Memorandum by Dr John Disney (OPT 04)
OVERCROWDING ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT
The views in this submission are both personal
views and those of colleagues collated as part of my ongoing research
into commuter and business travel patterns at The Nottingham Trent
University. They should not be read however as an official view
of the University.
Overcrowding on public transport is perceived
as a barrier to modal switch by habitual motorists whilst regular
public transport users view it as a nuisance which may deter them
from making certain journeys at certain times. This submission
considers the three main modes of land public transport separately
as different criteria apply to each of them.
As the most popular mode of public transport
it is not surprising that overcrowding is sometimes a major issue
especially on busy urban routes (rural buses only reach saturation
point on occasional school journeys).
Overcrowding can lead to uncomfortable cramped
conditions for those passengers on board; difficulty in exiting;
perceptions of an unsafe environment especially for standees;
long waits for those passengers left behind.
Modern bus design is a major contributory factor
to overcrowding and the Committee is recommended to reconsider
the "Construction & Use" regulations for PSV in
the light of modern low floor bus designs. Whilst these buses
are theoretically an improvement for all passengers, in practise
they are making the journey more difficult for many passengers.
Reasons are as follows:
Seating capacity has been reduced
by approx 20% and most of the seating lost (in comparison with
"high floor" buses) is the most accessible ie at the
front of a single deck bus and in the lower saloon of a double-decker.
This means that passengers congregate as standees both in the
buggy/wheelchair zones and in the gangway or even on the platform
rather than go to the rear of the bus and/or upstairs. (Both of
these movements involve negotiating steps whilst the bus is moving
so are avoided by many passengers, especially if they are carrying
baggage). The effect is that the bus is perceived as overcrowded
even if its load is less than its seating capacity. A recommended
solution would be to prohibit standing forward of the buggy/wheelchair
zone (and/or the staircase).
The gangway can become obstructed
by protruding buggies or luggage. A recommended solution is to
devise a buggy zone which has a folding arm which could be lowered
to ensure that the buggy is physically contained within the designated
area and to act as an additional rail for passengers; also buses
should not be permitted without dedicated luggage racks. The Optare
Solo is a particularly bad design in this respect.
On high frequency services, late
running buses become overcrowded and bunch whilst there is usually
at least one near empty bus following. The solution is to provide
more bus priority schemes and enforce them as congestion is a
principal cause of bunching, whilst encouraging manufacturers
to fit GPS as standard (and operators to retrofit it) so that
the driver of a full bus can see how far behind the next bus is.
Standing capacities are based upon
the maximum laden weight which the chassis can bear; this should
be changed to be based upon floor space so that standing capacities
are feasible whilst retaining a degree of comfort for passengers.
The current condition for qualifying
for Fuel Duty Rebate (Bus Operators Subsidy) that buses must both
pick up and set down at all stops which they serve should be repealed
immediately. This would allow longer distance buses to set down
on inward journeys into cities without having to pick up short
hop passengers which lead to the bus becoming overcrowded and
more importantly allow them to impose a "first setting down
point" criteria so that short hop passengers are prohibited
from taking up space required by longer distance passengers who
face a long wait if the bus they require is full (especially if
they wish to board on the route out of the city centre rather
than at the terminus).
Operators should be encouraged to
retain a fleet of "reserve vehicles" and sufficient
drivers to provide duplicate journeys where and when required.
The Annual Vehicle Excise Duty for buses operating less than 10,000
miles per annum should be substantially discounted and insurers
should be encouraged to offer discount insurance on such vehicles;
Operators' O Licences should permit up to 20% additional low mileage
vehicles to be operated for these purposes.
In order to meet their financial targets LRT
schemes assume that peak time services are going to carry typically
70% of their passengers as standees. Whilst this is deemed acceptable
in London (on both the Underground and Docklands LRT) where there
is little choice of mode due to road congestion and severely restricted
car parking, it is not desirable in the provinces and LRT schemes
should be reappraised on the basis that no more than 33% of their
peak time passengers are expected to stand. This may mean that
vehicles need to be longer or services more frequent or even that
some schemes fail to be funded and are replaced by more cost effective
schemes such as Guided Buses or conventional bus lanes.
Given the capacity constraints of the network,
it is remarkable that operators are being allowed to replace large
trains with more frequent but shorter trains. The Virgin Cross
Country Voyager scheme was always going to be a disaster and it
gives me no pleasure to report that my worst case forecast scenarios
are actually being enacted. However many lessons can be learnt
from this and other schemes such as the Midland Main Line Turbostars
(due to be replaced in 2004 with larger trains after only four
years). These are:
Passengers will always require to
travel at certain times eg commuters wish to reach city centres
by 0830-0900 and depart between 1630 and 1800; business travellers
wish to arrive for meetings commencing typically between 0930
and 1100; shoppers wish to arrive around 1030 and depart around
1500; tourists wish to have a full day at their destination and
depart between 1700 and 1800 as tourist attractions close; sports
fans wish to arrive in good time for the start of the event but
leave as soon as possible at the finish.
A train service that uses smaller
trains will never be able to meet these demands even if its overall
capacity is much greater; arriving at the match at 1515 is of
no use to a football fan if kick off is at 1500 however much the
operator may discount tickets on this train.
Small trains are unable to cope with
the loads experienced when the preceding train fails for whatever
reason. This train may be run by another TOC but the effect is
the same. This means that passengers are doubly inconvenienced.
Seat reservation systems must be
effective. The electronic system used on Voyagers is useless due
to the following reasons:
It is impossible to tell at a
glance when boarding the train whether seats are reserved or not
without close examination of the tiny display screens on the luggage
racks. This could be solved by a red light indicating a reserved
Reservations are often only for
part of the journey but passengers need a strong geographical
knowledge of the train's route to work this out.
The system is often not working
so passengers sit in what they believe is an empty seat only to
find that someone else has a reservation leading to arguments
Whilst passengers are trying
to find reserved seats (or an unreserved one if they don't have
a reservation) they obstruct the gangway leading other passengers
to assume that the train is full so they then sit or stand in
vestibules, entrances and gangways blocking other passengers'
routes to refreshments, toilets and exit doors.
TOC's should be required to state
the number of unreserved seats on each train in the timetable
and this should be a minimum of 25% of the train's capacity. Information
systems should be improved so that announcements can be made at
each station en route regarding the train's actual seating availability
and TOC's should hold spare rolling stock to provide relief trains
or additional coaches coupled to existing services. Road coaches
should only be used in emergency situations not as the norm as
Virgin now seem to be doing.
Season ticket prices should be raised
to at least ensure that season ticket holders contribute through
the farebox to the overcrowding which they often cause, particularly
the long distance commuters using inter city style services not
designed for the commuter market such as Grantham, Leicester,
Coventry and Swindon to London; Newcastle and Berwick to Edinburgh;
Derby and Cheltenham to Birmingham. Cheap season tickets have
distorted both the housing and employment markets and encourage
excessive commuter journeys; in many cases annual season ticket
holders pay less than the business traveller making the same journey
just twice a week as season ticket prices have been regulated
whilst Standard Open Fares have been subject to no such controls
and have therefore been subject to some extreme increases. Season
ticket holders requiring seat reservations should be charged a
reservation fee for each reservation made but all other seat reservations
should be free and passengers should be able to make a reservation
by telephone or internet up to one hour before any train leaves
its starting point irrespective of the type of ticket they hold
(except season tickets).
Capacity constraints at stations
and other pinch points on the network should be addressed as a
matter of priority and platforms should be lengthened to cater
for longer trains using prefabricated extensions to reduce both
time and cost. Trains should not occupy platforms for more than
15 minutes between workings; sidings should be built (or re-opened)
for these purposes and improved waiting facilities created for
passengers on the platform.