Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520-537)
MS CLAIRE TYLER, MS LOUISE DOMINIAN AND MR RAVI GURUMURTHY
TUESDAY 21 MAY 2002
520. I am not arguing with you, Mr Gurumurthy, it is important that we move forwards rather than backwards. What I am saying to you is how long is it going to take you to make this evaluation?
(Mr Gurumurthy) It does depend on if and when a Quality Contract comes about. I think it is possible fairly soon after that gets implemented to understand what the operating costs are, where the subsidy has gone, what has happened to the actual overall network frequency. One of the things we are trying to look at is the idea of within accessibility planning you have year on year benchmarks so you can actually track progress year on year and have evaluation routinely rather than with one-off studies.
Chairman: That takes care of your career for the next 20 years.
521. How important is it for local authorities to be able to influence fare levels?
(Mr Gurumurthy) Clearly fares are a big issue. Fares have gone up by 30 per cent since 1985, they have gone up faster than benefit levels, they have gone up faster than motoring costs. They are an issue. I think it is important that we must ensure that fares do not present a barrier to getting to places. One of the issues we have looked at is whether the restrictions on which concessionary fare you can apply to different client groups can be removed, so that is one issue that we have identified within the interim report.
522. Why do we not just cut through all theI will not use that wordwaffle and say that subsidising fares, as happens in many countries in the rest of the Europe, actually works in increasing bus use and getting people around urban areas? In South Yorkshire we know that that worked in the 1970s and 980s. Should we not go back to that system?
(Mr Gurumurthy) We do subsidise fares in some ways through fuel duty rebate and that obviously reduces the levels of fares. The question of whether that should be higher or not or whether it should be funded through a different mechanism is something that will have to be looked at in the Bus Review which is looking at the overall level of subsidy and the different subsidy mechanisms.
523. Do you believe that fares will only fall if the Government puts in comparative levels of funding as they do in Germany, France, the Netherlands, etc?
(Mr Gurumurthy) It is difficult to say. In some areas if you put in place effective bus Quality Partnerships and have properly well enforced bus lanes and bus priority measures and, as in London where you will see road pricing, you could start to see quite significant patronage increases which are the foundation for potentially reducing fare levels. I am not sure it is definitely the case that fare freezes are conditional on increased subsidy but it is a real question that Government has to ask over the next few months within the Spending Review and afterwards within the Bus Review about whether subsidy levels are delivering the right fares and frequencies.
524. Are there any other forms of transport apart from buses that can reduce social exclusion?
(Mr Gurumurthy) Yes, absolutely. We have seen some really good examples on the ground. Lincolnshire we cited as a good example where we have seen patronage go up by 112 per cent, unmet travel need fall by 14 per cent, based on semi-fixed routes and also some completely demand responsive services. We have also looked abroad. Gothenburg provides a very, very good example of a fully flexible demand responsive service that allows you to ring up within 15 minutes and have a service there and rings you back in an automated way to tell you whether it is on time or not.
525. There is not a lot of social exclusion in Gothenburg as far as I remember.
(Mr Gurumurthy) There are a lot of elderly people with mobility problems who struggle to get around. I think that does provide an important service, to be fair.
(Ms Tyler) Could I just add one further example which I think is relevant to the question you have just asked and that is a project which my colleagues came across in Shropshire called Wheels to Work scheme, which was all about finding innovative transport solutions to people who were not in work or in learning. By a combination of methods which include things like hiring out mopeds, helping people with the cost of driving lessons, helping people bring redundant vehicles back on the road, bike hire and that sort of thing, a very encouraging number of individuals accepted either full-time jobs, work placements or training because of this project. I think there is quite a wide range of transport solutions which can be applied to some of these social exclusion issues.
526. Those ideas are going down well in your Committee chaired by the Minister, are they?
(Ms Tyler) Certainly. I think the Minister, as far as I am aware, and I have not been there personally because I have just taken up post, has been very interested in these sorts of examples of innovative practice across the country and indeed abroad.
Chairman: I have no doubt the wider the better.
527. In some of the regions where there is a free transport scheme, have you any evidence of marginalised communities who live in the area but do not have access either to rail or buses, that they are marginalised further because of the difficulties that would pertain in terms of reclaiming their hospital travel, linked to the previous question? Is there any evidence of that?
(Mr Gurumurthy) We do not have any evidence that I can think of to hand but if we look through some of our research and surveys at a local level we might come up with something and we can supply a note on that.
Mr Campbell: If you could. Just a general question and if you do not want to answer this you do not have to.
Chairman: Do answer it. You are not here not to answer questions.
528. You have not heard the question yet. Do you think that a ten per cent increase in bus patronage is a feasible option under the 10 Year Plan?
(Mr Gurumurthy) I would like to answer it but I think it is quite a difficult question to answer. I just do not know, not having looked at the bus model to see exactly what the projections are. At the moment DTLR say they are on track, as you have heard, to hit that ten per cent target.
Chairman: You are definitely there for the next 20 years.
529. This 21 month lead-in time for Quality Contracts, it is rubbish, is it not?
(Mr Gurumurthy) One of the ideas under consideration is to reduce that 21 month period. I know Scotland has a much shorter period, I think it is around about six months. I think that is something that is under consideration.
530. You have convinced the Minister?
(Mr Gurumurthy) As I said, we published a report with some findings on the problem and some ideas that are under consideration. No decisions have been made yet but the firm decisions will be made in the context of the Bus Review in particular.
531. Can you explain the realities of competition. I am aware of an estate in Stockport where there are two operators and a variation between the weekly card which is fairly marginal expenditure, I think it is about 20 pence or something like that, yet neither of those operators puts a service on on Sunday morning before ten o'clock, so anyone who has to go to work from that estate before ten o'clock on Sunday, and a fair number do, probably have a £10 taxi fare to pay. Would it not be better to have a regulated service so that one has to provide a service on Sunday morning rather than this phoney competition with two smart cards competing against each other?
(Mr Gurumurthy) If they do not think it is in their commercial interest and they do not think they can make any money out of this service it therefore requires subsidy. If that is the case the local authority now could tender to the private sector and ask them to deliver this service and find out who can deliver it at the lowest cost. In a way that is no different from the Quality Contract argument but it just means you are tendering for the whole network rather than for specific routes.
532. Do you think that most of the local authorities providing transport really understand the problems of people who are in effect excluded from work almost because of where they live and the cost of getting to work?
(Mr Gurumurthy) That is one of the problems we have identified in the report. It is quite difficult to understand people's needs and local authorities perhaps have not been as good as they could be at identifying where do people need to get to. What might look like a shop on the map which is accessible might not be the shop they want to go to, they might want to go to the Aldi rather than Sainsbury's. It is very important that you consult communities and get to grips with what people need.
533. In effect someone on one of those estates might have to work for two hours for nothing just to pay their costs to get to work?
(Mr Gurumurthy) That is exactly the kind of problem we are identifying, off-peak journeys which are very difficult to get to which means that work just does not pay.
534. What really is the important thing in your report? Most of the measures you are talking about either imply greater local authority control and/or greater amounts of money. Are those two the most critical factors?
(Mr Gurumurthy) The really important thing is that at the moment it is not anyone's job to do a needs analysis to understand where are the places people need to get to, where are the job vacancies, where are the unemployed, how far do the routes actually match up to need. Accessibility and impact planning is an important recommendation and it will help us to spend the £350 million or so that we spend on tendered services better and match it to need. That is important. I think the second thing that is important is removing some of the regulatory barriers to integrated ticketing, to concessionary fares, to the notice period for implementing Quality Contracts. I think those are very important steps that have been put forward here.
535. What kind of urgency do you feel is pushing your work forward?
(Mr Gurumurthy) We work on a project basis. Hopefully I will not be here in 20 years' time, I will have hopefully moved on.
536. You will be the head of something then, do not worry.
(Mr Gurumurthy) I hope so.
537. Probably giving evidence to some other Committee Chairman but I would not count on it.
(Mr Gurumurthy) We work on a project basis. We have said that we will report in the autumn later this year because many of our proposals are subject to decisions made in the Spending Review.
Chairman: Finally, may I say not only thank you but good luck with the Minister.