Memorandum by Oxfordshire County Council
THE BUS INDUSTRY
1. Oxfordshire County Council has long recognised
the crucial role of public transport in the lives of the County's
residents and businesses and has pursued policies which support
and encourage its use. This has given us an insight into the issues
that effect delivery of bus services, strategies and projects.
The Council's Local Transport Plan has set out very challenging
targets of achieving 5 per cent passenger growth each year in
urban areas and 2 per cent in rural areas.
2. In Oxfordshire around 34 million passenger
journeys are made each year on local buses, representing 55 trips
per person, averaged over the County's population of 626,000.
About 94 per cent of these are made on commercial services.
3. The Government's 10-Year Plan provides
a valuable framework on which authorities like Oxfordshire can
build. The capital allocations available for transport through
the Local Transport Plan settlement should enable us to raise
the quality of bus travel. There is a risk however, that success
could be constrained by the way in which authorities interface
with the bus industry and the barriers that currently exist. Many
of these issues are referred to in this submission. If local and
national objectives and targets for passenger growth are to be
met, we need to raise the quality of the total bus journey experience,
year on year. Without a fundamental change in the fiscal policies
that determine the relationship between the relative costs to
the users of bus travel and the private car, continuously raising
the quality of bus travel will remain the key way to resist transfer
of trips from bus to the private car.
4. Oxfordshire, in keeping with other authorities,
is having difficulty in funding feasibility work on the development
of public transport quality projects, since the capital allocations
cannot be used for this purpose.
5. For many years now, Oxfordshire has bucked
the national trend, and achieved significant increases in bus
patronage. In 2000, most parts of the County probably had the
highest level of bus services there has ever been and a very large
proportion are operated by modern low-floor, low emission vehicles.
6. While it is difficult to disaggregate
all the different factors which have been at work, it is possible
to offer some reasons why Oxfordshire's bus services have flourished
in this way. These include:
Consistent application, over a long
period of time, of transport, traffic management and planning
policies, that have created an environment which has improved
the operational performance of buses and encouraged bus operators
to invest. (The background to this is dealt with more fully in
the section headed "Bus Priority Measures, Enforcement and
Political determination and commitment.
Resisting "cherry picking".
The restraint "sticks" have been applied alongside the
Pragmatic, but largely informal working
relationships with bus operators
Aspects of the deregulated environment
have proved effective where there is potential for significant
passenger growth. These specifically include a greater responsiveness
to the market and the opportunities this can offer, and also the
tendency to focus on a relatively simple network, avoiding circuitous
Higher service frequencies that have
been achieved would appear to be a major factor in encouraging
The physical geography of Oxford,
which has made it easier for sections of the public to accept
the need for some degree of restraint on use of the private car.
7. Oxfordshire County Council welcomes the
powers contained in the Transport Act 2000 to improve information
and has responded by establishing a small team to focus on this.
An information strategy is now in place following consultations
with operators and others and implementation of this will follow
over the coming months. The Council hopes that operators themselves
will take the lead in delivering improved information, but is
ready to step in when necessary to ensure the standards are met.
The Traveline system is also an excellent initiative and will
deliver major benefits once the issues around the quality of information
and standards of delivery are addressed.
8. The Council also welcomes the powers
to require operators to enter into Joint Ticketing schemes. The
application of this in Oxfordshire is yet to be fully explored,
but could bring major benefits to passengers. While we would prefer
that operators themselves took the initiative in delivering such
schemes, the Competition Act is currently seen as a barrier to
9. Welcome links have been developed between
rail and bus operators, some of which have been facilitated by
the County Council. This has however largely been the result of
individual bus and rail operators coming to arrangements about
specific services. There is no consistency in how this operates
across the County and there is a lack of co-ordinated information
available to the public.
10. The County Council's experience to date
of the Challenge Bid process has been less than satisfactory.
To develop a proposal and submit a sound worthwhile bid, which
will engender community support, necessitates a considerable commitment
of staff time. All too often, such efforts prove fruitless and
the time could have been spent more usefully on delivery of other
11. Bids are often invited for funds involving
capital expenditure, whether related to the Bus Challenge or on
other transport related projects. Given the issue mentioned in
paragraph four above, there is a case for the DTLR considering
a different approach. It could instead identify which authorities
are best addressing the particular objectives under consideration,
whether this relates to Bus Challenge Funding or other initiatives.
Authorities that can demonstrate they are addressing the issues
and achieving results could then be awarded higher levels of discretionary
12. There is also concern about the viability
of Challenge funded schemes beyond their initially defined life.
While some schemes can hopefully become viable within this period,
others are likely to prove unsuccessful and be withdrawn. Of more
concern are those schemes in between, which might show encouraging
trends, but will need further revenue support beyond the Challenge
fund period. Given the time and effort likely to have been put
into their development, it would be unfortunate were promising
initiatives to be withdrawn at this stage, but this could well
be the result given the pressure on authorities' revenue budgets.
13. Rural Transport Partnerships are increasingly
working to develop community-led services especially in those
areas where conventional bus services are unlikely to be viable
or offer good value for money. This is another worthwhile initiative,
but as with Bus Challenge funding it is constrained by the need
for a clear "exit strategy" at the end of the funding
period. In reality there are few potential schemes which will
only need initial funding. Most will continue to require some
14. The costs of operating bus services
has been running ahead of inflation over an extended period so,
in real terms, the same sum of money buys less bus service each
year. In recent times in Oxfordshire, costs for non-commercially
provided services (as evidenced mainly through the tendering process)
have been subject to equivalent annual inflation rates of around
10 per cent.
15. There are a number of factors that affect
this, but in recent times the shortage of bus drivers has had
a significant impact. Operators are surrendering contracts that
they are finding it difficult to operate, while the County Council
is finding the number of tenders returned falling still further,
such that for many services there is no effective competition
and this is also likely to be reflected in the tender price. Many
companies have been awarding large pay increases to retain existing
staff and help fill vacancies. There are encouraging signs that
this is achieving the objective of restoring staffing levels,
but is inevitably feeding through into higher fares and higher
16. Oxfordshire currently has a robust and
successful commercial bus network, but in keeping with most parts
of the country, there are more dispersed areas, which are never
likely to support a totally commercial bus service. There are
also many other areas of the County where commercial services
are not available at weekends or in the evenings. The Rural Bus
Service Grant and the additional flexibility it now contains has
helped the Council broadly retain existing levels of service.
This has only been possible however, because the Council has,
over the same period, been increasing its budget for bus revenue
support well ahead of standard price inflation. It has risen from
£1,054 million in 1999/2000 to £2.049 million in 2002/03,
an 85 per cent increase in real terms. This has enabled the Council
to broadly retain service levels, and cope not only with inflation
in tendered services, but also replace commercial withdrawals
and tendered services surrendered early. Given the overall pressures
on the Council's revenue budgets however, this approach cannot
be sustained indefinitely.
17. Currently, there is only one agreement
with bus operators in Oxfordshire, dating back to 1999 and covering
Oxford City. While we have achieved a lot with local operators
through informal partnership working, we do envisage the need
to enter into more formal agreements in the next few years as
we commit ourselves to significant capital investment on bus priorities,
highway infrastructure and information systems.
18. While the make up of any Quality Partnership
agreement will vary, the current provisions in the Transport Act
do not allow frequencies to be specified. Apart from the need
to prescribe a minimum service level, it is also important that
we have the powers to even out headways. It is the Council's intention
to develop a system of quality bus corridors (Premium Routes).
In many cases, these corridors are currently alreadyor
are likely in the futureto have two or more operators running
over much of the length. If most of the buses run a few minutes
apart from each other, followed by a large time interval without
any, the full benefits to the passenger of a quality high frequency
service will be dissipated.
19. In many locations there are variations
in the routes taken by bus operators, and these are subject to
change. If the Country Council is to have the confidence to invest
large capital sums as currently planned, in bus priority measures
and major upgrades to bus stop and interchange infrastructure,
we need the confidence that operators will continue to provide
services to an appropriate frequency along the route being upgraded.
20. The Transport Act 2000, envisages Quality
Contracts very much as a measure of last resort. While we do not
envisage wanting to use these powers in the foreseeable future
in Oxfordshire, there does appear to be a case for making the
procedures for their introduction more flexible, so that they
could be developed much quicker where the justification was demonstrated.
If the Quality Partnership powers cannot be strengthened to secure
effective control of frequencies and headways, it may well be
that authorities like ourselves will fee compelled to proceed
down the Quality Contract route, if it is seen as the only appropriate
way to protect our investment.
21. It is now 30 years since Oxford City
Council introduced its Balanced Transport Policy. It resolved
not to proceed with construction of new roads and car parks which
were on the City Development Plan, but instead focus on making
more efficient use of the existing road space and taking steps
to encourage the use of all non-car modes, while providing for
essential and priority services.
22. The key components of this have been:
Extensive bus priority measures including
bus lanes, bus gates and provision of priority at traffic signals.
A network of cycle lanes and tracks,
complemented by generous provision of cycle parking spaces.
Improved facilities for pedestrians,
with numerous new crossings and pedestrian phases introduced within
traffic signal controlled junctions.
Development of arguably the country's
best used bus based park and ride operation, currently with nearly
4,000 parking spaces, to be expanded later in the year to over
5,000 spaces including provision of a fifth site.
Effective control over public parking.
In central Oxford there are less than 2,000 public off-street
parking places, with a typical charge of £1.50 an hour rising
to £15 a day. There are also around 500 on-street parking
spaces, with a charge of £1.50 an hour and a two-hour maximum
stay. There are also extensive areas covered by residents parking
zones, to address the problem of displaced commuter parking. Oxford
is a designated Special Parking Area with decriminalised enforcement
undertaken under contract to the County Council.
Land Use Planning policies which
have limited the traffic impact of new development. Growth in
retail and office floor space has continued in central Oxford
over this time, but only essential operational parking has been
permitted at each site. Any notional shortfalls in parking have
generally been converted via planning agreements, into expansions
and improvement of the park and ride facilities.
23. In 1991, following increasing concerns
about environmental conditions in central Oxford, the County Council
commissioned a new study. Working jointly with the City Council
and after extensive consultation, the Oxford Transport Strategy
(OTS) was adopted by both Councils in 1993 and developed jointly.
While much of the strategy involved a continuation of the policies
that had already been pursued for 20 years, it involved a crucial
change to the use of roadspace in the centre of Oxford.
24. The study had shown that up to 25 per
cent of traffic in Oxford's High Street had no origin and destination
within the central area. By displacing this, in June 1999, it
has been possible to create both a larger area of traffic free
streets, and a Priority Route for buses around the core pedestrianised
area. General traffic has been pushed further out, although servicing
traffic is allowed onto the bus priority route. Vehicles are prevented
from driving directly through the centre by a series of restriction
points through which only cycles, buses, taxis, private hire and
emergency service vehicles are permitted to pass. Oxford High
Street is closed to through traffic between 07.30 and 18.30.
25. Many buses now have a longer route around
the city centre, but there are largely freed from congestion and
have a more predictable journey time. Accessibility to the city
centre by bus has been greatly enhanced relative to the car, particularly
from the East.
26. Between 1991 and 2001, local bus journeys
into Oxford increased by 50 per cent. More recently growth has
been curtailed, probably to a large degree as a result of the
unreliability and service cutbacks that stemmed from the severe
driver shortages. Park and Ride has had a crucial role in enhancing
accessibility into the centre of Oxford. Without it there would
be 9 per cent more vehicle trips a day into the centre, and in
particular 27 per cent more during the morning peak period.
27. the major changes to the central area
road network in 1999 as part of OTS have had the following initial
Bus patronage increased by 9 per
cent in the first year (2,000 passengers a day).
Use of public car parks fell by 14
per cent (700 cars a day).
Overall more people are entering
the city centre.
Traffic levels in central Oxfordlargely
unchanged between 1972 and 1999fell by 20 per cent.
28. The proportion of people travelling
by bus into Oxford has increased dramatically since 1991 as the
following pie charts show. More people now access the city by
bus than by car.
29. Long-term confidence in Oxford as a
retailing centre is high, with a number of new developments already
in place and the submission of a planning application to double
the size of its largest shopping centrewith no additional
parking spaces in the city centrehas gained the support
of the City and County Councils.
30. There are many new initiatives under
development to enhance the quality of bus services in the County,
The introduction of the Premium Route
Network, where significant capital expenditure on bus priorities,
infrastructure and information systems will be focused on those
corridors which will be capable by 2011 of sustaining commercially
a minimum service level of four buses an hour.
The Guided Transit Express (GTE)
project which involves creation of a busway alongside the existing
north-south railway line, and will enable buses from all over
the County to enjoy a segregated express route from the outskirts
of the City directly into the City centre.
Further enhancements to Oxford's
park and ride facilities, including the possible development of
remote sites eg at the A40 near Witney, linked to Oxford by bus
lanes and/or a segregated guided busway.
Development of Integrated Transport
Strategies for all the main County towns, largely enshrining the
same principles and objectives as the Oxford Transport Strategy.
31. Crucial to the success of these strategies
is an appropriate level of enforcement. Making measures as self-enforcing
as possible would help and DTLR should do more to develop guidance
and encourage best practice, for instance establishing standard
colouring for bus lanes that would make them immediately recognisable
to motorists. Effective enforcement is still required and DTLR
should be introducing the long promised new regulations for camera
enforcement of bus lanes and the introduction of mandatory 24-hour
Bus Stop Clearways, without further delay. We also need to move
beyond these to use camera technology to tackle illegal parking
and loading outside of bus lanes. There are a number of locations
in Oxford for example, where buses are regularly delayed throughout
the day by stationary vehicles. Motorists are often popping into
a shop for a few minutes or making withdrawals from cash machines.
Each individual act only lasts a few minutes, making conventional
enforcement extremely difficult, but as one car moves away another
takes its place and the cumulative effect on traffic flow is substantial.
32. Despite the growth in bus patronage
in Oxfordshire over the last decade, there remain many areas where
changes to regulations would benefit the travelling public, and
in particular encourage more modal transfer from car to bus.
33. Oxfordshire County Council is pleased
that the minimum registration period has risen from 42 to 56 days
and that the ability of operators to vary their timetables by
up to five minutes has been curtailed. However, when faced with
a service withdrawal, 56 days is still inadequate to consult the
local community and invite tenders for replacement services. A
minimum of 84 days is needed in these circumstances
34. Continuous changes to services make
it impossible to provide comprehensive timetable information to
the community. By the time documents are printed and distributed
they are already likely to be incorrect. It also seriously reduces
people's confidence in timetables, even for individual services.
The lack of a clear end date means they risk turning up at any
time and finding the service has changed. Just one such experience
is likely to cause those with an alternative to give up on the
bus. Also people who are relying on the bus to get them to work
or school at a particular time, need the confidence that their
service is not going to be withdrawn or changed at little notice.
For these reasons, we would advocate that operators should only
have the ability to change registrations with effect from two
or three fixed dates each year. Any timetable printed could then
be clearly marked with its expiry date and would function much
like the National Rail timetable. Obviously there would need to
be special powers to vary services in emergencies, perhaps where
the appropriate local authority agrees, and where a strategy exists
to ensure as far as practicable that the public are made aware
of the changes.
35. Authorities should have the power to
enter into longer contract periods than five years, where this
can ensure that quality can be raised eg investment in new vehicles.
36. De minimus levels should be
raised, both for individual contractsto say £20,000and
to any individual operatorto say £100,000. This flexibility
is particularly important in the situation when an authority is
seeking a frequency enhancement. If an existing operator is providing
say a bus every 90 minutes, it is not possible to invite tenders
from other operators for an hourly service. This can only be achieved
in practice by negotiating with the existing operator.
37. There is a need to raise the standards
of driving and driver training, both in terms of customer care
and specifically, disability awareness training. It should be
a prerequisite for issue of a PCV licence, that a driver must
have received training and achieved an appropriate level of competence.
38. A classification system needs to be
developed for buses, with regard to exhaust emissions, such that
participation in Quality Partnerships can be linked to provision
of vehicles achieving a designated classification.
39. Finally, we must address the dwell time
of buses at stops. The current operation of most services results
in lengthy waits at bus stops, while passengers pay their fare
or seek information from the driver. This results in lengthened
journey times, waste of valuable vehicle and driver time and frustration
for other passengers. It also necessitates provision of extensive
kerbside space for bus stops, which is often difficult to provide
in urban centres and places like Oxford where roads are narrow
and congestion at stops delays other buses. Moves towards greater
volumes of off-bus ticket sales are essential, but there is a
case for exploring the kind of open boarding regime that is commonplace
across Europe. This would enable the number of bus stops to be
reduced and for those that are needed to be laid out more like
tram stops, where one vehicle follows another onto the stop. In
this way we would be able to consistently provide raised platforms
and achieve the full benefits of low-floor vehicles. Oxfordshire
would welcome the opportunity to participate in development of
a pilot scheme to trial this.
Group Manager, Sustainable Transport, Department
of Environmental Services,
Oxfordshire County Council
26 April 2002