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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 319)



  300. Is it the same with Transdev?
  (Mr Perin) Yes. If I may add, this quality partnership with the local authorities is vital for bringing quality into public transport. Our other area of work is integration of the network where probably the local authorities cannot bring that alone, and when I speak about integration I speak about integration between cars in carparks and public transport, integration in through-ticketing agreements, integration between modes, between cycles and light rail, for instance. This involves probably far more than just the local authorities, it involves other operators as well, it involves highway authorities and a number of different authorities, and all these people need to work together to raise quality.

  301. Is there any scheme for light transit railways to be introduced into the areas where you are running buses at the present time? Have you any schemes for the LRT to be introduced?
  (Mr Buchan) In our case, Chairman, we are certainly keen to get involved in discussions in any areas where local authorities have ideas for light rail transit and for new guided busways.


  302. But no specific one at the moment?
  (Mr Buchan) We are talking about this in Portsmouth, Bristol, and we are very much involved in CERT in Edinburgh which is a new guided busway out to the airport. There are others in the pipeline as well but those are the three most advanced at the moment.
  (Mr Buckley) We are of course involved in Nottingham. We have also been advising Hampshire County Council about Portsmouth's operational needs for about three years. We are very interested in that scheme and we are committed to developing light rail wherever we feel there is a need and we can justify it.

Mr Donohoe

  303. Do you think you are brought in early enough in the development of any of these projects?
  (Mr Buckley) We worked both in Nottingham and in Croydon with the project development groups which came together quite early on in those projects, and certainly in those two projects the operators were involved early on but other projects have lacked operator input early in their concept phase.

  304. Part of that development, one assumes, is to study the viability of putting anything like this into place. Earlier we heard of an experience where there has been an increased traffic loading of some 30 per cent. Outside London, what is your experience, if any, and do you analyse the social mix of the passenger that you expect to have?
  (Mr Buckley) Certainly we have worked on analysing Birmingham, from the point of view of bidder, and Nottingham and Croydon of course. You tend to look at where you see the patronage coming from—existing bus users, car users, increments from development exercises—and you tend to look at it that way rather than from the point of view of, if you like, the economic structure of the passenger mix.

  305. So what evidence do you have that you are taking people out of the car and putting them on to these services?
  (Mr Buckley) You survey it afterwards. You do your estimates beforehand and then you survey it.

  306. What is your experience of that? Have you any experience, or has Firstgroup any experience, in introducing any of these schemes that there is a transfer of people?
  (Mr Buckley) Yes. We have four schemes which we have introduced in France where we know what has—


  307. They are?
  (Mr Buckley) Strasbourg, Nantes, Grenoble and Toulouse.
  (Mr Perin) And we are building three more in Montpelier, Orléans and Rennes. The kind of evidence you are probably looking for is in the park-and-ride system in Strasbourg, where we started a park-and-ride system, where people effectively do park their car and jump on the light rail system. We started with something like 500 car spaces in a specific place. We have had to extend this to 2,000 car parks because on Saturday morning, for instance, the place is so crowded by people leaving their cars and going shopping to the city centre with LRT. That gives real evidence of the success of this switch from car to tram.
  (Mr Buckley) This switch is not just dependent on putting a light rail scheme in and providing a carpark, it is very dependent on what the local authorities do in the city centre in introducing pedestrianised ways and affecting the number of carparking spaces in the city centre. It is not just transport actions.
  (Mr Hendy) Can I go back to the start of the original question which was, is the operator involved early enough? I think your colleague was referring to a stage of development in these schemes before they are put out for private/public sector partnerships. We do believe there is a case when that is done to separate the selection of the operator from the whole consortium and that is simply because the operator, together with the public authority, whoever is promoting the scheme, has generally a much longer time frame of interest in it than the people who merely construct it and equip it. I think you have already heard other evidence to suggest that some of the public authorities promoting these schemes in the future will look at them in that way, which is that it may be beneficial for the long-term health of the scheme to select the winning consortium, as it were, in two bites.

  308. What is the difference between these sorts of schemes in terms of what has already been given to us as evidence in terms of the numbers you can actually extract from the cars to ride on these types of services against that of the bus industry itself? We have heard in the past evidence to suggest it is very difficult, what would your experience be given that Firstgroup has operated that as well?
  (Mr Hendy) I think the evidence that Ian has given you is about substantial traffic generation, drawing people out of their cars in schemes where guided busways and other bus priorities are sufficient to give real priority, real reliability and real increases in speed. All of our efforts now have concentrated on getting these improvements—bus priorities, guided busways—where it is justified on corridors which are long enough and have enough people on them to make some real changes to people's perception of public transport. Where that is done, and you can do what has been done in Leeds and elsewhere, the differences will not be very different from the effects of light rail in those cases.

  309. That is where you are using things like the O-Bahn as guided bus routes and whatever else?
  (Mr Hendy) Yes.

  310. Has Firstgroup found any distinguishing differences between these sorts of schemes and trying to get people out of their cars and into ordinary buses? We have heard evidence in the past which suggests you have not had any success whatsoever in getting people into your £80,000 bus.
  (Mr Hendy) I think the case is that we do have evidence that on perfectly normal bus corridors with good quality vehicles, with well-trained staff and with sufficient bus priorities in congested areas to get the bus reliably past jams, there is passenger generation. It is clear from earlier answers to your colleagues that both guided buses and light rail add something more because they are something special, but there is not any doubt that a well-presented bus service can make some shift and we have evidence of that.
  (Mr Buchan) On the premium routes we have introduced—and as I have mentioned we have 1,500 of the new specification vehicles, with a flat floor, a low floor and all the other features I mentioned—on every occasion where we have put them on what I would call a premium route, we have had passenger growth.

  311. I am sorry to interrupt but what I am trying to do—and I maybe doing it in the wrong way—is find out if you analyse social mix. Are you pulling people out of cars or are you growing your business on the basis of existing passengers doing more journeys?
  (Mr Buchan) Every case is different, but we have had growth on these routes from something like 7 per cent to 20 per cent. On the surveys we have done, something between a third and a half of that increase has been from people we have attracted out of cars.

  Mr Donohoe: Excellent. Thank you.

Dr Ladyman

  312. The Committee recently visited Adelaide and I was very impressed by the O-Bahn system, and I would be interested in hearing from both groups of witnesses how you see the strengths and weaknesses of an O-Bahn system versus a light rail system. In particular, can somebody give me some help as to in what circumstances the light rail system would be considered to be more cost effective than something like an O-Bahn, which I would guess would be a lot cheaper in terms of construction and rail costs?
  (Mr Perin) Each of the modes has its pros and cons; capacity, costs in capital and bus operation, speed and environmental effect are different in both cases. If you want to run in the core of the city and if you need to carry more than 5,000 people in a peak hour then you need a light rail system. You just cannot achieve it with guided buses. If you are in the range of 3,000 people per peak hour, then you are just at the edge of having guided buses instead of a light rail system. So capacity is the first item; cost, indeed the capital cost of guided buses is far below, in the range of 70 per cent of building a light rail system, let us say £10 million per kilometre for a light rail system and £7 million for a guided bus system[2].

  (Mr Buchan) It is how long is a piece of string because it depends how much guideway you need to get the improvements in service. In the guideway that we are building now on the East Leeds corridor out to York Road there will be relatively short stretches of guideway which are designed to get the bus around pinch-points, around bottlenecks, and that scheme is going to cost £10 million and the operators, ourselves and Arriva working together, are putting half of that money forward for the infrastructure, and in addition we will put state of the art new vehicles in. So that has cost £10 million. To build an LRT from end to end on that section would probably cost, I would think, at current prices about £160 million, so you can see there is a very significant difference.

  313. Can you just clarify that for me? £10 million buys you how many metres of guided busway and what is the total length of the route?
  (Mr Buchan) The routes vary because they fan out, but I would say the longest route out from the centre of Leeds is something like six miles. Of course, the other advantage of the guideway is that the vehicles using the guideway and getting the benefits of the shorter journey times can fan out at the far end and serve six or seven estates. You would never put LRT tracks into all those six or seven estates, you could not justify the cost of that. The latest figures in terms of what it would cost for a kilometre of guideway, although you would never have those sort of sections, is in the region of half a million pounds or something like that, very much below what it would cost for LRT. But it all depends on how many of the services underneath you have to move, what land is available and so on. The key about the guideway in the way we are using it at the moment in Leeds is that it is not end-to-end like Adelaide, you simply build stretches where you have the land round the bottlenecks and you put traffic signals in to get the bus to the front of the queue of queuing traffic all the time, so at every pinch-point the bus goes straight to the front of the queue. In the Leeds guideway system it means from end-to-end, which is about five miles, we can do the journey in exactly the same time at major peak times as we can at off-peak, therefore they are getting a faster journey, it is reliable and the bus end-to-end at peak is faster than anybody could to it in a car.

  314. Is that using very much the same technology as the Adelaide system?
  (Mr Buchan) Yes, it is exactly the same.


  315. The thing is, however, of course if you reverse the pattern and you run your buses in the same number into the centre of Leeds, you lose the advantage of the bus, do you not? Because if you have clogged up the centre, if you have brought them off the guideway at a certain point to put them into the centre, you would have an effect upon the traffic in the centre of Leeds, would you not?
  (Mr Buchan) This is where Leeds City Council and the PTE work hand-in-glove. In the centre of Leeds we have an inner core around the central area which is bus only and there is another section immediately around the next set of roads which is for circular car traffic, so the bus has access across the outer ring which is ordinary traffic into a central ring around the central area which is buses and delivery only.

  316. So when we are looking carefully at the calculations for light rail versus buses and guided bus versus straight forward, we would have to do some kind of calculation for the amount of money which the local authority is spending on alternative traffic arrangements?
  (Mr Buchan) Yes.

  317. I am not going to say that that would not also apply to light rail, but when we are doing the costings we would have to bear in mind the reason that that system works is because the local authority is prepared to plan ahead and do the extra work on the core centre of Leeds as well?
  (Mr Buchan) Yes, but that is done for the benefit of the shopkeepers and all the bus network and the car users as well.

  318. Yes.
  (Mr Buchan) It is not just for guided buses.

Mr Bennett

  319. How crucial is housing density to making any of these systems work? It does appear that in most of the European cities where tramways work well, housing densities are much higher than here.
  (Mr Hendy) If you are talking about light rail and tramways, all of the evidence is that you need large existing volumes of traffic to be able to get an economic justification for either and—both now—public and private funding. So you do need relatively high volumes of housing and you need relatively high volumes of existing usage but that is not mutually exclusive, you can suck in still more people out of their cars. When the Committee were in Croydon you will have seen on the eastern side of Croydon that that system will serve very large areas of high density housing, which is where it will get its baseload of traffic volume.
  (Mr Perin) I would like to say that the cities in France which are building light rail systems are cities with 200, 300,000 inhabitants, which are not so dense probably than the British 600,000 or 700,000 inhabitants. On the main corridor I think there is evidence that the LRT itself can be very efficient. Grenoble has 400,000 inhabitants and the LRT system which is a two lines system carries 45 per cent of the total network—bus, tram and trolley bus.

2   Note by Witness: Capital costs of guided buses are far below that of light rail systems, as described, but cost of operation per passenger carried is lower for a light rail system than for a guided bus system. Back

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