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

Supplementary memorandum by the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers (Bus 31A)


  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 year—miss 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 timetables.

  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 eventually.

  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 needed.

  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.


  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.


  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 urban services.

17 June 2002

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