Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds (REN 18)



  1.  I am submitting this Memorandum as an individual user of ATN's services, but also as an expert in urban and regional transport policy. I have served as an adviser to the Sub-Committee's predecessor, and would be happy to appear before the Sub-Committee if called upon to do so.

  2.  I have limited my submission to the response to ATN's driver shortage in 2001, including the process whereby ATN's services were cut in October 2001, and the SRA subsequently imposed penalties on ATN. I have concentrated on these events because:

    —  the disruption caused was far more serious than that from the present industrial action;

    —  the way in which the SRA dealt with it raises serious questions about their commitment to an integrated transport strategy; and

    —  it is important that lessons are learnt so that any future serious failures by train operators can be handled more effectively.

  3.  I have avoided burdening the Sub-Committee with detail, and concentrate instead on the implications, and recommendations for the ways in which the SRA should deal with similar failures of operators in the future. I can provide the Clerk with further detail, and copies of correspondence with ATN, the SRA and NYCC if required.


  4.  Lack of Warning: It had become clear by mid 2001 that ATN was unable to offer a reliable service with its depleted number of drivers, and that the situation was becoming worse as other operators tempted ATN's drivers away with better conditions of service. I am not sure when consultation on a reduced service started, but I know from my colleagues in the PTEs that they had been involved for some time before the announcement. Despite this, passengers were only advised on the Friday of the serious service reductions to be imposed the following Monday morning.

  5.  Lack of Consultation: My own local transport planning authority, North Yorkshire County Council, was not consulted at all, despite the fact that its area suffered some of the most severe cuts and, in its role in supporting local bus services, it could have been expected to contribute to reducing the impact of the cuts.

  6.  Scale of Reduction: The overall reduction, for services from my local station, Thirsk, was just under 40% on a service which was previously only hourly. Key commuting services to Darlington and Newcastle, to and from York and homebound from Leeds were withdrawn. The only alternative for commuting journeys to Newcastle was a bus with a three minute connection at Darlington. As a result some commuters from Thirsk were forced to change jobs. Many more will have had to switch to car use, and many will not have returned to the trains since.

  7.  Inadequate Replacement Services: The replacement bus service from York was scheduled to add 25 minutes to journeys from Leeds to Thirsk. However, buses initially took a 34 mile route to travel the 27 miles to Thirsk and the additional journey time was thus nearer to 50 minutes. In the early days, before passengers gave up using the bus, there was often standing room only at peak times. ATN claimed in correspondence that these inadequacies were solely the responsibility of its subcontractor.

  8.  Failure to Consider Rail Alternatives: ATN themselves could have reduced the inconvenience to passengers by stopping their occasional through services at Thirsk. They did elect to stop one service, but it did not appear in the timetable, and they claimed that negotiations with Railtrack had delayed its announcement. ATN had still not taken action three months after they offered to investigate the possibility of stopping other trains.

  9.  Inappropriate Penalties: The SRA announced in October that they planned to impose Enforcement Action on ATN and sought views on their proposals. Their chosen indicator, the number of fully productive drivers, was a measure of input rather than output, and took no account of the resulting level of service. Their proposed penalty, of £5,000 per driver-month of shortfall, was based solely on the cost of recruitment to ATN rather than on the disbenefits to passengers. A simple calculation based on the extra travel time caused to passengers affected by cuts in the Thirsk services, and using the Department for Transport' s standard values of time, suggests that the penalty should have been in the range of £15,000 to £25,000 per driver-month. When delays are caused to road users, the disbenefits are assessed in this way, and SRA's failure to adopt a similar basis sends inappropriate signals to both operators and users. When SRA finally announced its Enforcement Action in March 2002 they acted precisely as they proposed in October, and made no reference to the consideration of other approaches.


  10.  It is clear that the ways in which the SRA and ATN implemented their service cuts and replacements paid inadequate regard to the impact on passengers and on the transport system more generally. It is also a matter of concern that neither body, in its correspondence, suggests that it could have done more or acted differently. There is little point now in a detailed post mortem into these events, but it is important that lessons are learnt. It is inevitable that other train operators will from time to time fail significantly to meet their franchise commitments, and it is important that the SRA adopts improved procedures in situations where the problems can be anticipated and are likely to have a long term impact.

  11.  I hope that the Sub-Committee will consider including the following recommendations in its report:

    (i)  The SRA should consult with all concerned bodies, including local transport planning authorities, when considering agreeing to cuts in services.

    (ii)  The SRA should ensure that adequate warning of long term cuts in services is given to passengers. A minimum of two weeks' warning would be desirable.

    (iii)  Where cuts need to be made, they should avoid commuting journeys wherever possible, since users of those services are far less able to make short term changes to their travel requirements.

    (iv)  Consideration should be given to changes to existing train services, including those of other operators, to reduce the impact of service cuts, before considering bus replacements. The SRA should be expected to demonstrate that this has happened, and Railtrack should be required to respond rapidly to requests for approval of such changes in service patterns.

    (v)  Replacement bus services must be specified both as to timetable and to capacity, and it must be the responsibility of the train operator to ensure that they are provided as agreed.

    (vi)  Where the SRA imposes penalties on operators, they must be based on output indicators of the service actually run, rather than simply on input indicators of drivers or trains in service.

    (vii)  Any penalties imposed must be calculated based on the cost incurred by users of the transport system, using the procedures set out in Department for Transport guidance.

Professor A D May FREng.

5 June 2002

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