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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Good afternoon. I am very grateful to you for coming this afternoon. In no particular order of precedent would you like to identify yourselves?
  (Mr Harman) Reg Harman, Director of Logistics & Transport Policy, of the Institute of Logistics and Transport, supporting Mr Coates.
  (Mr Coates) My name is Jim Coates, I am a member of the Transport & Logistics Policy Committee of the Institute. The main reason I am here is that I chaired a Working Party three years ago which produced a report on this general subject area.
  (Mr Depledge) I am Tony Depledge, I am the President of the Confederation of Passenger Transport. I am also the Managing Director of Blackpool Transport, which, as you know, is an operator of bus and tram services in the northwest and it is one of the 17 remaining bus companies owned by local authorities. With me is Geoff Lusher, who is the Chairman of the Fixed Track Section. He is also General Manager of Travel Midland Metro, which is part of the National Express Group.

  2. Do either of you wish to make any particular opening remarks?
  (Mr Depledge) As far as the CPT is concerned simply to say, we are very pleased to have an opportunity to assist the Committee with their work. Other than that our submissions are already put forward.
  (Mr Coates) Just in case it is not clear to the Committee, the difference between us and the CPT, although our views happen to coincide very largely, is that we represent a slightly broader constituency, as it were. Our members come not only from the providers of transport, both freight and passenger transport, but also from transport planners in local government, consultancy and the academic world.

  3. A very noble body of men and women whom I have had occasion to belie before now Mr Coates, as you very well know. Can I ask you to remember one

thing, this is a room where your voices will get absorbed. Although you have microphones in front of you they are there to record, they do not project. We are going to need a bit of voice from you in order that everyone can hear your very useful and helpful answers, which I know you are going to give us. Do you think that the present Government is ambivalent about light rapid transport systems?

  (Mr Coates) In general I think no. We think that they have become rather more positive than appeared to be the case a few years ago. We take the view that light rapid transport is not a panacea; that when you are deciding what to do about public transport, comparing bus and various forms of LRT you have to look at the circumstances; and that there will be, undoubtedly, circumstances where the more expensive LRT systems are the right answer. But we do not think one should start from the assumption that it is always going to be the right answer. Where we do see some ambivalence is in the commitment to the resources that we think will be needed to implement the policies the Government have set out. We are rather concerned about whether the Government has fully grasped the scale and the urgency of the investment in public transport that will be needed if there is to be a significant shift of mode in large urban areas. We believe that there will not be a significant shift unless congestion charging or similar restraint mechanisms are introduced. But we think that public transport improvements by themselves will not be enough. We think that public transport improvements are crucial to go along with the restraint mechanisms as a combined policy because otherwise people who at present travel to work or shop or for leisure activities in central areas will be frightened off by restraint mechanisms and simply go on using their cars but go somewhere else. Public transport has to be good enough to attract well-off families with a car to go on travelling to city centres. That quality is something which is, generally speaking, absent in most of our major cities.

  4. That is resources. Is that the only thing that constitutes a key element?
  (Mr Coates) It is human resources as well as financial resources, the resources for local planners, and so on. We have some misgivings about the local and regional planning framework within which this is to happen.

  5. What sort of misgivings?
  (Mr Coates) We are generally happy with the broad outline of what the Government is proposing to do, it is the sort of nitty gritty—we must not use that expression any more—that we are worried about.

Mr Olner

  6. I am wondering whether you make any differential, Mr Coates, between trams, trolley buses and guided buses?
  (Mr Coates) There is a distinction.

  7. How do you look at it for best fit?
  (Mr Coates) I think we and the CPT probably agree that light rail is probably most likely to be appropriate where there are heavy flows of traffic in densely developed corridors, over a medium to longer distance and to city centres and where it is not too difficult to put a light rail system in. Buses, are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Most of our cities are going to have to rely on buses for most of their public transport, so it is very important that they should be improved considerably. Guided buses are a sort of intermediate option which has the advantage that they can be introduced more quickly and cheaply and more flexibly. In Leeds, for example, there are sections of the route where the bus is guided and sections where, because it is difficult to get the guided track in, it then reverts to the normal road where it has priority but not as extreme as in the guideway itself.

  Chairman: Where you agree, please, simply supplement one another.

Mr Donohoe

  8. What is the point in having something that is guided against a bus that can go anywhere? Tell me, what is the advantage of that?

  (Mr Depledge) Of course, the argument is about the extent to which segregation, can be achieved. Guiding can give you better options for segregation and you may need to take smaller land and narrower paths. Segregation is a key feature of being able to achieve the priority public transport needs, priority which gives you reliability and faster speeds.

  9. Where is that in place in this country?
  (Mr Depledge) The light rail schemes—

  10. No, I am talking about guided buses.
  (Mr Depledge) I apologise, Chairman, I misunderstood the point about guided buses. We have guided bus schemes in Ipswich and in Leeds where this is being demonstrated and there are plans for schemes in Edinburgh and Northampton.

Mr O'Brien

  11. The Committee are taking evidence on the light rapid transit system with a view to presenting a report to Parliament in order to try and inform the Government on these issues. Why is a trolley bus out of favour in the UK despite its apparent success and its operations elsewhere in the world?
  (Mr Depledge) I think that is a very difficult question to answer. I am not sure I know why it might appear to be out of favour. All I would say in response to that question is that there are clearly some advantages in terms of the types of modes of power for trolley buses but they are rather more complex.

  12. Have you not done any research into this situation?
  (Mr Depledge) CPT is an operating association, it has not done any direct research into trolley buses, but I know that several local authorities in the past and in the Transport Executives have looked at this, but I have to say that I would not be technically competent to be able to answer that question in detail.

  13. South Yorkshire wanted to introduce the trolley bus and Merseyside wanted to introduce the trolley bus.
  (Mr Harman) There are a fair number of systems across Europe and worldwide. Based on the figures we have looked at they appear to be rather lower in number than the number of tramways. I think there are about 150/160 tramway systems in Europe as a whole, about 60 of which are in Germany. France, which has six trolley bus systems left, is tending to reduce them. They are important in certain areas because they do not provide immediate pollution. They have some benefits in terms of acceleration, etcetera, but they are now fairly restrained. There is not the expansion going on that perhaps there is in light rail for some of the reasons that Mr Depledge has already made.

  14. Why are they being restrained?
  (Mr Harman) I think it is mainly because of substantial advances in the environmental and other qualities of modern diesel and other powered buses, which is where the trolley bus has benefited. There are a number of cities with trolley buses remaining where the benefit they give of considerable fast mass movement is actually being displaced by trams. Lyon strikes me as a one-off example of that.
  (Mr Depledge) From the point of view of the user a bus and a trolley bus are largely the same. There may be some technical areas where it is valuable to have trolley buses, but they are comparatively small in number and they may be outweighed by very heavy costs. From the point of view of the user, unless the trolley bus has the same bus priorities which a bus needs to have it will not achieve anything more than a bus.

  15. Has your organisation any interest in reviving the interest in trolley buses?
  (Mr Depledge) I think it is fair to say that we do not have a position on this. Our position is that we need to find the right solution to the local problems.

  16. Can you see any improvements in the way that the trolley bus is presented to blend in with the light rapid transit system?
  (Mr Depledge) Again, I think it is fair to say that we believe we would need to concentrate on the whole question of priorities and infrastructure that would go with such a system and it would be important to ensure that there was no alternative way of producing the same results or better at the same price or lower.

Mr Forsythe

  17. Do you envisage the light rail systems being in the centre of towns or do you envisage them coming from the outskirts into towns?
  (Mr Depledge) I think it is very difficult in transport terms to generalise in quite this way because it is the CPT view that you cannot be absolutely certain what will be the right solution in general terms, you have to look at the particular local problems and it depends on the layout of the town that you are trying to serve. There would certainly be situations in which a longer route is preferable, for example the Manchester MetroLink which provides excellent links in from a number of important suburbs and it also has an important local role in the city centre as well. I am almost ducking the question by saying you have to examine the local circumstances, but the key thing is major movements of traffic, a lot of people travelling down a defined corridor and then you can have tremendous success.

Mr Stevenson

  18. By definition these systems take quite some time to gestate, ten years or so. If we take the position we are in now and look at the systems that have been applied over the years in different areas and cast our minds back ten years, we see that that was when road passenger transport was thrown into all sorts of chaos by deregulation and privatisation. That chaos may be sorting itself out a bit now. Has that had any effect in your view on the success or otherwise of the systems you can think of, and if road passenger public transport is now sorting itself out and becoming more attractive, is this likely to have some effect on the success or otherwise in the future of the systems that you know about?
  (Mr Depledge) Our view is we would need to move forward from where we are today and there are clear signs of the creation of a second policy framework coming up. The Transport Bill will give us a steer and the development of local transport plans will allow the work to be done at a local level. We are able to see, for example, joint ticketing initiatives coming up between light rail operators and bus operators throughout the country. The key feature as we see it is that it is possible to move from where we are now with a great deal of optimism to saying that we are going to be able to deliver on the sort of agenda the Government is looking for.

  19. There appears to be evidence to suggest that some of the systems, the Sheffield one and others, have attracted the majority of their passengers from existing bus services, a significant number from car use, which is the object of the exercise presumably; in other words, we are transferring public transport users from one mode to another rather than tackling the real problem which is how do we get people out of their private cars onto other modes of transport?
  (Mr Depledge) CPT views all developments which increase the number of public transport users with some satisfaction and pleasure. We are an organisation which represents bus and light rail operators and we believe that the fact that there may have been some transfer between one type of vehicle and another is not the most significant issue. The most significant issue is the success which buses and light rail schemes can have in increasing passenger numbers and attracting them from the private car. As you rightly point out, that is the key thing we want to look for.

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