Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Central Rail Users Consultative Committee (IT 59)

INTEGRATED TRANSPORT WHITE PAPER

INTRODUCTION

  The Central Rail Users' Consultative Committee (CRUCC) welcomes the opportunity to submit written evidence to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee on this topic of crucial importance. The CRUCC has sought the views of the Rail Users' Consultative Committees (RUCCs), the London Regional Passengers' Committee and of its own independent members in drawing up this response. While a range of views is inevitably expressed, the present memorandum seeks to balance the views put forward by the various contributors. For sake of completeness, copies of the individual written submissions are appended for reference at Appendix 1.

  We note with considerable pleasure the gratifying comments regarding the Committees, made in the White Paper, which we consider recognition of the tireless campaigning on behalf of rail users that has been the hallmark of our work for 50 years.

  The CRUCC is gravely concerned that, given the urgent need for integration of public transport, recent rumours suggest that other commitments may delay the presentation of the necessary Bill to Parliament and would urge that this matter be given urgent priority.

  The CRUCC submitted written evidence last year to the Environment, Transport and the Regional Affairs Committee's inquiry into the proposed Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) and Rail Regulation and also gave oral evidence later in the year.

THE COMMITTEE NETWORK

  The resources available to the CRUCC and RUCCs, both in terms of accommodation, staff and facilities, are reaching breaking point and are inadequate to deal even with the current workload, which has increased dramatically since the restructuring of the industry. The need to liaise with the number of rail organisations, (OPRAF, ORR, train operators, Railtrack etc.) coupled with a radical increase in workload (monitoring performance of operators, consultation on fares, charges and timetables, handling complaints which have increased four-fold in the last few years and which continue to increase at an alarming rate) is exerting unsustainable pressure on the Committees, in terms of both staff and members. The requirement for the Committees to become involved with other modes of transport will further add to our workload, putting an unbearable strain on existing resources; quite simply, the Committees will not be able to carry out their statutory duties. It is imperative that CRUCC and RUCC facilities in addition to staffing and membership levels are reviewed to take this into account, especially in view of the increased powers which it is proposed the Committees should have. The question of whether it is realistic for RUCC members to remain unpaid and the current level of remuneration of Chairmen should also be reviewed, given the current tremendous increase in workload.

  In order for the passenger's voice to be heard at the highest level, the Committee network will need to be represented on the board of the SRA. At least one senior RUCC representative should be able to sit on the SRA Board without compromising the Committee network's independence. The CRUCC and RUCC role of representing passengers' interests cannot be compromised. The right of the Committee network to retain all aspects of current policy independence from its sponsoring department is absolutely paramount. This needs to be enshrined in legislation.

  The Committee network particularly welcomes the greater prominence for the views of rail users and the protection of passengers' interests which the creation of the SRA should bring. The Committees' powers need to be strengthened so that they can refer to the SRA perceived breaches of franchise agreements rather than only breaches of passenger and station licences. Indeed, the Committees would press for their powers to be strengthened to encompass, inter alia, amendments to franchise agreements, franchise extensions, and Passenger Service Requirement changes. We anticipate that with strengthened powers and an adequate level of funding our effectiveness in defending and enhancing passengers' interests will escalate significantly.

  The extension of the Committee network's remit to include open-access operators will extend the protection offered by the CRUCC and RUCCs to all rail passengers, for which we lobbied hard, but unsuccessfully, during the passage of the Railways Bill. It is important for all passengers to have statutory rights, irrespective of service provider. There is a lack of consistency at present as to whether users of light rail services can benefit from the Committees' statutory protection; all light rail schemes should fall under the Committee network's remit.

  The Committees suffer from the lack of readily-available, timely and affordable legal advice, a situation which needs to be remedied if the Committees' powers are to be enhanced to enable them to act as passengers' champions.

  The requirement to co-operate with bus user representative bodies such as the National Bus Users' Federation and to contribute jointly to the development of regional transport strategies, which will form part of Regional Planning Guidance, makes sense, although potential difficulties could arise in that the CRUCC and RUCC are statutory bodies, whereas bus user groups are not. Such new conduits of liaison cannot, however, operate without substantial increase of Committee resources. Some Traffic Commissioners, while not statutorily required to do so, do represent passengers' interests; there is a need to ensure that there is no duplication of effort. It needs to be recognised that few rail users are entirely dependent on that mode; most need some other form of feeder transport to/from the station. Many PTEs also have bus user organisations and there are numerous independent bus user groups. At this stage, it is not at all clear how these various bodies will function without the danger of overlapping responsibilities. It seems sensible to ensure from the outset, that identical schemes are available throughout the country. There may well be scope for the RUCCs to work at a strategic level in conjunction with bus user bodies which the Regional Development Agencies may establish.

  We look forward to discussing with government our future role, our term of reference and the implications that these will have.

GENERAL POINTS

  The SRA needs to be adequately funded to ensure that it can deliver schemes which make a significant impact. The £300 million additional investment to relieve congestion on the busiest stretches of the railway network, while welcome, is too small, given the scale of the task. The source of the £300 million investment is unclear; this needs to be new money, not syphoned from elsewhere in the overall railway support budget. The SRA's capital budget needs to be sufficient to enable it to embark on more than a few minor projects at any one time.

  The Committees welcome the White Paper's aim to provide a level playing field between road and public transport users. However, real incentives to switch to public transport need to be in place in the form of safe, reliable, affordable and frequent services before penalties for road users are introduced. Parking at "parkway"-style stations should for example be free of charge.

  There is also a need to recognise that there may be occasions where the RUCCs and the bus users' representatives cannot find common ground. The need to represent the interests of the users of each mode of public transport must be retained and harmonised where possible. Certainly co-operation between bus and rail modes should improve interchange arrangements.

  ORR should remain as a separate organisation, to regulate infrastructure and to oversee the ROSCOs. The Committee endorses the view that the Regulator needs to reach agreement with the rolling stock leasing companies. It was a major flaw in the Railways Act that the ROSCOs are subject to no regulation and the opportunity to rectify this omission is welcome and overdue.

  The Committee has long campaigned for an improved telephone enquiry service with a lo-call number and its persistence finally paid off with the creation of the National Rail Enquiry Service. However, we see this merely as a first stage to a nationwide multi-modal public transport information system, capable of one-stop shopping, from enquiry to ticket issue in a single transaction. As statutory responsibility for the production of the Great Britain Passenger rail Timetable lies with Railtrack, that organisation may be best placed to develop an integrated bus and rail timetable.

  The creation of new investment funds is welcome. There is scope for fines imposed on rail operators for poor service to be channelled into such pools rather than returning to the Treasury. This would ensure that funds originally earmarked for rail services are spent within the industry. Five-year planning, covering all forms of transport, and starting in the financial years 2000-01 to 2004-05, should provide sufficient breadth of vision for the future and break the mould of traditional government spending cycles.

  The requirement for local authorities to develop local transport strategies, and be required to consult with the Committees, is welcome and logical, although will add considerably to the burden already borne by the RUCC network. Indeed, an extension of the successful PTEs concept has been put forward by the Committees on a number of occasions and is repeated again here. Public transport needs to be improved to encourage use; only then are drivers likely to accept work-place car park fees and road charges. Making public transport accessible, affordable and safe is the only means by which passengers will be encouraged to spurn their cars. Tackling crime in the transport system needs a high priority. However safe public transport may actually be, public perception is not in line with it. The SRA should act as the catalyst to promote greater multi-modal public transport usage together with measures to encourage cycling to/from stations.

  The CRUCC and RUCCs are concerned that access by public transport to railway stations is generally poor and made more difficult as few buses are wheelchair-accessible. Sight should also not be lost of the need to improve pedestrian access to railway stations, which are geared primarily to rubber-tyred traffic.

  In the Committee network's view, the requirement for the Highways Agency and Railtrack to co-operate can only bring benefits to both organisations and their users.

  The sale of land belonging to the British Railways Board has already been suspended to determine whether any might be of potential value to the passenger or freight railway. The CRUCC and RUCCs have long expressed concern that the piecemeal sale of parcels of land could, in the longer term, jeopardise train operators' or Railtrack's ability to enhance facilities for rail users, for example, increased car-parking facilities at stations.

  In respect of the proposal for RUCC reports on public hearings into rail closures to go direct to the Secretary of State for independent decision, the Committee believes that this will limit the means of appeal if its recommendations are not accepted. The Committee would rather recommend a two-stage mechanism, retaining the right of appeal to the Secretary of State.

  The Committee network welcomes Government's decision to consider franchise extensions but the franchisee must be able to prove that such an extension will be of benefit to the passenger. When franchises are re-let there needs to be a public hearing allowing passengers and their representatives, the CRUCC and the RUCCs, the opportunity to comment on the appropriateness of franchise bids, in the light of their experience. There should e a guarantee that the RUCCs are consulted within a meaningful timescale prior to renewal or changes to franchise agreements and franchise commitments.

  More demanding targets are required for some operators together with stiffer penalties for those who fail to meet them. Operators need to be held to account for the level of service which they provide. Where the opportunity arises, new terms need to be negotiated with operators to put an end to the capricious nature of those performance incentive regimes which still result in poorly-performing companies receiving bonus subsidy payments. Fines levied for poor performance should be redirected into the investment fund pool to keep the money within the industry, as mentioned above.

  The SRA should be able to step in and terminate any franchise where the operator consistently puts in a poor performance and where not significant improvement is likely. If no alternative franchise operator is available, the Government must take responsibility for ensuring that a satisfactory rail service continues to operate.

  While Railtrack may be investing at a higher level than at any previous time, in view of the backlog that needs to be addressed, it is still insufficient to match passengers' and operators' demands. The Committee would also welcome a review of the access charges as we have concerns that the present charging regime may be inhibiting the development of new services. Benchmarks with timescales need to be set for levels of investment throughout the industry.

  In performing OPRAF's current role, Government needs to consider carefully the level of funding available to SRA to subsidise services after the first term of franchises. It remains to be seen how well in reality TOCs manage to deal with reducing levels of subsidy.

  No mention is made of how enhancements to the current rail passenger network may be effected. A mechanism needs to be put in place to kick-start expansion of the network: new stations, line re-openings and so on.

  The Committee network considers it negative thinking to accept that there is little scope for controlling currently unregulated fares. Greater clarity of the fares structure is required to make it more comprehensible to passengers. The threat of "windfall taxes" on profits of train operators which abuse market position and power should be sufficient deterrent to bring about voluntary controls. The Committees would also advocate a commitment to more integrated ticket schemes in the style of the London Travelcard.

  We are concerned at the lack of policy detail in the White Paper and look forward to being consulted on the proposals in due course. As the only organisation with the express purpose of representing rail passengers' interests the Committee network is in a unique position, following its 50 years' experience, to make an invaluable contribution in this crucial area.

25 September 1998


 
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