Supplementary memorandum by the Association
of Transport Co-ordinating Officers (Bus 31A)
QUESTION 1: QPS
The stages in implementing a bus quality partnership
are as follows:
agree a programme of routes. These
may be the best performing routes, those with greatest potential,
strategic network etc.
Then work on each route to:
plan the work and estimate costs
in broad terms;
submit bids for funding. Usually
via the LTP, which means one opportunity to bid per yearmiss
this (or fail to get funding) and a year delay;
once funding is available, the route
is planned in detail, including traffic management measures, bus
priorities, relocation of bus stops, new stops, new shelters,
dropped crossings etc;
specific plans have to be drawn up
for each location which require several visits to each site;
for most changes the public have
to be consulted eg a new shelter. Their opinions often result
in changes, including a different site for stops, meaning the
whole cycle has to be repeated;
site visits are also needed for safety
audit eg would a shelter impair drivers visibility, and street
lighting (for electricity to illuminate bus shelters);
some measures require planning permission
(eg bus shelters with advertising) or traffic regulation orders.
These add a minimum of 12 weeks to the process;
there are major benefits in combining
highway, cycling, pedestrian and bus improvements into one scheme
(better value, less disruption, greater impact etc). However this
adds to the complexity and lengthens timescales;
carry out the physical works. This
is often put out to tender, which again takes time;
upgrade passenger information, and
hope the operator(s) do not change the timetable;
promote the improved services;
meanwhile the operator should have
bought new low floor buses, trained its drivers in customer care
and hopefully scheduled an improved level of service; and
implement the quality partnership
of new infrastructure, new buses, better information, more frequent
services. Note the local authority can only "advertise"
the QP once all the infrastructure is in place.
In practice, it takes a minimum of two years
to go through this whole process.
A quality partnership is not binding on any
party, so the LA can improve the infrastructure, but the operator
does not make all or some of its improvements. For example, a
national bus group may decide it can get better return on its
investment by using its new buses elsewhere.
LTP (and other) money is moving towards one
year credit approvals. With a minimum of two years needed to implement
a QP, this means the funding is uncertain.
Winter weather can delay physical works, eg
red road surfacing cannot be applied when roads may be salted,
concrete cannot be laid if temperatures might fall below zero.
This can mean work is not finished by the end of the financial
year in March. A major problem when funding is time limited.
Operators can, and do, modify services after
a QP has been implemented. This increases costs eg reprinting
Operators can also withdraw QP services or use
non QP standard vehicles. This is only a short/medium term problem
as (hopefully) all bus infrastructure will be upgraded to QP standards
A low cost/low quality operator can start operating
on the QP route, undermining the investment of both local authority
and quality bus operator.
Where more than one bus company operates on
a QP route, they cannot co-ordinate timetables or fares. This
would be in passengers interests, but is illegal.
Many routes in Cheshire are only just commercial,
by running on low frequencies with older buses. This means operators
cannot get sufficient return to invest in new buses or increase
service levels ie the QP approach will not work. Another way is
There are routes where the operator provides
a good service, but cannot justify increasing quality or service
levels, but could lose out from a QP. Take an existing two hourly
interurban service where a good service is provided. To make it
hourly, the local authority would have to issue a tender for the
alternative hours. This would make the existing service unviable
in the short term due to abstraction. Also there is no guarantee
that the existing good operator would win the tender. As a result
they could be forced out of business.
Some form of binding QP agreement is required.
Funding must be over several years and not time
constrained (within reason).
The local authority should be able to arrange
for several bus operators to co-ordinate fares and timetables.
Where an operator provides a good service, the
local authority should be able to negotiate an upgrade, rather
than go out to tender.
A different approach is required where services
are insufficiently commercial for the operator to invest in new
buses or higher service levels.
QUESTION 2: LA BUYING
This can be a good solution in some circumstances
eg where services are not sufficiently commercial for operators
to buy new buses, where the revenue risk is high, where high quality
is required, or where limited competition for tenders results
in high prices. It also helps overcome the problem of insufficient
revenue funding, because if the LA buys the buses, tender prices
will be lower.
Cheshire did seek tenders for a school bus unit
in Macclesfield on the basis of buying the vehicles for a tendered
operation. While this had many advantages, the capital costs were
unaffordable. Perhaps this could form a future LTP bid.
This approach is also being used as part of
an innovative method of improving services in market towns.
QUESTION 3: LEVEL
A very rough estimate is that a maximum of 20
per cent of bus route mileage in Cheshire is suitable for the
quality partnership approach. This comprises the main routes in
the larger towns where services are relatively frequent and a
good potential exists for growing patronage. The remaining 80
per cent of the route mileage comprises the strategic interurban
network, rural services and socially necessary but uncommercial
17 June 2002