Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from NECTAR (BUS 16)

1.  These comments come from NECTAR - the North East Combined Transport Activists' Roundtable.

2.  NECTAR is an open, voluntary, umbrella body, established to provide a forum in which the many organisations with an interest in sustainable transport in all its forms can develop a co-ordinated view on contemporary transport issues.

3.  NECTAR is one of a national network of Transport Activists; Roundtables sustained through Campaign for Better Transport. As such, NECTAR provides opportunity for the exchange of news, studies and information.

4.  It was in the course of our most recent such opportunity - an executive committee meeting on 11 December 2010 that we realised that, much as we might wish to respond constructively to the HoC Inquiry, much of the specific information about the consequences to bus services of all kinds was not yet available to us, or to anybody else.

Two main reasons for this stand out:

—  (i)  Local authority supported bus services - the most likely ones, in our view, to come under financial threat - run from April to March (ie the financial year), so will not change for another three months yet.

—  (ii)  The amounts that the Government has allotted to each local authority have only been made known in the last two or three weeks. With the onset of the Christmas and New Year holiday period, one which this time, exceptionally, includes no fewer than seven non-working days instead of the usual three or four, no local authority can possibly be expected to have formed any definite plan of action over reducing expenditure on its multifarious public service obligations, including those connected with bus services.

5.  We know, however, that Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council will be holding a public meeting, one of its regular "Public Transport Forum" sessions, on Saturday, 22 January 2011. This is, in our view, the earliest day when a member of the bus-using public may gain even an inkling of what an already hard-pressed body of public transport officials has been able - or been forced - to put forward as cuts, or other adjustments, to the borough's bus network.

6.  As this is undoubtedly the position that, mutatis mutandis, will apply throughout the North-East region for some time yet, we wish to ask that you delay the closing-date for receiving evidence for at least a further eight weeks.

7.  Meanwhile, we have noted, from the Government's Department of Transport Business Plan 2011-15, published in November 2010 and to be annually up-dated, that the Coalition Priorities (under heading B, page 2) include, at No.3, the intention to "encourage sustainable local travel.....by making public transport.....more attractive and effective, promoting lower carbon transport and tackling local road congestion". This Priority is an expanded version of part of the previous page's paragraphs headed "Vision", which also aim "to make transport cleaner and greener".

8.  If, as we hope, this government is sincere in these aims and priorities, then the one thing that it must not do is reduce the amount of money that is spent on providing bus services (and, indeed, any and every other form of transport that produces, proportionally, lower carbon emission figures than do cars and lorries). Yet the terms of this Inquiry start from an assumption that such reduction is already taking place. We cannot underline too strongly the inherent contradiction between the DfT Business Plan as quoted and the Terms of Reference given to those providing and/or sifting evidence that may be considered relevant to "Bus Services after the Spending Review".

9.  We urge, therefore, that not only does the House of Commons Transport Committee agree to our request for a delay to the closing date, as mentioned in §6, but also take what steps it can in its own right to point out that much of what it is likely to receive in evidence is also firm indication that, thanks to this Spending Review, the Coalition's Business Plan is bound to fail in its aim to promote lower-carbon transport and tackle road congestion.

10.  The recent Christmas and New Year holiday period has highlighted, once again, the inequitable provision of public transport in general in this country. Unlike most other European countries, we have to do without all buses and trains on Christmas Day itself, as well as (in most areas) a similar dearth throughout Boxing Day. On New Year's Day itself, customs vary - no buses in North-Eastern England (our territory) and few trains, mainly those from further afield eg Transpennine services between Manchester and Middlesbrough, rather than the local Northern Rail services.

11.  There have been a number a sporadic attempts by user groups and other transport supporters to persuade bus operators and the local authorities in their operating areas to introduce at least a limited bus service on some or all of these three days. Usually this has met with little success. It is not that local authorities and/or bus operators are against the idea in principle: but they have not been prepared to take the financial risk that they see in putting such services on. This, to us, is a clear sign that public transport is regarded as a fall-back to private travel provision - and, with spending cuts looming, this (dis)regard is hardly going to be superseded by an improvement in bus service-levels on these, or indeed other, bank holiday days each year. Once again, this militates against the Government's declared aim of encouraging greener and less polluting forms of transport [cf. §§ 7 and 8 in our original submission].

12.  This year's unusual additions of Bank Holidays-in-lieu (27, 28 December and 3 January), has probably produced more than the average confusion for bus users over exactly which buses are running, to which timetables, on any of these disrupted days. One example, from the Teesside area, will illustrate this:

Monday 3 January, designated a Bank Holiday in 2011, saw widely-contrasting levels of bus service in the borough of Stockton (and elsewhere, as served by the bus operators concerned). Stagecoach ran a full Saturday service (ie little different from a normal Monday in most respects) for those in the northern and eastern areas of the borough (plus Billingham and the south end of Hartlepool, in effect); Arriva, on the other hand, ran a Sunday service for those living to the south and the west, particularly on the Eaglescliffe and Yarm corridor, where this resulted in one bus per hour rather than the normal weekday 10-minute service.

13.  Spending cuts are hardly likely to encourage anyone to try even to smooth out this discrepancy in future years, never mind to improve the level of bus provision overall. We submit this as an additional, seasonally-inspired piece of evidence for the likely adverse effects on bus services of the Government's funding cuts, in direct contradiction, as stated earlier [§9], of its aims to encourage use of public transport as a means of reducing road congestion. But we would still appreciate a two-month extension of the time available to complete our search for specific evidence of actual cuts for the House of Commons Select Committee to consider.

December 2010

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