Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Go-Ahead Group plc (OPT 09)



  1.  The Go-Ahead Group is one of the leading providers of passenger transport services in the UK, covering bus, rail, parking and aviation ground handling services. Employing over 17,000 staff, Go-Ahead companies provide services for in excess of 600 million passengers each year.

  2.  Go-Ahead is the leading provider of rail commuter services in the South East, through Thames Trains, Thameslink and South Central. Thameslink and South Central are operated by GoVia, Go-Ahead's partnership with SNCF subsidiary Keolis.

  3.  Go-Ahead also operates a range of bus services throughout the country, including the North East (Go North East), Oxford (the Oxford Bus Company), Brighton & Hove (Brighton and Hove Bus Company), as well as Central and South London (London Central and London General) and Sussex, in and around Crawley and Gatwick (Metrobus).

  4.  Go-Ahead works closely with both its employees and passengers. In Oxford Go-Ahead has set up a pioneering stakeholder board to increase employee, trade union, passenger and local business involvement in all aspects of the business. On South Central Go-Ahead has similarly set up and developed a stakeholder advisory board representing those who have an interest in ensuring that the railway runs well. The board comprises a wide cross section of interested parties to ensure stakeholder involvement.


  1.  There is no doubt that rail services in the South East are very heavily loaded during peak times of the day. Statistics on passenger thresholds show that many rail services during peak periods have a consistently higher "passengers in excess of capacity" level than those set by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA). The issue facing both Government and transport operators is how to cater realistically for this increased demand.

  2.  In reality many rail passengers are faced with very crowded trains particularly in the peak commuting periods when further delays can be caused by extended dwell times at stations. In addition trains can be delayed as a result of inadequate and unreliable infrastructure. These issues are intensified if there are problems on the Underground or industrial action, as additional people are forced to use the overground trains to complete their journeys.

  3.  As one of the major transport operators in the South East, Go-Ahead faces an on-going challenge to produce an efficient and reliable rail service for our customers on the existing infrastructure. On Thameslink in particular, demand has grown to such an extent that lack of capacity has become a constant problem. Some years ago Go-Ahead informed both OPRAF and subsequently the SRA that the growth in popularity in the service would lead to continuing capacity shortages.


  4.  The overcrowding and congestion on the Thameslink routes are caused by a number of factors:

    —  It is the only high frequency overground cross-London service.

    —  The route services two airports, Luton and Gatwick.

    —  It provides a direct service into the City of London, where employment has remained high over the last five years.

    —  It is the fastest method of transport from the North or the South to get to the City.

    —  Service development since franchising has created a "turn up and go" service, further stimulating demand.

    —  Regulation of many commuter fares has resulted in real terms price reductions, further stimulating demand.

  5.  Thameslink has been a reliable service and has been well marketed over the last five years meaning that it is popular and well used. Unfortunately inadequate infrastructure and delays to the planned Thameslink 2000 project have meant that Go-Ahead is restricted in its ability to improve capacity. Currently there is no spare track capacity that will allow Go-Ahead to run extra services. In addition there are no surplus dual voltage trains available without impacting on other services. So whilst the idea of extra trains or longer trains is desirable, in reality it is not feasible at the present time.

  6.  On both Thameslink and Thames Trains our fleets are working at full capacity and on Thameslink, in particular, extra carriages have been leased from other franchises to increase capacity. However until the SRA is able to proceed with the Thameslink 2000 project, Go-Ahead is inhibited from making further investment which would alleviate overcrowding.

  7.  Go-Ahead anticipates future problems on the Thameslink route if the existing infrastructure is not upgraded to cope with increasing demand. In 2006-07 the new St. Pancras station will open for Eurostar services and those domestic services coming from East Kent. Thameslink 2000 will play an important role in dispersing an increased number of people arriving in the area. If the upgrading work is not completed those people will be endeavouring to use an existing system which is already heavily burdened, especially in the peak periods.


  8.  Across all rail services there will be an ever increasing call for more and longer trains to be available to cope with the demand. In the case of South Central Go-Ahead has begun to address this issue by procuring 700 new carriages whilst disposing of only 600 slam door carriages. The first of these have been delivered and deliveries are scheduled to be completed by November 2004. However power supply shortages could delay introduction.

  9.  Go-Ahead also believes that there needs to be a greater understanding that on some trains during peak hours not every customer should expect to have a seat. We note that other operators are introducing stripped down trains or even proposing to abolish first class. As a train operator we believe one of our roles in providing new rolling stock is to introduce the most practically designed trains for our passengers' needs and comfort. On short commuter journeys this may result in trains designed to hold a greater volume of standing customers at peak periods, in a similar manner to London Underground and many other European urban rail networks.


  10.  Capacity shortages on the railways are concentrated around the main commuter hours with many off-peak services having spare capacity. In broad terms this presents an economic dilemma for any public transport operator in providing enough stock to cover the peak periods but having it only in partial use during the off peak period. The industry is continually concentrating efforts to try and increase the off-peak market, and in recent years, with the rise in disposable income and the encouragement of leisure pursuits in a wider age range, this market has grown. But there is still available capacity.

  11.  Go-Ahead believes that one of the solutions to overcrowding rests with the release of capacity in peak hours. The congestion through the central London core prevents train operating companies running a reliable service and leads to delays and cancellations on popular services. For example in central London we are currently running on a two track railway and the congestion on the track in the London Bridge area is amongst the most acute in the country.

  12.  Go-Ahead has continued to put forward short-term proposals to tackle these congestion problems. Thameslink 2000 addresses this issue through the creation of a facility to run up to 24 trains per hour through the central London core and also facilitating the use of 12 car trains by extending a variety of platforms. These proposals would alleviate the worst of the overcrowding and provide the customer with a more frequent and reliable service.

  13.  In order to manage the increased capacity during peak hours, increased investment is required to provide an adequate infrastructure that can cope with this increasing demand and provide a better quality of service. However there must be a further evaluation of the extent to which the current real terms fare reductions can be justified whilst major investment is required.


  1.  There are more than 4.4 billion bus passenger journeys every year, representing two thirds of journeys made by public transport. One of Go-Ahead's core areas of experience and expertise is operating bus services in heavily congested urban regions. We believe that buses provide a flexible form of public transport in these crowded cities and moreover provide the solution to solving the UK's long-term congestion problems.

  2.  Go-Ahead works closely with Transport for London and the development of an integrated transport system to tackle urban congestion. With London General and London Central operating routes across South and South-West London, Go-Ahead has a significant presence in the capital's road transport infrastructure.

  3.  Travel congestion in heavily congested urban cities, such as London, hinders the ability of transport operators to run a reliable and efficient service. Bus priority measures help to ease traffic congestion, help us to provide better and more reliable bus services for passengers and make better use of travelling time for our vehicles. Without a doubt, bus priority measures are essential to ensure a smooth running bus service for the travelling public.

  4.  In London, the introduction of the articulated buses on Red Arrow routes is also helping to alleviate overcrowding on buses. The new "bendy and cashless" bus services are able to carry up to 140 people, at least 60 more than a double deck bus. As passengers have tickets before boarding and can board or alight from all three doors (as in many cities on the continent) these buses are helping to make journeys quicker and more reliable.

  5.  Through the introduction of new bus operating systems, improved infrastructure and the use of advance technology, for example Global Positioning Satellite (GPS), we are playing our part to improve the efficiency of bus services. For example, in partnership with the local authority, Go-Ahead has introduced a GPS-based Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) system in Brighton & Hove which links to the city's traffic management system and delivers "selective priority" to buses at traffic signals. The resulting improvement in traffic flows and bus reliability has assisted with bus and road capacity issues.

  6.  In short if bus services are to get anywhere near the reliability figures imposed by Traffic Commissioners and therefore avoid the overcrowding on some buses (which can occur when a service is disrupted by congestion), much greater traffic enforcement measures need to be undertaken. Dedicated bus lanes, priority signalling and parking restrictions are the most effective measures to providing efficient and reliable bus service, but "policing" and enforcement are essential if such systems are to deliver improvements.

  7.  If extra public transport capacity is to be provided, the bus delivers the most economic and flexible option, particularly for shorter journeys, provided that appropriate road capacity is made consistently available.

December 2002

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