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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320 - 337)



  320. How significant is the stop frequency? My impression is that most bus system stops are much more frequent than on most tram systems. Really should we be measuring different systems with stop frequencies rather than the different systems? As I understand it, even with the Leeds one, on those bits of guided route the frequency of the bus stops will be less than it would have been on the traditional bus routes.
  (Mr Buchan) That is the case but they are more frequent than would be the case with an LRT system. So it is an intermediate position with a guided bus.

  321. Does that stop frequency affect the people who use it? If you are elderly, if you have small children with you, you do need stops fairly frequently, you do not want to walk very far, so should bus and light rapid be considered as complementary or competitive?
  (Mr Buchan) Again it is horses for courses, but certainly there are cases where if the stop distances with an LRT scheme are going to be fairly wide, then it is possible you would need some residual bus service to cater for people who cannot really walk the distance to get to an LRT stop, or you would need some form of complementary bus service which was feeding people into the LRT stops.
  (Mr Hendy) If I may say, there is some practicality involved because, as you have seen, modern LRT cars are quite long, they are very large, and both in on-street applications and elsewhere you have to be practical about how often you stop them and what the effects of that are.

  322. I understand the practicalities and they must be, but we are spending a lot of time looking at the different traction systems and what I am weighing up is, is it more important to look at stop frequency rather than looking at traction systems?
  (Mr Hendy) The truth is that all of the existing and proposed UK systems will co-exist with bus services doing parallel things because there clearly is a market for closer stop densities for bus services.

  323. Am I particularly odd in that I have been coming down to London for many years and I can cope with the underground network fairly well, I can just about cope with changing on the rail systems to the south of London, but I find it still very difficult to work out journeys which involve me changing buses within London? Is it really true that somehow bus plans just do not work, yet in so many cities there seem to be underground or light rail systems where you have a map on the wall and it seems to be something you can understand very quickly?
  (Mr Hendy) If we take the position outside London, which is easier for us to comment on, we are currently in the major towns and cities we serve looking at a concept called the "overground", which is to pick out relatively frequent, high density bus routes and put them on a map in an understandable manner in the manner of an underground map, and to say to our passengers, "These routes will not change for a significant period of time" in order to make a complex bus network easier. But the trouble is you cannot have it both ways because one of the strengths of the bus is that it is able to penetrate into many areas. The bus network in London and other major cities is of necessity very dense because the population is dense and demand is dense, so you have to be a bit careful that you do not destroy one of the principal strengths of the bus.

  324. You are saying you have just started doing it as far as maps for buses are concerned? Why has it not been done much earlier?
  (Mr Buchan) We have done quite a lot of publicity. What we are now trying to do is very much significantly improve that. I think we would have to accept that we have not been very good at marketing our services in the past.

Mr Forsythe

  325. Are you saying that there should be a central operation in the centre of a city and there should be a different type of system coming in to that centre? In Melbourne they have a continuous tram system which runs round the centre continually—it is free incidentally—but the other trams and other vehicles go over and bypass it. That seemed to be an ideal system because it is very convenient, it takes you anywhere in the centre of the city and you can get on to it at any point, bearing in mind there has to be a space in between the stops. Do you think that would be the ideal type of system?
  (Mr Buchan) In a number of areas we do have what we call a city centre hopper which does do that job. I have to say they are not free in most cases.


  326. That comes as a considerable surprise to us, Mr Buchan!
  (Mr Buchan) But they are very reasonably priced!

  327. That is not quite the same thing.
  (Mr Buchan) No.

Mr Donohoe

  328. As Mr Forsythe has said, in the middle of Melbourne it is free to ride on these things, what capital monies do you get, if any, from either local authorities or national government? What monies in any of these schemes do you get from the public purse?
  (Mr Buchan) On average our network is 85 per cent supported by the fare box. In most areas there is a provision whereby the local authority or the PTE will put services out to tender—late evening, early morning or whatever—where we are unable to provide a commercial service. But, in the main, 85 per cent of our operation is commercial. As far as the new schemes are concerned, these are usually done through local authority quality partnerships which we have. There we will operate the service commercially and we will provide state of the art vehicles, the local authority normally through the local transport plans from Government will provide the infrastructure improvements—the guideway or the bus priority measures, bus shelters and so on—but in certain cases where we feel it is justified we will even give a contribution to that. As I explained, in the Leeds York Road corridor we are putting £5 million into the infrastructure, we are putting £1 million into the infrastructure in a guideway in Bradford, and we have a whole series of other proposals under what we call twin track where we will contribute in the right circumstances not only to the fleet of vehicles but to the infrastructure to help kick-start these schemes and get them off the ground.

  329. You have mentioned the £5 million and the £1 million, what was the total cost and what was apportioned to local government or national government?
  (Mr Buchan) In the East Leeds scheme the operators are putting £5 million into the infrastructure out of a £10 million project, so it is half. In the Bradford scheme we are putting at the moment £1 million into a £7 million scheme. In the other schemes where we are putting in, it varies between a contribution which might be 10 per cent but in some cases it can be up to 50 per cent.

  330. What do you have to do to take that investment in terms of the franchise, if any? If another operator came along, would you accept they would be able to run on that system?
  (Mr Buchan) We have to. That is the current climate. We have no problem with that. On the East Leeds scheme, ourselves and Arriva will use it, we have put £5 million in, if other operators come along they can use it.


  331. I want to ask you what potential there is in the metropolitan areas for converting existing heavy rail into light rail?
  (Mr Hendy) There is some. One of the schemes we regard as being a pretty good is a scheme in Bristol which uses part of a railway alignment. The proposal there is that were it to go ahead then an extra two tracks would be shared between light and heavy rail. That seems quite practicable.

  332. Mr Buckley?
  (Mr Buckley) I think there are one or two difficulties converting heavy rail to light rail. One of them is that the stop distances are much greater on heavier rail, so you have got to infill for it to be a true light rail. There is the difficulty of the platform heights as well. So there are cost implications which are not immediately apparent.

  333. You are assuming that that would be heavy rail in the sense of an existing system still being in place, but that would not apply, for example, if you had a line where there had been a heavy rail but it had been cleared.
  (Mr Buckley) That is true, like Midland Metro.

  334. So you do see that it would be quite possible but it would have all sorts of difficulties?
  (Mr Buckley) There are difficulties. The stops tend to be more remote from the places where people live than the road which a tram could run on.

  335. Are some of the routes presently operated by levy rail franchises better and more cost-effectively served if it is done by light rail?
  (Mr Buchan) I think there are opportunities there, yes.

  Chairman: I want now, finally, to allow Miss McIntosh to ask you one specific question and then we will allow you to escape.

Miss McIntosh

  336. This is a question to Firstgroup, being an avid admirer of Transdev's excellent services in Strasbourg in my previous life. Firstgroup have a fine network of bus services now into York from the outskirts which, regrettably, have been severely cut thereby reducing the numbers of people that would normally take public transport. Can you give an undertaking that if they were to establish similar services using light transit rail they will not cut them at some future date?
  (Mr Buchan) Yes, we can. As far as the changes to the services are concerned, in every case these are negotiations with the local authorities and in many cases where we have had problems like this these will be tendered services where the local authorities are short of money. Having said that, in York we are growing the network, we are growing the patronage. It is growing at between seven and ten per cent per month this year compared with previous years. So we are growing the network and we have other plans for development in York. I think the specific points which you raise have related to the tendered network which has been the subject of discussions with the council in York.


  337. Thank you very much. Gentlemen, you have been extremely kind and very generous of your time and very helpful. Merci mon cher Monsieur Perin. Vous êtes le bienvenue. Au moins. Vous avez parlé au Parlement. Merci.
  (Mr Perin) Merci infiniment, Madame La Présidente.

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