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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280 - 299)

WEDNESDAY 1 MARCH 2000

MR IAN BUCHAN, MR PETER HENDY, MR FRANCOIS-XAVIER PERIN AND MR NICK BUCKLEY

  280. What about the bus show case routes like the West Midlands one? Have they got more people out of their cars?
  (Mr Buchan) I am not familiar with the West Midlands operation, but certainly where we have put high quality services in with modern vehicles we have certainly attracted some passengers out of cars, yes.
  (Mr Buckley) That is also true in Nottingham where we are working with the local bus company on the Nottingham light rail project. Their park-and-ride sites from the outskirts into the city have improved the patronage and have converted car users to public transport.

  281. Is it quite as dramatic as the figure you gave us before?
  (Mr Buckley) No.

  282. But it is marked?
  (Mr Buckley) Yes, it is marked.

  283. It is a percentage?
  (Mr Buckley) Yes, they are parking around 400,000, 500,000 cars a year.

  Chairman: That is very good.

Mr Stevenson

  284. I want to question you both please about this transfer of mode from car to public transport, light rapid transport and so on. Although I hear what you say, we have received evidence which suggests that displacement of travel mode in LRT systems tends to be from existing public transport users in the main rather than car users. There is a significant body of evidence we have received to suggest that. Is it not the case therefore that perhaps the novelty of light rapid transit or guided bus is an attraction in itself to people who used to use cars rather than what may still be an out-dated image of the conventional bus?
  (Mr Buchan) Yes, I would agree with that. Certainly we have people who are using the guided bus network in Leeds who regard it as a different product from standard bus services, because of the quality of the vehicles we are using, because of the general policies we have applied which we now of course are seeking to develop and expand across the network. So certainly I would agree with you that people do perceive these quality services differently.

  285. What needs to be done then to make the conventional bus rather more attractive?
  (Mr Buchan) In our case, what we are doing is we are spending £80 to £100 million a year on new vehicles of the latest specifications—low floor, individual seats, green engines, high quality heating and ventilation systems, scope for buggies to be kept assembled and all these sorts of things. We have got about 1,500 in our fleet now out of a total of some 10,000 buses in the UK. Wherever we have put them, we have always attracted growth.

  286. Are you doing that, Mr Buchan, as Firstgroup where there is LRT in place or are you doing it in the main where it is not in place?
  (Mr Buchan) We are doing it in the main where LRT is not in place. We are doing it in all the major conurbations.

  287. The point I am getting at is that there seems to be evidence developing that LRT and conventional buses do not see themselves in competition. They say, "We will leave LRT alone, you leave conventional buses alone", but at the net end of it we are not attracting the sort of car users to public transport which is necessary as a whole. Is there a conflict of objectives between LRT provision and conventional bus?

  (Mr Buchan) No. There is, in my view, a horses for courses argument. There are corridors in major cities which lend themselves to LRT operations, mainly where you have very high passenger flows, where we have a lot of people who live adjacent to the corridor, a lot of people who want to travel to attractions like business schools and leisure facilities adjacent to the corridor. Where you have the very heavy passenger flows, either existing or potential out of cars, then there is a case for LRT.

  288. One last question to Mr Perin. How was the Strasbourg light rail system financed? I had the delight of riding on it just after it was completed. How was it financed?
  (Mr Perin) It is a mixed economy company which means a privately-run company which is shared between the public authority and the private sector.

  289. To what degree? What percentage?
  (Mr Perin) It is a concessionaire of the level. So 60 per cent of the shares are owned by public authorities and the remaining 40 per cent are owned by private partners including Transdev; the main one being Transdev. This company is a concessionaire for the whole network which includes the tram and bus networks.

  290. For how many years?
  (Mr Perin) For 30 years. Certainly my experience of running a full network where trams and buses and trolley buses are operating together is that taking the people out of their car is not really a matter of mode, it is rather a matter of speed, comfort and fare, and I would say the fare is the last thing. So if the speed is brought into an inner corridor by LRT, then you can get the people out of their car onto the LRT. If it is a bus and if the bus is going faster than the car, then you can get the people on the bus out of their car.

  291. How much of the operating costs in Strasbourg come out of the fare?
  (Mr Perin) I think the last figures show that more than 30 per cent of the passengers were people coming from cars.

  292. No. How much of the operating cost in Strasbourg and the whole network comes out of the fare box and how much is subsidised from the public purse?
  (Mr Perin) The range in France is 50 per cent. In Strasbourg the case is slightly different because the concessionaire bears all risk, which is operation risk as well as construction risk, so capital costs as well as operating costs[1].

Chairman

  293. But the public authorities in that case, Mr Perin, are what? Are you talking about national ones?
  (Mr Perin) No, county council and council.

  294. And the local mayoralty?
  (Mr Perin) Yes.
  (Mr Hendy) Could I just add one thing to what you have just heard? The other major feature which makes a huge difference in passenger generation in these innovative schemes, both guided bus and light rail, is reliability. It is not only speed but reliability. The features of the Leeds scheme which Ian Buchan has described to you and the other guided bus schemes all afford the bus considerably more reliability than it would have on the public highway without protected priorities.

Mr O'Brien

  295. How many bus services use the guided busways in Leeds?
  (Mr Buchan) At the moment we have got one corridor with guided bus and we have about 30 buses on there which cover about six routes. At the moment, together with the—

  296. How many companies?
  (Mr Buchan) We are the principal user of the guided busway in Leeds. There is one other service which runs up some of the corridor but it is not guided and it comes a longer distance route. We are now starting, together with West Yorkshire PTE and Leeds District Council, to build a second guideway on the York Road corridor and that will be jointly involving ourselves and Arriva, but in each case the guideway is open to any operator who wishes to use it. It is up to them to register a service and they can use it completely free of charge. All they have to do is to equip the vehicles with the little guides.

  297. What is the situation in Nottingham as regards the negotiations taking place with the local authority with a view to giving priority to buses? Is there just one company involved?
  (Mr Buckley) No. Running in from the outskirts where they have bus lanes there are two companies involved—Nottingham City Transport and Trent; Trent and Barton which is the same group. Both use the bus lanes and with bus lanes there is a marked improvement in reliability.

  298. The Deputy Prime Minister is on record as saying he insists there should be more people using public transport, particularly in towns and cities, and not just in London and the larger cities outside London but in all the urban areas too. If we are going to have this kind of thing, we need quality partnership and voluntary arrangements. Do you see any difficulties with voluntary arrangements with local authorities and the county councils?
  (Mr Buchan) We have now got thirty umbrella agreements with either county councils or metropolitan PTEs. We have got—I think the latest number is—41 corridor agreements with local authorities for improvements jointly on corridors into major conurbations. In some cases we are prepared to contribute to the infrastructure costs as well as simply providing a state of the art, modern fleet of vehicles, and we have found that these schemes to date have worked extremely successfully. Everybody is working with the same aim in mind. There have been very high levels of co-operation between the operators and the local authorities and county authorities where necessary, and we have not experienced any problem whatsoever in progressing these sorts of schemes.

  299. What if some other company wanted to take advantage of the commercial development now that we have deregulation?
  (Mr Buchan) As far as we are concerned, that is fully acceptable. We realise on guideways or whatever we have no exclusivity at all. Any other operator can come along and can get involved.


1   Note by witness: It is interesting for the purpose of the enquiry to point out that the light rail system in Strasbourg is profitable and covers more than the operating costs. The operation of buses, especially socially necessary services, is at a high cost and is therefore covered by subsidies provided by the City Council and the County Council Back


 
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