Friday, 6 February 2009

Update on buses (with no mention of snow)

Have been chasing up First Bus about whether they'd be prepared to run a reduced fare pilot on a key route - e.g. the A420 Showcase Bus Route - to see whether it increases passengers numbers and encourages more people to use the bus. They say they're keen in principle, but need to look at finances - a 20% cut in the fare would require a 25% increase in passenger numbers to arrive at the same cash value. I don't think a 20% cut would be enough of an incentive; we'd been campaigning for a flat rate fare of £1 between St George and the city centre, and it's £2.30 at the moment. Cutting it to £1.84 wouldn't be enough to persuade people to take the bus instead of driving.

First Bus also defend recent fare rises, saying that from December 2005 to August 2007 (not sure why they chose this period - need to check that out) their fares rose by an average of 14%, whereas the consumer price index for transport produced by the National Office for Statistics indicated cost increases of 15.7%.

Still waiting on a response from Moir Lockhead, the Chief Exec of First, on the fare price issue - asking why, if fares had to be increased because of oil price rises, they don't get reduced when oil prices drop significantly.


Bristol Dave said...

Whilst I critise the government when they do something wrong (which seems to be far too often, and as I believe everyone should, vociferously) I have to concede when you're doing things right. Fair play to you Kerry for fighting for something that matters. First Bus are an abomination and bus services in Bristol are absolutely, utterly, attrocious.

Being a petrolhead I drive a car with a 3.0 v6 engine and even with insurance and petrol costs it's still often cheaper to drive than take the bus. Why should I spend an hour freezing my nuts off in the snow/wind/rain waiting for a bus that probably won't turn up when I can just jump in my car and drive there in the warmth, or jump on my bike and still get there quicker? Conversely in summer why would I want to sit on a smelly, stuffy, hot, cramped bus when I can sit in my car with the windows open or the aircon on for the same sort of price, or jump on my bike for free? However, if I was saving considerable amounts of money to travel on the bus, I'd certainly consider it and I know many would definitely do it.

It's important to note that poor public transport is, in the main, a UK thing (look at the rest of Europe to see how it's done properly), but absolutely WOEFUL public transport is definitely a Bristol thing. Compare it to London buses/tube, or Manchester buses/trams. Bristol is so, so far behind, and First have to be able to justify why the fares are so expensive here, but not e.g. in Manchester, even though they're still run by First Group.

Chris Hutt said...

Whoever runs public transport services in Bristol is going to get a bad press and be vilified. First may be marginally worse than some other operators, but not drastically so.

Any operator will be subject to the same laws of economics, which your post gives an example of. Reducing fares is only viable if patronage increases sufficiently to at least maintain revenue, and if the best that can be expected is to maintain revenue what incentive is there to take the risk?

The bottom line is that public transport costs more or less what is currently being charged. Many people experience highly subsidised systems in Europe without perhaps realising how much it costs (through taxation) to permit such cheap fares.

If we were to drastically increase public transport subsidies someone has to pay for that. So who should that be? Those who use public transport or those who don't? Those who travel more or those who travel less? Wouldn't it be perverse to end up with people who walk or cycle having to subsidise those who use buses for the same journeys?

Kerry said...

No Chris, we're not talking about subsidies - we're talking about a pilot to see if reduced fares would encourage more people to use buses. At the moment some people - particularly if you've got two people from the same household heading into town, or a whole family - regard the bus as too expensive and will take their car instead.

And actually, wouldn't getting more people out of cars and onto buses benefit cyclists in that it would free up the roads?

Bluebaldee said...


Why on earth would First reduce their fares just because you ask them to?

They answer to their shareholders, not their customers or politicians.

That's why if you want truly 'Public' Transport, then it should be taken into Public ownership, just like the banks.

Kerry said...

If First don't get their act together the Council can, under measures in the new Local Transport Act, apply for a Quality Contract scheme whereby they award the contract to run bus services in Bristol to another company, rather than leaving it to the vagaries of the market, and First would be out on their ear. I've blogged about it LOADS on here. Hence it's in First's interest to try to keep the people of Bristol - as represented by me and my fellow MPs, and by our Council - happy. Or rather, make them happy.

dreamingspire said...

Kerry, what is needed is for the 4 UAs (or at least 3 of them) to form an ITA (Integrated Transport Authority) and then go for a Quality Contract across the whole area. Full interoperability of tickets is needed - passengers generally do not want competition, they want a public service. Currently a bus has to be on time, but not clean, not warmed or cooled as required by the climate, etc. And it doesn't matter on a route with a very frequent service if a bus runs early - people want to get to their destinations, not hang about in case the Traffic Commissioner gets to see the logs from the GPS monitoring in the big control room. DfT really doesn't have a clue on making things happen, but has recently decided that there is a positive case for national rollout of smart card (and maybe mobile phone) ticketing - the big public transport operators are now trying to bluff their way to having all the systems paid for by govt (and still avoid interoperable ticketing).

Bluebaldee said...


We ( and First) have heard it all before with local politicians trying to exert pressure to make them reduce their fares.

This from March 2007, almost two years ago:;jsessionid=C88E3ED445A1BDD343800261B2C017EC.tcwwwaplaws2

Obviously nothing happened.

I've just had a look at the Local Transport Act and its provision for Quality Partnership Schemes. Oh dear.

I've seen more teeth on a chicken. First doesn't have to sign up to these Schemes, they can make 'admissable objections' to any part of a Scheme, including frequency of service and maximum fares. To cap it all, the maximum fares part is subject to review no longer than every 12 months.

There's nothing in the Act that makes me think First are going to reduce their fares anytime soon, despite your best intentions.

After all, who are First more scared of, local politicians armed with lettuce-limp legislation or their own shareholders? And who is really driving transport policy in Bristol - our elected representatives or First's management board?

Kerry said...

Quality Partnership Schemes are not the same thing as Quality Contracts!

dreamingspire said...

From my research (a) there is a QP between Bristol and First, but (b) it was not registered with the Traffic Commissioner (not that registration did much then, but it might bring some minor strictures under the 2008 legislation). I assume that LAs can write stronger agreements if they wish - the only real policy that we have for public transport is now over 10 years old: the 1998 Integrated Transport White Paper that used the general term 'partnerships', but in general the big transport operating groups have now rolled the DfT over, and Ministers are now fighting to win something back.
QCs never got off the ground under the 2000 Act. I have not seen any comment (not looked very far, I admit) on the chances of them working under the 2008 provisions.

Kerry said...

The whole point of the 2008 Act was to strengthen Quality Contracts, i.e. to make it easier for LAs to get them. (Along with things like ITAs, which would also be a good thing for Bristol).

You're right in saying they didn't get off the ground under the 2000 Act. I always remember Alistair Darling saying when he was SoS for Transport and I asked him about QCs at a private meeting: "We have to admit there's a problem with Quality Contracts. The problem being that there aren't any!" There were far too many hoops for LAs to jump through, e.g. they had to show that they had tried all other ways of improving the bus service, which is pretty difficult if the bus company is useless or unco-operative. Now it's much easier, and I think quite a few LAs will go down that route, if you'll excuse the pun.

dreamingspire said...

Greater Bristol is the largest (by population) metropolitan area in England that is not a Metropolitan County and does not therefore have a PTA/PTE structure with its much more productive relationship with operators of public transport. But very recently a senior manager from GMPTE pointed out to an international conference that they have 10 local Councils within the GM area, and all have to agree when a county-wide transport scheme bids for central govt funding - not easy. There are believed to be 3 areas that are candidates for applying for brand new ITA status (and also the current PTA/PTE areas in England are expected to convert). One candidate is South Hampshire, where there already is a Joint Local Committee for transport. Another is the Nottingham area, but there are hints that Nottingham City and the County are not entirely in agreement. Greater Bristol has been trying to get agreement on a formal Joint Committee for a while, but it never seems to happen, so how and when the area moves to ITA status is unknown - 3 years has been suggested (which probably means 6). If in the interim a rapid move to a bus QC is suggested, it really needs to cover Greater Bristol to be any use.

Kerry said...

Agreed but it's our colleagues in the other three LAs that need convincing. The Tories and Lib Dems that is.

dreamingspire said...

Update: today I heard that Merseytravel has this week started on the conversion to an Integrated Transport Authority (ITA). Don't know about the other PTAs, but they are working together rather more than they used to.
Kerry, are (some of) the other Greater Bristol MPs helping with convincing Councillors about the JLC for transport? Stephen Williams, perhaps?