Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Memorandum by Department for Transport (OPT 16)



  1.  Overcrowding on public transport is an issue the Government takes very seriously. However it is not a new problem. Commuters on some services have routinely had to contend with crowding when travelling at peak hours for many decades. From the point of view of the person left unable to get onto a vehicle because of overcrowding, the bus or train, or whatever vehicle it is, might as well not have run, and the fact that it might have been on time is quite irrelevant. For those on board overcrowded vehicles, the difficulty of getting a seat can be a serious problem, especially if they are with young children and/or carrying shopping. Bad overcrowding not only adversely affects passenger comfort but also gives rise to a public perception of potential safety risks. For these reasons service providers are required to have in place a strategy for addressing overcrowding.


  2.  It is a key objective for the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to tackle overcrowding on the rail network.

  3.  There are several reasons for passenger overcrowding on rail services. There are capacity constraints on the network, particularly on London and South-East routes, where 70% of passenger journeys take place, and on the West and East Coast Main lines. There are more passengers travelling now than at the time of privatisation and since 1996-97, the number of passenger kilometres travelled has risen by 22%. Overcrowding is also exacerbated by delays and cancellations to services.

  4.  In many places the railway network is now operating close to maximum capacity. This constrains future growth and undermines the quality of service that operators can provide. The Department's 10-Year Plan (published in July 2000) seeks to address these problems. The Department's report on progress against the 10 Year Plan was issued on 17 December 2002.

Rail Objectives

  5.  The SRA is charged with delivering the Government's objectives for rail and published its first Strategic Plan in January 2001. It will be publishing the first update early next year. The Authority focuses investment on those parts of the network that suffer the most overcrowding and where the need for enhancements in infrastructure are most acute.

  6.  Major projects are underway to increase capacity and reduce overcrowding. These include the Cross Country upgrade and the first section of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which is scheduled to open in 2003. The SRA recently announced its strategy for delivering the West Coast Main Line upgrade. Future projects, such as Thameslink 2000 are being developed to meet forecast growth in demand. In the longer term additional capacity could be provided through proposals such as Crossrail. On 6 November the SRA announced its proposals for reducing the number of franchises serving key London stations. This will bring capacity and customer service benefits and thus aid the reduction of overcrowding.

The Secretary of State's Directions and Guidance to the SRA

  7.  The Authority works to Directions and Guidance from the Secretary of State, which clearly define its role and duties. The Directions and Guidance require the SRA to promote efficiency and economy and set it 12 main objectives. Of these, its two principal objectives are to work with the rail industry to achieve substantial lasting improvements in performance; and to work to deliver the targets in the Department's Ten Year Plan, which include targeting overcrowding. As part of this the SRA is engaged in identifying the franchises where capacity and/or overcrowding problems are most acute and setting out potential mitigation measures.

  8.  The SRA is continuing to develop its national strategy for the railway within the framework of the Directions and Guidance and in the light of emerging conclusions from the consultation exercises it has recently undertaken on capacity utilisation policy and national fares policy.

SRA's Capacity Utilisation Policy

  9.  The capacity of the rail network to deal with increased demand can be assisted by applying a better set of priorities and better management of the capacity that is currently available. To this end, the SRA is currently looking at what needs to be done to make the most of the existing network capacity. In September 2002, the Authority published a consultation document on its Capacity Utilisation Policy. The first such exercise of its kind: the capacity study is investigating all aspects of rail operations—from timetabling to the length and frequency of trains. The benefits are expected to include reduced overcrowding achieved by improvements to operating practices, better deployment of rolling stock and alterations to timetables. The consultation period came to an end in November and the SRA is currently analysing the responses it has received and will publish a policy document shortly.

SRA's Review of National Fares Policy

  10.  On 19 July 2002, the SRA initiated a review of the national fares policy. The review covers a wide range of issues, which will also include the links between fares, overcrowding and performance. It published a consultation document on 19 July 2002. The consultation period ended on 11 October 2002. The Authority is now considering the responses to its consultation exercise. Recommendations will be made to Ministers in the New Year.

Managing Overcrowding

  11.  Franchise Operators, whose job it is to manage overcrowding on a day to day basis, are required by their franchise agreements to avoid regular, systematic, excessive overcrowding and are required by the SRA to plan their timetables so as to ensure that adequate capacity is provided. As train operators offer a "walk-on" service it is difficult to control the number of passengers boarding any one train, but the contractual requirement to provide adequate capacity provides protection for passengers from systematic under-provision.

  12.  On commuter services into and out of London and Edinburgh, where overcrowding occurs regularly at peak times, the SRA applies specific controls to keep crowding levels within acceptable limits. In these areas, train operators are required to plan the provision of services to comply with an SRA standard known as Passengers in Excess of Capacity (PIXC). This standard is intended to ensure that the average number of passengers carried during the peaks does not exceed the nominal capacity of the rolling stock[2] provided by more than 4.5% in either the morning or evening peak taken in isolation, or more than 3% both peaks combined. If passenger counts for these services demonstrate overcrowding above the PIXC thresholds, the SRA can require an action plan for dealing with the capacity shortfall. A similar rule is operated in other cities by the Passenger Transport Authorities.

  13.  In 2001, nearly half a million people travelled by train into London each morning. This is the highest figure since the late 1980s. Despite this growth in use at peak times, overcrowding has decreased on eight out of the 10 London franchises since spring 2001, and the number of operators that have exceeded the PIXC threshold has fallen from five to four.


  14.  Crowding on the London Underground can be a particular problem in certain locations at certain times of day. It is an issue that LUL takes very seriously. Services are planned to minimise journey times and delays caused by crowding. Day-to-day operational management is focused on ensuring that the safety risks are as low as reasonably practical, and that services are run reliably, to minimise crowding.

  15.  Customer perceptions of train and platform crowding are measured quarterly in London Underground's Customer Satisfaction Survey along with 17 other service attributes. The average satisfaction scores in the year to date are 71 (Train Crowding) and 73 (Platform Crowding) out of 100 which is an improvement on scores for 2001/02 (69 and 72 respectively). LUL also measure crowding levels on trains and at busy stations on a quarterly basis, and customer usage data is updated annually.

  16.  In the context of increasing demand, London Underground has sought to address crowding by increasing service volumes. In the last five years they have increased the operated service by over 3 million train kilometres, including a half-million train kilometres increase in peak service volumes. In a sense LU is a victim of its own success, as service improvements have led to additional demand, absorbing some of the generated capacity.

  17.  Every London Underground station has its own plan for managing emergencies and congestion. These plans detail particular local characteristics such as pinch-points and set out the procedures to deal with situations of severe crowding. Station staff (assisted by CCTV and other technology) actively monitor levels of station crowding, so that action can be taken to prevent dangerous situations occurring. Typically the response to a build up in crowding will be to restrict flows to platforms by stopping escalators, reversing ticket gates or even temporarily closing station entrances. This is a regular occurrence at some central London stations (eg Victoria). London Underground believe this process is effective and there have been very few reportable injuries due to crowding in the last five years.

  18.  Train crowding is largely self-regulating with train capacity as the de facto control on crowding levels—ie people prefer to wait for the next train rather than board a very crowded train. Trains, their braking systems, and signalling systems are all designed to operate safely under conditions which are more crowded than are experienced in practice. Crowding on trains is also affected by uneven distributions of customers along platforms, customers with luggage/baggage taking up space and general customer behaviour such as not moving down inside the cars. Occasional reliability problems lead to uneven intervals between trains resulting in some being more crowded than others.

  19.  Managing crowding is part of the day-to-day working life for Underground staff. Addressing the overall levels of crowding is another issue. In the short term, London Underground is pursuing measures to improve reliability and therefore maximise delivery of scheduled capacity. In the longer term, line upgrades delivered by the PPP will provide an increase in peak capacity, which together with improvements in asset availability will be sufficient to meet increasing demand over the next 15 years without significantly worse crowding. A programme of station congestion relief projects will also be undertaken as funding and the planning process allow. However, really dramatic reductions in Underground crowding require major new infrastructure projects—some of which, such as Crossrail and Thameslink 2000 are under consideration for future development.


  20.  In the West Midlands, Midland Metro does not have any overcrowding problems on their Metro services and in the North East; overcrowding is generally not an issue for the Tyne and Wear Metro.

  21.  In London, the Docklands Light Rail is becoming very crowded as the occupancy of Canary Wharf increases—particularly the Lewisham to Canary Wharf line. That said, the situation is being addressed. A capacity enhancement project has begun, moving from two to three car operation and works involving new railcars, changes to depot facilities, and some station/platform alterations are all being promoted with a tentative estimate for completion in 2006.

  22.  Sheffield's tram system is said to be nearly at capacity and gets very busy at peak times. When this is combined with people travelling to events (for example at Hillsborough—Sheffield Wednesday—or the Sheffield Arena) then overcrowding does happen and passengers may not be able to board the first tram that stops at their station. The trams do run every 10 minutes and so people generally wait for the next tram and the situation is quickly alleviated.

  23.  The Sheffield Tram system has 25 trams of which 23 are normally in daily use. One tram is always in for servicing/checking and the remaining tram on standby. The 23 trams mean there is a tram every 10 minutes—in times of severe overcrowding the standby tram can be used to increase the frequency slightly, but this can only be done on one of the three lines. SYPTE say that more trams could theoretically be put on the network. However, as the system includes on-road running its impact would need to be assessed—there are already some pinch points where trams get stuck in traffic—and of course, there would have to be a financial case for buying more trams.

  24.  In the North West, there is overcrowding on Phase 1 of Manchester Metrolink during peak times and GMPTE submitted a bid in 2000 to the Department, for funding for additional vehicles. It was initially hoped that these would be second hand vehicles from San Francisco but they were found to be unsuitable and GMPTE is now trying to broker a deal to obtain vehicles from Bonn, subject to them being able to release surplus vehicles on delivery of new stock. Funding is being held back subject to GMPTA reporting satisfactory progress on acquiring the vehicles.

  25.  There is overcrowding at times on the Blackpool Tramway, but it is very seasonal due to the nature of the tourist trade. The other two systems in the North West at Birkenhead and Heaton Park (Manchester) are purely for leisure use and do not have an overcrowding problem.


  26.  The Public Service Vehicles (Carrying Capacity) Regulations 1984 set out the requirements for determining how many passengers may stand or sit on buses and coaches. The number of passengers that can be carried on a given bus or coach, whether standing or seated, must be clearly marked within the vehicle and should not be exceeded. Management of crowding can be achieved by adhering to, and enforcing these figures.

  27.  For bus operators, outside London, the under-utilisation of buses is the area of concern, and not overcrowding. In looking at how to attract more customers onto buses, successive customer surveys on satisfaction with buses, doesn't suggest that overcrowding is a major cause of dissatisfaction with services but that routing, frequency of service and reliability tend to be the focus of concern.


  28.  In London the provision of bus services is the responsibility of the Mayor and Transport for London. There is currently strong growth in bus patronage on the London Bus Network and this is forecast to continue. Growth is occurring in all areas and at all times of the day and days of the week.

  29.  TfL is expanding and enhancing the network to meet the demand and the requirements of the Mayor's Transport Strategy. Major enhancements have been made to the London Buses network, more are being implemented in advance of the introduction of the central London congestion charge in February 2003 and there are further enhancements planned for 2003-04.

  30.  TfL undertakes regular, extensive monitoring of the demand on London's bus network, with a view to identifying specific problems early. This is achieved through substantive usage surveys and regular contact with all London's local authorities and other stakeholders such as LTUC, user groups, schools, hospitals, business and resident associations across the capital. Direct feedback from customers who contact TfL via customer services teams is also reviewed.

  31.  Services are regularly reviewed to ensure they continue to meet passenger needs and the levels of demand. Services are planned to provide adequate capacity at the peak time, in the peak direction. So that passengers can board the first bus to arrive, services are planned on the basis that the average load per bus in the busiest hour does not exceed 70-80% of the total capacity of the buses on that route. This allows for very busy journeys within the peak hour. There are some exceptionally busy stops (for example outside mainline rail terminals) where this will not be achievable. In these cases, service frequencies are planned so that passengers can expect to wait no more than ten minutes before boarding a bus.

  32.  Poor service reliability has a significant impact on overcrowding. To this end TfL has invested significantly in measures that assist bus operation by reducing the impact of traffic congestion and delays (eg priority measures, enforcement, etc).


  33.  Unlike the other transport modes, aviation and shipping do not provide a walk on service. Overcrowding is therefore not considered to be an issue, as passenger numbers are more strictly controlled.

December 2002

2   Each type of rolling stock used on the network has a nominal capacity, based on the standards formerly set by British Rail. In summary, all passengers are expected to have seats for journeys of over 20 minutes. For shorter journeys a train will usually count as being overcrowded when more then 30% of passengers are standing. Back

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