Memorandum by First (OPT 05)
OVERCROWDING ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT
First is the UK's largest bus operator and second
largest train operator. We are determined to raise the quality
of the services we provide to passengers including safety, reliability,
frequency, comfort, price and investment.
It is both good for customers and good for the
businessbecause reliable, quality services will attract
passengers back to public transport.
While we clearly want our buses and trains to
be busywe do not want to see overcrowding. It gives public
transport a bad name and suggests that there is market growth
which we are not adequately meeting.
Outside London there are a number of ways we
can manage demand to prevent overcrowding and in our day-to-day
operations we make full use of them.
For example, on a new or developing bus route,
we start with smaller vehicles at say 15-20 minute frequency.
As demand grows we switch to larger buses, such as full size single
decks, then double-deckers or articulated buses. We also introduce
more buses to the route to increase capacity. That in itself makes
it a more frequent and attractive service which attracts even
Another way of managing demand is to introduce
attractive ticketing initiatives which encourage people to travel
at non peak periods so spreading the load.
Those measures are entirely within our gift.
Other initiatives need the active support and involvement of local
authorities and we refer to them later.
On the railways, we have seen passenger growth
in our rail division of up to 30% since 1996. However, opportunities
for operators to manage growth and demand on their own are limited
by the availability of spare train paths and rolling stock, the
constraints of our franchise agreements and the availability of
fully functioning infrastructure.
Much of the growth we have seen, particularly
at First Great Western and First Great Eastern, has been in commuter
travel at times when there is less spare capacity in the network
to cope with it.
DDA AND OTHER
We have invested more than £230 million
in new trains in the past six years and £430 million in 4,150
new buses. The business case for investment in new fleets depends
critically on the number of passengers we can carry and the revenue
While we can see why Government wants more accessible
transporta policy area we clearly supportthere is
a price. Recent Government legislation has seriously damaged the
business case for new investment and contributed to the overcrowding
problems that we face.
New vehicles are less fuel efficient (due to
environmental requirements), cost 10% more to buy, are more expensive
to run, circa 6% more to maintain and carry fewer seated passengers.
Disability requirements mean the removal of up to six seats on
every new bus. 85% of our services are unsubsidised and the reduced
revenue per vehicle has an impact on the business case for investment
and for passenger fares.
On the railways, new disability requirements
for both seating and toilets mean that each new 3-4 coach train
has up to 20 seats less than the train it replaces. That reduces
both capacity and revenue without offering any additional public
support to encourage further investment to make up the seat shortfall.
While we at First can cater for growing demand
by laying on extra buses, there is another factor which can contribute
to overcrowding on both buses and trainstraffic congestion.
This is unpredictable and can trap several buses
on the same route in the same problem. That can create a gap in
service flows which can cause serious overcrowding when the first
buses arrive at crowded stops.
But congestion also inflates all our costs because
more buses and drivers are needed to run the same level of service.
If things worsen substantially even timetables need to be adjusted
to reflect the problem.
Bad parking and lack of enforcement of bus priority
measures by both police and local authorities can cause similar
In some parts of the UK, public sector pricing
decisions are having a major impact on overcrowding on buses.
For example, free pm peak time travel for pensioners overlaps
with children coming out of school and adults trying to get home
Parental choice for schools has a knock on effect
on public transport too. With children no longer automatically
going to the nearest and most accessible school more diffuse journey
patterns are created.
Local management of schools means there is no
pressure to stagger school opening hours to reflect transport
Local authority planning decisions which allow
the dispersal of housing, employment, hospitals and retail development
create more complex and long distance trips which cannot always
be efficiently made by bus. This in turn leads to more traffic
congestion and knock on effects for overcrowding.
On the railways, while passenger numbers on
our franchises have grown by up to 30% since privatisation, there
has been little major improvement to infrastructure across the
entire network. The system is creaking at the seams.
In addition, new open access services and additional
freight services have led to over ambitious timetabling which
leaves the railway unable to cope adequately with train or infrastructure
Network Rail are responsible for 57% of our
train delays on First Great Western and 63% on First Great Eastern
while we, as operator are responsible for 27% and 21% respectively.
On any one-day we can have more than 100 temporary speed restrictions
on the Great Western Main Line alone.
This network has had no radical attention paid
to it since it was upgraded more than a quarter of a century ago.
As a result, track circuits are regularly failing; tunnels have
to be closed after bad weather, cuttings and embankments are collapsing
and sections of track are washed away in flooding.
And with a crowded network there is no operational
slack to allow the system to recover quickly. As a result, a single
incident can have a ripple effect down the line disrupting services
across a network for several hours. The net result is passenger
frustration and serious overcrowding on the services that are
able to run.
We are also victims of changing demographics.
For example, in recent years, we have seen enormous growth in
long distance commuting. This is a particular issue on our First
Great Western franchise. Although we are now running a third more
trains than seven years ago there are still not either enough
train paths or rolling stock to cope with peak time demand.
On the morning commute into London our trains
can be extremely busy from Bristol and almost full when they leave
Swindonstill an hour by inter city train from London. A
combination of rising London house prices, business development
along the M4 corridor and fares regulated to an RPI-1 formula
since privatisation have combined to make the route attractive.
As a result we are not able to properly separate
long distance inter city passengers, and their differing needs,
from commuters. This impacts on the standards we are able to offer
We believe there are separate solutions for
both rail and road:
Consolidation of the network. The
consolidation of the FGW and Thames franchises, for example, would
deliver 30-40% extra seats in the peak period, improve punctuality
by 10% and seriously reduce overcrowding. Ten months ago we presented
proposals to the SRA which could deliver these benefits in just
over 16 months from now.
Restoring network infrastructure
to a proper state. With such a high percentage of delays due to
infrastructure failure, a reliable network would allow both more
trains to run and to do so at the full line speed. That would
smooth the flow of trains and allow us to maximise the number
of seats available on any day.
Investment in longer platforms and
longer trains. This is one of the proposals we regularly submit
to the SRA as part of our bids for new franchises. This creates
extra capacity within the same finite number of train paths and
is particularly important for commuter journeys.
Removing conflicts from the network.
Rail privatisation created a range of divisive features that work
against the passenger and combating overcrowding. For example,
unlike in the days of BR, freight trains can be given priority
over passenger services and connecting services are not allowed
to await a delayed train without financial penalties. Also the
allocation of train paths between different operators reduces
capacity and builds in conflict and inefficiency. Removing these
and other, similar, problems would do a lot to reduce overcrowding.
Speeding up priority measures. While
bus priority measures would increase the number of passengers,
they would also improve reliability and shorten journey times
allowing operators to run services more efficiently. This is without
the significant other benefits which are not relevant to your
inquiry including helping social inclusion and encouraging modal
Better enforcement. Bad and selfish
parking is a very disruptive influence on bus services. In most
cities neither the police nor local authorities, where parking
has been decriminalised, take enough action to clear roads for
Disciplining roadwork contractors.
The unpredictability of many road works means that operators cannot
plan their way out of delays. This, again, leads to bunching of
buses and overcrowding. In one UK city we have taken the initiative
by appointing managers to chase up the public utilities and their
contractors when they are not minimising road disruption. We would
urge that local authorities nationally are encouraged to adopt
Park and ride. Polls show this is
the most popular measure with motorists to help attract them out
of their carsand create better traffic conditions for our
buses. Linked to bus priority measures, it allows motorists to
do the non-congested part of their journey by car before linking
to a fast, frequent bus service going to the heart of a city.
Congestion charging. We expect this
to have a direct impact on overcrowding. By reducing congestion,
charging will make bus journeys more predictable and efficient,
reducing bunching and allowing the same number of buses to run
More buses. As demand expands, it
is in operators' interests to invest in more buses to meet it.
The business case for doing so is overwhelming and so is the benefit
to passengerssince more buses on a service not only mean
more capacity but more frequent services.
New bus routes to supplement crowded
trains and metros. Once bus priority measures have been introduced
on key corridors it becomes a commercial proposition for operators
to introduce limited stop express services to ease congestion
on trains and light rail and provide an alternative to passengers.
Approval for 15 metre vehicles. DfT
clearance for these vehicleswhich already operate across
Europewould increase capacity on new vehicles
Staggering school opening hours to
reflect transport needs. Slight changes and co-ordination to school
opening hours could allow one bus and driver to perform four loaded
trips per day instead of two creating extra capacity during periods
of peak demand.