Commons Gate

Bus Services across the UK (HC 1317-ii)

Transport Committee 28 June 2006

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Evidence given by Mr Les Warneford, Managing Director, Stagecoach, Mr Denis Wormwell, Chief Executive, National Express, Ms Nicola Shaw, Managing Director, First Group, Mr Mike Cooper, Managing Director UK Regions, Arriva, Mr Peter Huntley, Managing Director, Go North East, Go-Ahead, and Mr John Waugh, Transport Services Manager, University of Southampton, Uni-Link, Mr Philip Brown, Senior Traffic Commissioner, Traffic Commissioners, Mr Keith Halstead, Chief Executive, and Mr Ewan Jones, Deputy Chief Executive, Community Transport Association; Mr Stephen Joseph, Executive Director and Ms Meera Rambissoon, Public Transport Campaigner, Transport 2000; and Mr Tom Wylie, Chief Executive, National Youth Agency,Gillian Merron, a Member of the House, Under Secretary of State for Transport, and Mr Phil West, Head of Buses and Taxis Division, Department for Transport.

Mr. Eric Martlew: Are profits down because of the cost of fuel at the moment?

Mr Warneford: It is the cost of fuel and all the other costs. There have been very big increases in labour, fuel, oil, insurance, gas, electricity. I cannot think of things that have not gone up dramatically in the last three years. The industry average is something like eight per cent cost increase across the whole bus industry.


Q239 Mr. Eric Martlew: We are sitting here and the Government have brought in a scheme that is going to allow a fair proportion of passengers to travel for nothing and yet there seems to be no enthusiasm from our witnesses for it. Surely, where you have got a scheme where even the cost of the fare is discounted you can raise passenger numbers. Has the effect of the new concessionary schemes raised passenger numbers?

Mr Warneford: Without a doubt it has, yes.

Q240 Mr. Eric Martlew: By what sort of percentage?

Mr Warneford: It is very variable. It is as low as 20 per cent in some areas; it is as high as 100 per cent in others. On the south coast we have a serious problem as a result. We have had to put 20 more buses on the road at very short notice.

Q241 Mr. Eric Martlew: So there is a massive increase in passenger numbers?

Mr Warneford: And we are very excited by it.

Mr. Eric Martlew: You disguise it very well; that is all.


Q280 Mr. Eric Martlew: Do schoolchildren travelling on buses at peak times create a problem for you with other customers? Should we be saying, especially with secondary school children, that we should be bussing them on their own vehicles?

Mr Warneford: A small minority of schoolchildren are a problem in some places. There are different arrangements in different authorities as to how school transport is organised. By and large, and inevitably there are some exceptions, we work pretty well with the education departments of local authorities and it is managed reasonably well.


Q285 Chairman: ... What is so terrible about the Traffic Commissioners that they should not be given accurate information about your performance? Mr Warneford?

Mr Warneford: Chairman, I do not recall ever being asked to do so. I do not have a problem. Whenever they ask for information they are always supplied with it.

Q286 Chairman: So they have to send you a detailed letter each time asking you for stuff about which you should know anyway under your normal management procedures?

Mr Warneford: If I can amplify, we were asked two or three years ago by one Traffic Commissioner because our service was not up to scratch and we had to fix it to send the data regularly and we did, and eventually we were asked to stop because it was information overload.

Q287 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just on that, the train companies that Stagecoach run have to publish their punctuality. Would that not be a good idea for your buses?

Mr Warneford: The only reason we do not is we fear that the media would use it as another reason to tell people they should not travel on buses.

Q288 Mr. Eric Martlew: Only if the information is bad.

Mr Warneford: We can provide very factual information but it will not say that buses run 100 per cent on time; they cannot.


Q347 Clive Efford: Just going back on the statistics issue, if you were given the information that you have requested and been denied, would it make your job easier in terms of enforcement and maintaining the standards of the contracts?

Mr Brown: The first positive part of that would be we would have an instant set of statistics which would be analysed either by the operator or by VOSA officers and that would tell us what the percentage of compliance across these operated services as a whole was, so we would know where the problems lay and we would know what the reasons were for non-compliance, for not running bus services according to the timetables. That, of course, has a benefit to the operator who can say, "These are the problem areas and these are the reasons we have the problems." One of the bus companies in my area has recently adopted a process of sending me a weekly list of problems that they have encountered and the reasons why their buses have not been able to run on time. That is a good start so I have the information. Much of it is to do with the information flow and communication because a lot of the time Traffic Commissioners are acting quite a lot in the dark or at least in the gloom, and to enable them to make an informed decision they need the full picture.

Q348 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just on that point, all right, Mr Brown, you get the information but do you believe that the public should be given that information as well? If, say, I go to the railway station and I am a bit of an anorak, I will look at the performance of the trains, and I think it has an effect of improving the performance of the companies so that the public know what they are doing.

Mr Brown: I think that is true. To a certain extent it should be in the public domain. Once it is released to the Traffic Commissioners it should be in the public domain. It is not sub judice, it is not anything really, it is effective evidence. One of the difficulties that the bus companies did explain was of course they are reliant on a road network rather than a rail network. There may be many, many problems with road networks, and that is another issue that I can come on to later on, but I see no reason at all why the statistics should not be published.


Q385 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just coming back to passenger safety, we have heard some quite alarming figures about buses failing and being given prohibition notices, but is travelling on a bus a relatively safe thing to do? Are the numbers of people being killed and injured coming down? Do you have records of this?

Mr Brown: I personally do not have records of that ---

Q386 Mr. Eric Martlew: Sorry, Traffic Commissioners do not have the figures on how many people are killed?

Mr Brown: They are not presented with those statistics as a matter of course, no. Traffic Commissioners tend to react to information. We react to evidence, if you like, in the same way as a judge would.

Q387 Mr. Eric Martlew: Surely if the numbers were coming down it would be an indication that you were doing your job properly?

Mr Brown: Yes, that is why one of our aims is that that should be the case and I could not agree more, yes, indeed but we do not get that as a matter of course. If we do perhaps we do not interpret it quite so much.

Q388 Mr. Eric Martlew: Is it your impression that travelling on a bus is a fairly safe thing to do?

Mr Brown: I think so. I travel on a bus every day.


Q420 Mr. Eric Martlew: On young people, I have recently had a long debate with some 16 and 17-year-olds on the issue of concessionary fares for young people, and this was a major concern of theirs and they came from a rural area as well. What are the benefits of concessionary fares for young people?

Mr Wylie: Under the Children Act which we now have there is one outcome which is about helping young people to achieve economic well-being. One of the criteria for that is to enable them to minimise the financial stress on families, to help them to engage in working life and social life, so the benefit to the young is that they are more fully able to take advantage of the opportunities, whether those are leisure opportunities, employment opportunities or educational opportunities, and they are not being deterred by the cost of travel. The Government is thinking about an opportunity card which will give access to leisure opportunities. One city told me recently that in their survey of young people about the leisure card, the kids have said to them, "Yes we do not mind getting into the leisure centres for nothing but actually it costs us £5.10 to get there on the bus so we are not likely to use those leisure opportunities." So the case is essentially a case of social cohesion, economic development, social stability, because this is enabling groups to travel and to use leisure, education and employment; everybody wins. It seems to us just a touch unfair that it should be applied to older people and not be applied to younger people.

Mr Joseph: We have done some work with the UK department and we also recently contributed to a discussion that the Hansard Society, or whatever it is now called, set up. This came across as a huge issue in those discussions. What we were able to contribute to that is the fact that there are some local authorities that have gone beyond the statutory minimum and they are not always the most expected ones. The Isle of Wight runs a ticket, which used to called the Youth Mover ticket, which gives discounted travel for all young people in full-time education up to 21 and free travel after 5 p.m. On the Isle of Wight there is a good network of buses so that means something, if you see what I mean. This is seen as a very attractive proposition and the council pay for it out of the further education budget because otherwise they would have to pay grants to individuals for access to education. Similarly, we are aware that Derbyshire do a youth card which does give youth discounts for young people under 18 in full-time education. The problem here is that there is no sense nationally that this is an important area. Also a lot of local authorities are not aware that other local authorities have done this. Faced as you were with young people in Carlisle talking about the importance of this you would not necessarily know about this. We have tried do some work on good practice and spreading this and in a sense that is a very large gap you are trying to fill.

Mr Halstead: May I add to that. We welcome increased opportunities for older, disabled and indeed young people to travel, but I think the issue as far as community transport operators is concerned is that the current scheme is only designated to cover free travel on bus services, and if local authorities want to fund free travel on other forms of transport such as trains or community transport, then they have to find the money from elsewhere. In effect, that creates a postcode lottery, because somebody living in one authority, North Dorset or South Oxfordshire for example, can access community transport with their concessionary fare pass and gain access to the services they need whereas if they live in another authority they will not be able to do so. So we would promote equality of access to this particular scheme which generally we think is a good step forward.


Q463 Mr. Eric Martlew: Can we ask a question on the Traffic Commissioners? Are the Commissioners fit for purpose, Minister?

Gillian Merron: I am aware there is a view, and I suspect a very strongly presented view to the Committee, that there are questions raised about the resourcing but of course the Traffic Commissioners are run by VOSA. I know it has been suggested they should have an increase in resources but it does have to be self-financing, so clearly that would require an increase in terms of the fees charged, and again that would have a knock-on problem in terms of bus operators. Part of our consideration as we look at how we are to improve bus services will doubtless include a look at the role of the Traffic Commissioners and the kind of ways in which they are able to work to support the bus services.

Q464 Mr. Eric Martlew: So you are saying you do not know whether they are fit for purpose or not?

Gillian Merron: I am saying the role they carry out and the way in which they potentially can be used in the future will be part of the consideration.

Q465 Mr. Eric Martlew: Are you saying you accept there is a lack of finance there?

Gillian Merron: No, I did not say that, I said I was aware that the resourcing issue has been commented on. I was simply addressing what I know has been put previously before you about VOSA's support for the Traffic Commissioners.

Q466 Mr. Eric Martlew: If it is found to be short of resources, is your Department prepared to put in more money?

Gillian Merron: It is not for me to pre-judge what our approach would be. I would rather look at the way in which the Traffic Commissioners work in order to support better bus services. That has to be their role and I know you have taken evidence from them and that will form part of our considerations.

Q467 Mr. Eric Martlew: Is part of your considerations the thought of disbanding the Commissioners and giving the powers to the transport authorities?

Gillian Merron: Again, I am afraid I could not comment; I could not be led down the road of making particular speculation about that.

Q468 Mr. Eric Martlew: No, but what I am asking is, will you be looking at that, that is all. I am not asking you what the conclusion is.

Gillian Merron: I think I can assure you, Mr Martlew, that we will be looking at the role of Traffic Commissioners, at what they do and also the most effective way to support and guide the development of bus services, and the role and activity of Traffic Commissioners will be part of that without any doubt at all.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB