Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Surrey County Council (Bus 16)


  1.  Surrey County Council welcomes this opportunity to submit evidence to the Sub-Committee on the new inquiry into the bus industry.

  2.  The County Council has a five year Passenger Transport Strategy which was published in July 2000 and is included in the Local Transport Plan together with the County Council's policy document on passenger transport represents County Council policy on passenger transport issues.

  3.  In the region of 60 per cent of services operated in Surrey are run on a commercial basis and are outside the control of the County Council. This means that it is not possible to plan and operate the bus network on a comprehensive basis to meet the changing demands and needs of travellers in Surrey and to integrate effectively with other modes. A majority of the effort is placed on reacting to commercial changes and withdrawals.

  4.  Over the past two years there has been an unprecedented number of withdrawals of commercial bus services in the County. For example, during the period between October 2000 and September 2001 some 2,630 commercial journeys were withdrawn and the County Council has replaced all but 465 of these journeys.

  5.  This memorandum provides information on the problems and issues facing the County Council in retaining socially necessary bus services and at the same time meeting the requirements of the Government's Ten Year Plan.


  6.  During the past five years there have been substantial withdrawals of commercial services but over the past 18 months this has risen to the highest ever as a result of the following:

    —  19 March 2001—Tillingbourne Buses into receivership—60+ vehicles

    —  22 March 2001—Surrey Buses into receivership—10 vehicles

    —  21 April 2001—Arriva withdrew from East Surrey—24 vehicles

    —  27 February 2002—White Rose Buses into receivership—20 vehicles

  7.  The constant changes to bus services caused by a destabilised bus industry is causing a marked loss of confidence in the bus network in Surrey.

  8.  In situations where the County Council or London Buses (Transport for London) have replaced commercial services in Surrey by contracted bus routes there has been a significant improvement in reliability and passengers have been seen steadily returning to use these services.

  9.  However, the County Council is not able to plan a major proportion of the commercial network which is being reduced on a rapidly increasing and uncontrolled basis. This makes future strategic planning difficult and any enhancements are only possible in areas where the County Council is controls the network. There is evidence that where Quality Bus Partnerships have been signed, commercial services in adjoining areas have been reduced to meet the operators new commitment to provide better services on partnership routes.


  10.  The County Council's Local Transport Plan targets are to increase the proportion of Surrey residents with good (20 minutes door to door) access to town centres by public transport from 30 per cent in 1999 to 40 per cent by 2006 and to increase the proportion of Surrey residents' journeys made by public transport from 9 per cent in 1999 to 12 per cent by 2006 and 18 per cent by 2016.

  11.  County Council funding for local bus services since 2000-2001 is as follows:
2000-2001£3,266,100 £4,034,988
2001-2002£4,756,400 £5,381,230 *
2002-2003£6,083,931 £6,656,838 *

  12.  Thus since the original 2000-2001 budget the County Council will have increased revenue support for local bus services by 104 per cent.

  13.  Even so there is likely to be a significant shortfall in funding and major bus service reductions are being planned for April 2003 as there is no indication that the Government will recognise the problem and increase our SSA for 2003-2004. At the same time SSA should specifically identify public transport funding and not just Highways funding.

  14.  Apart from increased revenue support for bus services the County Council is making substantial efforts through the LTP and its own funding to encourage the use of public transport. This ranges from Quality Bus Partnership Schemes and Real Time Information at bus stops to Park and Ride and Bus Priority Schemes.

  15.  The Surrey bus industry is very fragile and there is very serious concern that any cuts in services that may have to be made in the next year as a result of the above shortfall. However, this in turn may lead to further companies going into liquidation and will affect our capability to deliver our Local Transport Plan targets.


  16.  Quality Partnerships are welcomed and have given the spur to local authorities to provide improved facilities for bus passengers.

  17.  Quality Contracts are essential if the Ten Year Plan is to be achieved. The current destabilised and fragmented bus network will ultimately lead to the demise of many bus services in Surrey. The lack of recognition of Government in the SSA settlement on the future of revenue funding for bus services inhibits the County Council from applying for a Quality Bus Contract to be applied across the County.


  18.  Surrey has only a few bus lanes but has concentrated its efforts on Selective Vehicle Detection to give buses priority at signalised junctions.

  19.  The County Council has a number of new bus lanes due to be introduced over the next year or so but has received clear indications in writing from the Police that they will not be able to enforce them. Approaches are currently being made to the Chief Constable on this matter.


  20.  The availability of the grant is welcomed and has been successful in providing new services in the more isolated parts of Surrey and has made a useful contribution to supporting the base network of rural routes in Surrey. The ability to use 20 per cent of the grant on existing routes has been of significant assistance over the past year and there is no doubt that the network would be further reduced had this facility not been available. If this proportion of the grant could not be used for existing routes then the County Council would have to have provided even more revenue support as outlined in paragraph 11 above.

  21.  Rural Bus Services Grant is further discussed under "social exclusion" below.

  22.  However, it is confusing to the public that less well used rural journeys are being retained with grant support when other more substantial journeys are being withdrawn.


  23.  Bus services are important in tackling Social Exclusion. They are necessary in maintaining and improving mobility for those citizens who, for reasons of disability, gender, race, locality or income, find themselves excluded from social activities other, more mobile people with private transport may take for granted.

  24.  Over the last five years Surrey County Council has received over £3.5 million in Rural Bus Subsidy Grant-aid to develop 25 new transport services in the rural areas of the county and this has led to over 488,000 additional bus journeys by Surrey residents who are reliant on public or community transport services. The County Council has also been successful in receiving £805,000 in Rural Bus Challenge Funding to develop additional community transport services that meet the travel needs of those residents unable to use conventional public transport because of some form of mobility impairment.


  25.  In Surrey there are high levels of withdrawals of commercial services as described above. Many bus services are no longer viable as a result of driver shortages, rising staff costs, increasing fuel and insurance costs. Increasing regulation such as new Disability Discrimination Act requirements also add to costs.

  26.  Fewer quality operators are submitting tenders for local bus contracts. There are few new operators entering the market with smaller operators struggling to survive and an increasing number going out of business. This is shown by the cost of bus contracts in Surrey rising by around 25-30 per cent per annum.

  27.  Increasing traffic congestion is also causing bus operating costs to increase. Slower journey times require additional vehicles and driver time. Maintenance costs also rise.

  28.  There are pressures as a result of bordering London as follows:-

    —  Higher remuneration and security for operators who work for London Buses.

    —  Drivers attracted by higher wages paid by operators running services in London.

    —  Higher contract specification and increasing contract costs for cross-boundary services.

  29.  The Traffic Commissioner has introduced a much tighter performance monitoring regime, which has caused operators to increase the vehicle requirement in the peak hour in order to keep to the published timetable. Commercial services are becoming less financially viable and vulnerable to withdrawal. A more pragmatic understanding regarding the implementation of the new standards of monitoring the performance of bus services is required.

  30.  There are increasing financial pressures on the County Council where schools can no longer afford to contract its own services for non-entitled pupils. These have to be replaced by contracted local bus services. The alternative is to leave large numbers of pupils stranded or alternatively parents taking them in by car.

  31.  The National Traveline was introduced under Transport Act 2000 and calls are being charged at a rate of 80-90 pence per call. These costs are substantial for some small operators who cannot afford to pay and are looking to the County Council to meet these costs. Tillingbourne Buses had approached the County Council on this matter before going into receivership.

  32.  Ticketing schemes are difficult to introduce which allow inter-operator availability as the Office of Fair Trading guidelines are strict even with the new block exemptions restrictive clauses still remain.

  33.  LTP capital funding does not help the County Council with support for bus service provision. Revenue funding is also required for the continued maintenance of capital projects. Examples of neglect can be seen in other parts of the country where weeds are growing through tarmac and roadside facilities have fallen into disrepair.

  34.  There is a lack of suitable premises for garaging and maintaining buses. Costs have soared in recent years. It has to be recognised that some of the major operators have sold property for financial gain and because of the reducing network.

  35.  Operators complain at the lack of a consistent finance policy as Government funding which to them fluctuates between famine and feast and the same applies to the funding for local authorities where additional responsibilities and functions are given to the County Council without the requisite funding.

  36.  The threat to buses across Surrey is not restricted to rural areas but also in major urban areas. Operation is particularly costly where the demands are diverse such as in the Blackwater Valley and the Byfleet/Weybridge/Staines/ Woking area.


  37.  The problem of driver shortage has driven up bus operating costs and caused difficulty in retaining bus services in Surrey. The County Council has in the past been unable to award contracts for evening services, as there were no operators willing to run them, as they had no drivers available.

  38.  There is a need for the Government to consider a review of key worker policy to provide assistance to bus drivers in the same way as they do for health workers, teachers and police officers.


  39.  Since the introduction of the Greater London Authority there have been significant improvements in the communication channels and there has been a better understanding of the need for cross-border co-operation and collaboration.

  40.  There are some 36 bus routes which operate between Surrey and London as follows:
Bus ServicesNumber of Routes
Contracted by the County Council19
Contracted by London Buses with Surrey County Council Support 6
Contracted by London Buses without Surrey County Council Support 11


  41.  The County Council is currently in discussion with London Buses as part of their cross-boundary review and includes matters such as how far services should operate across the boundary. There are benefits to both Surrey and London residents in seeking to extend services beyond just the nearest key centre.

  42.  The County Council would like to see consistency in the provision of services over an area basis rather than on an individual corridor basis.


  43.  The differing fares regime causes a great deal of concern to the residents in Surrey. For example, there has been a substantial response to a recent Best Value Concessionary Fares Survey (over 15,000 responses) conducted by the County Council where many respondents have requested the same free fares as provided for London residents.

  44.  The lack of Agents selling passes in Surrey is causing problems and is an issue under consideration by London Buses.

  45.  There are inconsistencies on a number of routes, for example, operating between Kingston and Esher, Kingston and Molesey, Sutton and Banstead etc. where it is felt that a common fare and pass regime should generally apply over the length of all routes between these points whether provided by London Buses or the County Council which is not currently the case. Again the lack of recognition of Government in the SSA settlement on the future of revenue funding for bus services outside London inhibits the County Council from applying a London style fares regime on its contracted services.


  46.  The County Council has adopted similar style bus stops as used in London which are being introduced in Surrey on an incremental basis using LTP funding. London Buses currently provide bus stops on their contracted routes in Surrey.


  47.  The County Council has offered to fund the extension of "Countdown" real time information across the border into Surrey but London Buses have not been able to accommodate this request. It is understood that resources and technical difficulties prevent such work.


  48.  In summary the County Council would ask this Sub-Committee to consider:-

    (a)  A review of long term revenue funding for local bus services possibly linked to the LTP submission to ensure a revenue stream to the authority and long term security and consistency for the bus industry.

    (b)  A recognition of the special circumstances surrounding the delivery of services in the south-east namely congestion, high unit costs, driver shortage etc. and that this is taken into account in the decision on revenue and Local Transport Plan bid allocation as sought in (a) above.

    (c)  A review of planning policies to enable greater provision of premises for garaging and maintenance of buses.

    (d)  A review of key worker policy to provide assistance to bus drivers in the same way as they do for health workers, teachers and police officers.

    (e)  A review of competition law as applied to the bus industry by OFT to allow practical fares and ticketing policies across the region to benefit users. This is required as even with block exemptions operators still have concerns about entering schemes.

    (f)  The Traffic Commissioner be asked to take a more pragmatic approach regarding the implementation of the new standards of monitoring the performance of bus services.

April 2002

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