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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)




  120. Mr Donald, would you like to say something?
  (Mr Donald) Thank you, Chair, yes. In the West Midlands we have been developing for some years now what we call the bus showcase network, which is upgrading all aspects of the bus service.

  121. A what showcase?
  (Mr Donald) A bus showcase. That improves all aspects of the bus passenger experience—real-time information at the bus stop, shelters, docking facilities, bus priorities along the whole route, and indeed brand new buses that are low-floor, etc, and customer-care trained drivers—nearly everything you can think of in bringing together best practice in terms of bus travel quality. Whilst that has been greatly successful in terms of driving up patronage on these bus services, and, indeed, the modernised bus corridors themselves—20 to 30 per cent increases have been achieved—very little of that has actually come from cars; you are talking about relatively negligible numbers, 1 or 2 per cent, coming out of their cars and into that quality bus service. If we contrast that with Midland Metro, which is only recently opened and, therefore, early days, already 15 per cent of the passengers on the Midland Metro system that runs between Wolverhampton and Birmingham have been attracted out of their cars. So I think that is the evidence we have got. As Mr Mulligan said, we have got to go through this exercise, showing that this product is a more cost-effective product than what appeared, on the face of it, to be cheaper alternatives. Therefore, that is what the evidence told us beforehand, and now the practice is telling us that as well.

Mr Stevenson

  122. Could I press you a little more on this passenger modal switch, or shift? When Mr Mulligan was talking the word he used was "reckon" about 2.5 million, which suggests it was a bit of a guess.
  (Mr Mulligan) No, it was based on studies undertaken.

  123. Those were the words you used. I would like you to be a bit more specific. I think you said about 20 per cent.
  (Mr Mulligan) Yes.

  124. Mr Donald, I think you said about 15 per cent. What I am interested in is the model split, or transfer, between pedestrian, car and bus. Could you give us some idea—in the passengers you anticipated or the passengers you have actually got—of how many of those came from pedestrian, how many came from car and, more importantly, how many transferred from bus?
  (Mr Mulligan) I can give you, through you, Chair, statistics relating to Phase 1 of Manchester Metrolink. We estimate 80 per cent of the trips transferred from existing public transport, which is a relatively high proportion. However, if you recall, what was involved was a conversion of two existing railway lines, therefore we had a passenger base to begin with. I said about 20 per cent, but if I can correct myself, about 19 per cent were conversions from car to Metrolink and about 1 per cent for pedestrians.

  125. So that I do not misunderstand this, something like 80 per cent of the passengers that you attracted came from existing public transport.
  (Mr Mulligan) That is correct, but I would just, again, stress, that in terms of the evaluation by the Treasury, which is extremely stringent, the passengers are far more likely, because of a fixed rail system like this, to stay with it, in terms of reliability and punctuality.
  (Mr Donald) The early West Midlands experience is that 2 per cent came from walk or cycle and just under 25 per cent were actually generated—they were trips that previously were not made at all. In terms, therefore, of the public transport share, that is of the order of 55 per cent[1] of the numbers were travelling on buses.

  (Mr Wicks) For completeness, I will give you the South Yorkshire picture. As I indicated, 22 per cent of the passengers (this is the September 1999 picture on the Sheffield system) were former car drivers or passengers, 57 per cent came from bus, 10 per cent came from other modes, which is basically walking and cycling and another 10 per cent were people who had not made trips before.


  126. Have you got any figures that are different from those?
  (Mr Scales) Through you, Chair, we were predicting 16 per cent for our MRT scheme, and to do that we did a lot of stated preference surveys so we had a whole wadge of information that I would gladly share with the Committee, together with a road map so you do not have to read all of it. We are taking 16 per cent from cars.
  (Mr Mulligan) Chair, would it be helpful if we collated our data?

  Chairman: That would be very helpful.

Mr Stevenson

  127. I realise this is complicated, and an update would be useful, but just taking your responses at face value you can see the point that I want to make to you: that it appears, with this considerable investment—and you remember there were difficulties of timescale and all the rest of it, which we accept and understand—a reasonable proposition that the majority of the passengers you have attracted or anticipated, or both, have transferred from existing public transport facilities. Would you say that is a fair point?
  (Mr Mulligan) I would say the statistics bear that interpretation. Through you, Chair, I would qualify it by saying that if you look at the Manchester Metrolink when it was a British Rail line to Altrincham, it was carrying something of the order of 7 million passengers a year. We are now carrying something of the order of 14 million passengers a year, which means there is far more intensive use by existing public transport users because of the attractiveness of the system as well as major modal switch.

  128. I used to work in public transport; I am not an expert like yourselves but I think I know a little about it. However, the point that interests me, certainly, and, I am sure, the Committee, is that the Government is seeking to promote a transport policy that actually attracts people from their cars. What you seem to have achieved is attracting people from buses. I am going to be kicked if I labour this, and I do understand it is complicated, but it seems to me from the answers you have given and the reaction you give that that is a fair proposition, albeit a general one.
  (Mr Mulligan) Can I make just one comment, through you, Chair, and other colleagues may wish to comment. There is an assumption that, which is one that I debate quite frequently with bus operators in Greater Manchester, that there is a finite public transport market. There is no such thing. If Metrolink demonstrates anything it is that given the opportunity to travel—and I mentioned demand forecasters earlier and the errors they had made in patterns for people's behaviour—there is no such thing as a finite travel demand for public transport. Give the people the opportunity to use bus, guided bus, light rail—provided the market niche is right—they will choose to use public transport over their other modes of transport. Therefore, it is correct to say that 80 per cent have come from public transport, but at the same time the generation of extra patronage on Metrolink, in my opinion, generates business for other modes such as rail, where there is interchange, and bus as well. So I can see, over time, that the whole of the public transport business, which is what we are in, will generate additional patronage over and above, because we are targeting market segments and types of market which have not been targeted before.

  Chairman: I do not want this to become a debate.

Dr Ladyman

  129. You have said you are going to collate this data for us, and I am very grateful for that, but I wonder if you would also let us have copies of cost-benefit analysis that you have done.
  (Mr Mulligan) Certainly.

  130. Perhaps you would comment a little on that now. The schemes that were described largely share roads with motorcars. Am I correct in that?
  (Mr Mulligan) Light rail schemes can either be converted railway lines or they can be segregated on the highway.

  131. The Sheffield scheme is sharing roads.
  (Mr Mulligan) Yes.

  132. Under those circumstances, the cost of putting in priority bus lanes and buying buses is so low compared with the cost of your schemes that I just find it incredible to believe that you can really do a cost-benefit analysis and come out ahead of it with your scheme.
  (Mr Mulligan) Through you, Chair, the DETR and the Treasury are not softies, believe me, when it comes to public expenditure of this order.

  133. Perhaps not if there are marginal seats involved.
  (Mr Mulligan) In Manchester there are not many marginal seats involved. The point I am making is that—


  134. I do not think the Treasury is too good on the concept of marginal seats, but I am glad to hear your assurance that I am wrong.
  (Mr Mulligan) In terms of cost-benefit analysis we must demonstrate, to the Treasury's satisfaction, that we have examined all viable alternatives. Those alternatives are bus priority, as you mention, they are guided bus or any other system which the Treasury and the DETR want us to compare with. I can let this Committee have statistics which demonstrate that in terms of social cost-benefit relationships on all the schemes that we are currently promoting in Greater Manchester, those schemes come out better than the alternatives, and very shortly I expect to get confirmation from DETR and Treasury that they accept that case. Without going into the technicalities of social cost-benefit analysis—and of course we do not rule out guided bus and we do not rule out bus priority, we think it has an important role to play—the two main issues which we have to address are the numbers of people who need to be carried on a mass transit system and the capacity which exists. This is the thing that tends to favour light rail over bus. You are quite right that a bus is cheap, relatively, to a tram, but in terms of the number of people it can move and the volumes it can move in, say, one hour in the peak period, you would be talking about hundreds of buses being required to replace one tram. That is, essentially, why the cost-benefit analyses, which are carefully scrutinised, are showing the results which they are.

Mr Donohoe

  135. The whole concept of light rapid transit systems, as far as I was concerned, was to take traffic off the road. However, on the basis of what you are saying, you are saying they are actually generating additional journeys because they are so good, and they are going to places that they were not before. That seems to fail the test that led to their introduction in the first place, does it not? Secondly, we heard evidence last week, when we were round and about, that there had been identification of this snobbishness attached to the whole question of being on a bus; that if you go on a bus you are not a business person, or whatever else. Is there anything in that?
  (Mr Mulligan) I will pass this on to colleagues, but one of the things we wanted to comment on is the fact that in current evaluation methodology regeneration is not taken into account. If you look at extensions in Greater Manchester, the airport extension will serve one of the most socially excluded and largest estates in the county, which is Wythenshawe. The East Manchester extension will go through a very heavily run-down area and require a regeneration in East Manchester. These are not just schemes for the well-off. One of the things that we are determined to do in the network with light rail schemes is that if you take places like Oldham, with very high unemployment levels in the inner borough wards and so on, a lot of the problems that these people have is getting about. It is strange, but it is true, that if you look at Wythenshawe, which is directly on the doorstep of Manchester Airport, access from Wythenshawe to the airport is rather more difficult than it is from the more affluent areas of Altrincham and Hale. So the elements of snobbishness—

Mr Gray

  136. You have got the wrong point. He is asking you whether or not you can get the business people, the middle-classes, off the roads and onto buses. You are getting it quite the wrong way round, if you do not mind my interfering.
  (Mr Mulligan) I think we do get motorists—

  Chairman: I think Mr Mulligan was clear.

Mr Gray

  137. He was answering the opposite question, Madam Chairman.
  (Mr Mulligan) I will put it two ways. The objectives of any light rail scheme have got to be to serve the economy (and we have done work in Greater Manchester which shows that Gross Domestic Product will increase quite sharply as a result of Metrolink extensions); to deal with the problems of congestion; to serve the environment, in terms of pollution and in terms of the effect of congestion of people's lives and, also, to tackle major problems of social exclusion. To that extent we want to provide a system which is not only attractive to the existing car owner but also serves to regenerate areas of the county which are desperately in need of regeneration as a consequence of industries which have declined over the past ten years.

Mr Donohoe

  138. Can I turn to another aspect which has been identified as a problem, which is the creation of the Strategic Rail Authority, and ask you what you think your future is?
  (Mr Mulligan) We have had detailed discussions, Chair, with officials from the DETR. You will recall that when we gave evidence on the Railways Bill we were concerned that the powers granted to the Strategic Rail Authority on the interpretation of the clauses in the Bill would have, effectively, allowed them to take over Metrolink or light rail schemes in the metropolitan counties. Subsequently, the officials have made it quite clear that that is not the intention; the intention is, I think, quite sensible, and that is that the Strategic Rail Authority may find it opportune in certain parts of the country, where you have a very heavy loss-making railway, to convert it to light rail, rather in the manner of our Oldham and Rochdale extension, where the station has moved away from the epicentre of the town centre activity. We understand that there will be no change in the relationship between the DETR and the metropolitan counties over light rail schemes, and, further, that Ministers are going to clarify this in the Standing Committee on the Bill.

  139. Therefore, you do not see the possibility of the whole question of light railway being overwhelmed by those with a heavy rail interest?
  (Mr Mulligan) I would say that my fears, and those of my colleagues, have been very substantially allayed by the officials within DETR and the ministerial statement which is promised.
  (Mr Donald) If I can just add a more positive point to that as well, in the West Midlands we are looking at track sharing, and we see an opportunity for re-opening a line for freight. In that sense I think we welcome a body coming in that is going to have that strategic and long-term view about how one develops all aspects of rail.

1   Note by Witness: Taking into account the 15 per cent transfer from car already mentioned. Back

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