Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Seventeenth Report


Visit to the Transport Co-ordination Unit, Cheshire County Council, Ellesmere Port

3 May 2002


Transport Co-ordination Unit, Cheshire County Council

Mr Garth Goddard, County Transport Co-ordinator

Mr Michael Ross, Transport Co-ordinator (Policy and Projects)

Mr Frank Hont, Transport Co-ordinator

Mr Greg Yates, Transport Co-ordinator (Policy Projects and Support)

Mr Steve Williams, Acting Transport Co-ordinator (Operations and Contracts)

Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee

Dr Greg Marsden, Committee Specialist, Transport Sub-Committee


The Transport Co-ordination Unit is responsible for providing and co-ordinating a range of transport services across Cheshire as well as strategic transport planning. Transport services provided by Cheshire County Council include arranging statutory free home to school transport provision, special needs education transport, social services client transport, supported local bus services, several rural bus service initiatives and a range of flexible, demand-responsive transport services, and management of the County Council vehicle fleet. Most of this transport (bus, taxi or hire car) is procured by tender and operated under contract. However the Service directly operates a fleet of 65 accessible vehicles for social services and special needs transport and 3, 60 seat, yellow school buses. In addition to the provision and management of these services, the unit administers the concessionary fares scheme for Cheshire, Halton and Warrington, runs a Travel Line public information service for all public transport services, maintains and develops bus route infrastructure, co-ordinates and provides bus service timetable information at bus stops and enquiry offices at main bus stops and has co-ordinated a new electronic Smartcard system. The unit co-ordinates an annual budget of 30 million pounds.

Bus Market

The major bus companies operating in Cheshire are FirstGroup, and Arriva. A municipally-owned operator, Chester City Transport, is also a major provider of services in and around that city. The major companies tend to keep to their traditional operating areas and in many towns the market is only large enough to support just one operator. Cheshire provide a network of subsidised scheduled bus services to complement the commercial network, operating particularly in rural areas, in the evenings and weekends and to take children to school. This accounts for around 25 per cent of bus services in Cheshire and carries 4.2 Million passengers a year. The Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers has noted that tender prices for subsidised services are increasing by, on average, 21 per cent compared with the contracts they replace, and this is reflected by current experience in Cheshire where some individual contract renewals have shown price increases well over 30%. Cheshire has a process of continually managing the cost-effectiveness of the subsidised services it operates. The rises in tender costs and a continued steady withdrawal of commercial services has placed pressure on the supported services budget with some supported services showing poorest value for money being withdrawn.

Bus Quality Partnerships

Cheshire have developed a number of bus quality partnerships with bus companies in the area. Improvements in bus stops, improved information, bus lanes and improved kerbside boarding for mobility impaired travellers have been introduced, whilst the bus companies have brought newer buses to the routes. Cheshire have encountered difficulties in putting the bus infrastructure improvements in place as this is a comparatively new process at the scale now required, and because there are a number of different agencies with responsibility for different parts of the route. For example, Cheshire County Council does not own all of the bus stops on a route (some being provided by Adshel) and does not have the right to modify bus shelters set back from the kerb on grassy verges without the agreement of District Councils. It has however, developed a standard shelter and bus stop sign that will enable a faster deployment for future schemes. More importantly, local authorities have a duty to ensure adequate public consultation and political approval when new infrastructure is introduced, and this can be a time-consuming process.

In addition to the difficulties in putting in place new infrastructure, Cheshire has not always been able to attract brand new buses for the quality partnership routes, diluting their impact. Cheshire borders both Merseyside and Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executives. Both of these areas have a large number of routes with higher passenger numbers and greater potential for growth. The bus operators therefore tend to provide brand new buses on routes in these areas to give priority to investment in quality partnerships in those areas where returns are likely to be substantially higher. Recent evidence suggests that operators are likely to provide refurbished buses for quality routes that are four to five years, rather than new ones. The profile of bus age in Cheshire is shown below in Table 1.

Table 1: Bus Services and the Bus Fleet in Cheshire

Types of Service


Numbers and Category of vehicles operated


QP Quality vehicles

Intermediate type

(low floor)

Buses 8 to 20 years old

Inter-urban & rural






Town services






Park & Ride












Cheshire believe that only between 10 and 20 per cent of their services will be sufficiently commercially attractive for operators to participate in a Quality Partnership.

Future Issues on the Commercial Bus Network

Cheshire expressed some concern over the instability of services in their area. Whilst increases in bus use would be created on quality partnership routes, current trends pointed to an increase in withdrawal of commercial bus services and greater requirements for a supported network. Figure 1 shows the current and future models for bus services in areas such as Cheshire.


Figure 1(a): Representation of current service split

Figure 1(b): Representation of future service split with quality partnerships

The limitations of quality partnerships, whereby local authorities have no say in fares or service frequencies and the large areas of the network on which quality partnerships are unlikely to be suitable for improving bus services have led to Cheshire considering the alternative quality contract approach. However, whilst this would allow greater control over services, it would be unlikely to achieve benefits over the whole of the network without significant increases in revenue support which would be unlikely to be acceptable to the County Council without grant aid from central Government. Other issues surrounding the transfer of assets between incumbent bus companies and companies that win the franchises also remain to be resolved.

Improving Fleet Utilisation

Cheshire County Council is responsible for a small fleet of vehicles which are used to meet a range of their transport responsibilities, in particular, for social services and for pupils with special needs. It has a budget of 12 million a year to manage these services. Recently, it has been working more closely with the health care sector trying to utilise the time in which its vehicle fleet is less heavily used (i.e. outside school start and end times) to relieve stress on the ambulance service. It would also like to expand the use of its fleet to offering the vehicles for use in providing a rural bus service and is experimenting in this area with a Rural Bus Challenge Project. This type of integrated approach offers financial savings through economies of scale. However, Cheshire is restricted from doing all of the things it would like to through regulations governing this type of vehicle.

Alternatives to the Bus

Cheshire is also seeking to expand the use of taxis and more flexible forms of public transport. However, taxis are regulated by district authorities and a recent consultant's study has suggested that taxi companies appear unwilling to engage in the smaller bus market under present licensing arrangements. The County Council believes that public transport is a continuum of services from taxis, through minibuses to traditional buses and trains. However, at the moment, not enough potential is being made of the full range of options available.


previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 12 September 2002