key issues as frequency of service and time of day of service, including weekends. That in itself will pass some committed risk to the bus operator to provide those services at what are probably unremunerative times of day and times of week and that I believe is a real way we can get a quick win and get commitment and understanding at a level we do not currently enjoy. There is an awful lot of concern at the moment that the bus industry does not cross-subsidise. It does. It cross-subsidises very heavily. In my own group I believe in the order of 55 to 60 per cent of the routes that we operate do not meet their full cost of operation and yet we operate them because as far as we are concerned they are part of a network and the only way that we will stay in business and grow that business is if we give confidence to the passenger. Therefore we, and I know the rest of the industry, would willingly commit to statutory Quality Partnerships. I put on the table that commitment to operating a full and wide service in return for the local authority's commitment on enforcement, on infrastructure and on the highway generally.
568. You do describe the procedures for approving Quality Contracts as "tortuous", so do you think the Government is serious about the application?
(Mr Carr) If I can step in there. You seem to have had that from previous witnesses, the 21 month period and so on. The impression to the casual reader of the initial Bill anyway was that the Government did not seriously intend these things to be used but that seems to have changed a little bit over time, not only in the Quality Contracts but I would suggest the statutory Quality Partnerships. The approval mechanism for the statutory Quality Partnership is somewhat laborious when, as it is a partnership, one would have thought if the two sides could go together to the arbiter and say "We have agreed on this, is this okay with you? Can you give us the backing?" that would appear to be all that is necessary.
Chairman: I think, gentlemen, you have been very helpful and we are very grateful to you. Your evidence was very useful. Thank you very much for coming.