Monday, 26 October 2009

Just arrived at Paddington....

Going to be a long day today... early start to do R5 Live (see below) and then back at the flat, was just tidying up, packing my suitcase for the week ahead and wondering why I could still make the 10.30am train if I got my skates on, when the phone rang. It was Alison Seabeck, Chair of the South West Regional Committee, telling me that all the trains had been cancelled because of a fatality at Reading, so she couldn't get to Bristol for the 10.30am start of the Select Committee hearing and seeing as I wouldn't be able to get to London, could I sub for her? Technically I'm still a member of the Committee although I was meant to come off it when I was appointed a whip, and as it's technically still a standing committee rather than a Select Committee (because you can't set up a new Select Committee till the start of the new parliamentary session) I am technically allowed to attend... So, technicalities sorted, I made it to @Bristol just in time for the start. Fortunately the session was about transport, which meant I got to quiz the West of England Partnership, Sustrans, Friends of the Earth, the Bristol/Bath Campaign for Better Transport, and of course First Bus.

Usual round of questions - do current plans go anywhere near meeting the projected demand for rail services in the region (no), would we be better off with an Integrated Transport Authority (yes), are people going to get out of their cars and start using the buses when the fares are so high and buses so unreliable ( As usual First Group said that the problem in Bristol is that there's so much congestion, traffic speeds are so slow, that they can't run as good a service as elsewhere - and the West of England Partnership said the showcase bus routes would go some way towards addressing this. I spoke to a couple of the First Group people afterwards and they said they're pioneering a 'Two for the Price of One' service on the A420 Showcase Bus Route in the evenings, which I hadn't spotted.

The West of England Partnership also said that they'd be looking at entering a Quality Partnership with First; I need to look into this. Does this tie us into having First as the virtual monopoly provider of bus services in Bristol for years to come, or do we still have the ultimate option of going for a Quality Contract instead if/when we finally lose patience with them? (And yes, I know for many that time has long since passed!)

As an aside, there was a few minutes break as one set of witnesses took the places of the previous set and so I tweeted I was about to quiz First - within seconds I got half a dozen replies, all urging me to 'give them hell'. I think this validates what I was saying about Twitter earlier. It didn't in anyway disrupt the committee proceedings or detract from my ability to question them, in fact it added a little 'oomph' to my questioning! I quoted First's response to the Committee's call for evidence back at them: "Commercial operators such as First provide a level of bus service provision across the region that meets current levels of demand... This competitive market for customers offers value for money and cost effective delivery of public transport to both the customer and tax payer". Can't let them get away with that, can we?!


dreamingspire said...

No, we can't (let them get away with it). Wesofenglun response to Doug Naysmith was the usual stuff about being open, when they are almost totally opaque - but (as I said to Doug N in a brief exchange afterwards) the paradox is that they (in conjunction with the cyclists) would not have raised £100M if they had not hidden themselves away and got on with the work. Otherwise they would have been frustrated by the bickering of the local Councillors.
The QP I think has to be with an ITA, so next month the pressure has to be on N Somerset to agree to the ITA application being prepared and submitted. Until the UAs get the ITA and it gets to work, references to what happens in a PTE/ITA area are totally irrelevant - non-ITAs can't do that.
The real surprise of the session was those witnesses who came out with the truth: our public sector is grossly unskilled at planning and delivering transport improvements, and that problem starts in Whitehall.
Campaign for Better Transport pointed me in the direction of the lady who has been participating in the ideas for an Open Access Smart Card Back Office for the South West, and later in the day, through a different route, I received a confidential copy of a consultant's report to GOSW on this concept. Why isn't that public? And what about the synergy with DWP's ideas for an 'all-in-one' smart card as part of the 'Building a society for all ages' on the web site?
And Wednesday is the closing day for the responses to the DfT consultation on ideas for a strategy for smart and integrated ticketing on public transport - since you are a Whip, do you have a friend who can submit something for your constituency?

Steven_L said...

I don't get out of my car and use public transport mainly because it is part of my person specification that I have to have a car for work.

Do you think I spent £7k on a rapidly depreciating asset (so that I had a relaible fuel effiencent one) for the hell of it?

Why can't people like you (politicians, wonks, think-tank folk etc) recognise that millions of people NEED cars in order to WORK.

Kerry said...

If you need to drive, you need to drive. No-one is saying you can't! Would be very hypocritical of me to say people can't drive, seeing as I have a car, albeit one that hasn't left the garage for a month. But wouldn't you prefer non-essential car users to be able to use public transport so you don't get stuck in traffic jams?

Bristol Dave said...

But who decides whether someone is a "non-essential" car user or not?

I am a total petrolhead and love driving, why the hell should it be essential? Why can't I go for a drive for the enjoyment?