Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Dengie Hundred Bus User Group (BUS 22)


1.1  This submission is made, as Chair, on behalf of the Dengie Hundred Bus Users Group [DHBUG] a community group which was set up in 2010.

1.2  The Group was originally set up to combat the withdrawal of the 31X through the upper part of Althorne, a local village. However that exercise coincided with the consultation/review of concessionary fares and that led to more members and a wider review. It soon became apparent that the problems being encountered in Althorne, are also being experienced across the whole of the Dengie and in all probability will be representative of problems in other rural areas. It is for that reason that we feel it is appropriate to make this submission.


1.3  There is a summary of our findings / experiences under each of the areas of interest. Our evidence is largely empirical with the focus on meaningful involvement in transport management at local community level. Key features have been highlighted.


1.4  The purpose of the Group is to campaign for continued and improved bus services and travel facilities in the Dengie Hundred area as part of an overall public transport system that:

—  provides services that satisfies residents needs;

—  is coordinated, integrated, and affordable;

—  reduces car usage, road congestion; and

—  as a consequence, provides greener travel with a decrease in the carbon footprint.

1.5  The Dengie Peninsula is part of the Maldon District in—"Central Essex". The Peninsula covers an area of about 140 square miles. It is surrounded by water; to the north by the River Blackwater; to the east by the North Sea; and to the south by the River Crouch. There are no bridges across the estuaries, the lowest crossing points are Maldon [Blackwater] and Battlesbridge [Crouch]. The three main centres of population are Burnham on Crouch, Southminster, and Mayland. The Peninsula has two of the least densely occupied electoral wards in Essex—Tillingham and St Lawrence.

Travel patterns

1.6  Transportation is a particular issue for residents in the Peninsula as the surrounding waterways make for a significant reliance on East/ West links. The only railway line serving the District runs between Southminster and Wickford, stopping at Burnham on Crouch, Fambridge and Woodham Ferrers en route. At Wickford there are connections to Southend and Shenfield to London Liverpool Street. The importance of this branch line is likely to increase with the introduction of Crossrail—running from Shenfield to Heathrow. There is a telling argument for "Park and Ride" principle for train passengers eg free parking at stations for season ticket holders. A "Quirk" review of station assets?

1.7  For the District as a whole it is reported that 93% of the 25,000 households have at least one car and 15% of these have two or more [3,348 households]. When a car is used for work the remainder of the household will often be dependent on other means of transport. 69% of economically active residents use a car to travel to work, either as drivers or passengers. 9% use public transport [7% train; 2% bus]. 13% cycle or walk. About half the workforce travel out of the District by train or bus and 78% by car. These figures illustrate the dependence in the area on private transport but also show the link to the local economy [car servicing].

1.8  With migration into the District and developments in the Thames Gateway the probability is that the number of commuters will increase. Extra traffic, and increased congestion is anticipated with developments at Bradwell [on east coast]—nuclear power plant and wind farm.


2.1  We are in a "Guess and Fear" stage.

2.2  To date, for a lay group such as ourselves, the information on the "cuts" is being released in general terms only. Attempts to get assessments from both local councils and service operators have been essentially "dead batted". Everyone it seems is waiting for details.

2.3  The broadly held assumption is that we are entering into a less [possibly non] subsidised era. In some quarters there is "belief" that overall bus subsidies could be reduced by up to 50%. The expectation is that BSOG will be reduced and the most quoted figure is seen to be by 20%, there will also be the prospect of reductions in the reimbursement for Concessionary Fare Passengers. If true, all assessments are that there will be a reduction in services. With any level of service reduction the impact is likely to be serious at this time when both customers and contractors need it to rise in order to maintain let alone improve services.

2.4  Our view is that there is an urgent need for voluntary and community sector groups, working in partnership with local contractors, to provide more rational, integrated, and relevant facilities. However, without access to hard facts it is impossible to even start putting together a meaningful business plan.


3.1  This has been a live issue since the Group was formed and as a consequence opinions have been canvassed. The prevailing concern, and our original, campaign goal was for the continuation of the "early start time" [ie 9 AM rather than the strategy guide of 9.30]. The local case for this adjustment is based on the infrequency of service and to avoid unfairness where people further along the route could use the bus whilst others were "departure time excluded".

3.2  Feedback on the direct question at a public meeting in answer to the question—"would you be prepared to pay a reduced fare [as distinct to free passage]?" brought a strong response "Yes—provided it was a good service". The general finding is that the potential to travel "countrywide" is not jealously guarded. The discussions almost always centre on the convenience of a service rather than the cost.

3.3  For people currently using buses to travel to work there is concern that fares will increase or services will be lost as the number of pensioners increase. This is not only because national concessionary funding does not increase in line with the network coverage, but also from strong suggestions that the payments to contractors for concessionary fares are to be reduced and rural services will be the first to suffer. Needless to say if there is no service, the pass is meaningless, already the case in some localities in this area.

Fares versus public funding

3.4  To avoid the "no service" situation, customer expectations of fares may well need to change. So that affordable fares can be offered, the emphasis will need to be on encouraging more paying customers ["greater passenger contribution"] and that will require more convenient services ie fit for purpose.

3.5  Travel vouchers could be a useful approach to allow users to choose the transport option that best meets their needs. In some cases this could mean the traveller who is eligible for concessionary travel uses the bus when they're able to do so free of charge. Then, in recognition that the bus services can be limited in rural areas, voucher provision would allow an affordable level of support for them to use on the more responsive transport eg taxi and community transport trips.

3.6  Another option would be to reduce the number of scheduled services and replace them with "demand responsive transport" services where "top up" fares can be charged to concessionary pass holders. This could mean that elderly people can still benefit from reduced cost transport which could be seen to be better than the alternative of having no transport at all!

3.7  A further advantage of such an approach is that fare and subsidy levels can be used to manage the budget whereas if an authority only supports conventional bus services it will be forced, when facing a budget shortfall, to cut some services altogether.


4.1  In making this submission a key purpose is to draw attention to the barriers to community involvement that follow from the [over?] commitment to "Performance Management". With its matrix of "scores, weighted indices, and ranking" all too often treated as a single entity and manipulated according to a particular policy.

4.2  During our inquiries it has frequently been observed that we "do not understand"; often that will be true but we have yet to be convinced that the official/councillor making the observation does either, particularly on the issue of other approaches ie alternatives to the total reliance on "Performance Management"!

Sharing Experiences: "Organisational Gridlock"

4.3  Our collective experience is that the existing "Partnership Arrangements" have all sorts of boundaries and these create both visible and invisible barriers to the efficient passing on of "hard" information [facts, numbers, data] and the "soft" information [expectations, judgements, feelings and opinions]. The free flow of such communication is essential if the local community is to be involved and interact in a positive way with the rapidly changing environments [financial and transportation].

4.4  For localism to be effective there has to be greater flexibility, much improved communication together with a clear commitment to meet the changing conditions, people's needs and expectations—including the capacity to create understanding of any limitations.

4.5  Partnership has to be meaningful and that will need progress from "consultation" [this is what we are going to do what do you think?] and pass "participation" to real "involvement" [ie how can / should we deal with.. .?]

Tackling the problems

4.6  From our review of various Government and other Reports dealing with Rural Services we have identified the following core ambitions:

—  Improving and integrating transport services to provide:

—  services that satisfy residents' needs;

—  are coordinated, integrated, and affordable;

—  reduced car usage, road congestion; and

—  as a consequence, provide greener travel with a decrease in the carbon footprint.

—  Creating more flexible, demand responsive transport.

—  Providing targeted / specialist transport.

—  Improving the location and delivery of services.

—  Providing better local transport information.

—  Encouraging passenger involvement [feedback and suggestions].

4.7  Accepting that the CSR is driven by the need to reduce public expenditure it will inevitably mean that funding will decline and reinforce the need for efficiency in the design/delivery of services. It should also mean that services/budgets are reviewed to ensure they all provide the best match against social needs. In turn that requires that we move from "post graduate mathematics" to meaningful communication; paying less attention to what we spend, rather putting the emphasis on how we spend it.

4.8  Our, admittedly limited, research leads us to believe that the CSR and the "Big Society" proposals provide that opportunity to think laterally—to focus on local transport needs and tailor facilities to match those needs in the context of both the economy and the environment.

Access to Transport

4.9  Access to transport can be a major barrier to social inclusion and deprived neighbourhoods. Our enquiries have shown that poor transport links can isolate people from jobs, education, training and essential health services. It can also increase residents' isolation by making it harder for them to visit family and friends or take part in other social activities. There are a number of our members who cannot drive due to financial constraints, disability or age. For the 16% of households who do not own a car, the lack of mobility causes particular hardship. This is because there is a continuing decline in the availability of rural services [including closure of shops, pubs, post offices and now Banks], requiring people to travel greater distances eg to collect post that could not be delivered.

4.10  People on low incomes, whose only option is to run a car, often then struggle to meet the cost of running it. These costs are generally higher in rural areas because of the distances people have to travel and because filling stations tend to charge higher prices

4.11  It is estimated that low income households in the least densely populated areas spend an average of 30% more on motoring per week than those in the more densely populated areas.

Passengers' Views/Involvement

4.12  From this Group's perspective this is the most pressing need for change after a review/ revision of the "Performance Management" data/techniques.

4.13  We believe it is essential that future planning centres on locality, with the core focus on customer and community needs. Beyond that there needs to be a meaningful involvement. Not only around current needs/provision but also recognising that passenger convenience is an essential feature if we are to encourage wider use of public transport.

Making the case for investment

4.14  Our case for investment is built on:

—  Access to services;

—  Building an inclusive society.

For example, transport to employment and/or training helps not only to get to work but also opportunities to train for employment. At the same time it offers companies the chance to increase their competitiveness with improved labour market catchments and a better trained workforce.

4.15  Although rural residents travel more and pay proportionately more for transport, there is a greater proportion of the transport industry workforce in urban areas. Investment in local depots can address that situation and cut "dead mileage". The community transport sector also acts as a significant player in the market with voluntary roles as drivers, passenger assistants, and admin staff investing "in kind" ie time.

4.16  It is seen as essential in planning public transport that educational authorities think about transport beyond their statutory deliverables. Local partnerships will need to include education planning and transport in their deliberations. This also covers the need to ensure fair and equitable access to extended school provision—breakfast and after school clubs events. This planning is likely to be particularly important with the withdrawal of Educational Maintenance Allowance.

Passenger Focus

4.17  The website is a useful source of information but more hyperlinks [eg to Government sites] would be useful.

4.18  Important that the Reports provide the general guidance as well [eg on Bus Service Changes]. In our case the question was why the changes were being made, and the reply was due to congestion and time keeping. With two performance indicators [LTP2 and LTP5] there should have been an explanation on where the congestion was occurring, the time of the day and whether that could be addressed to avoid the re-routing if accountability is to be meaningful. A classic case for arbitration or appeal. No guidance was available.

Annex A



"For the past 20 years or so I have been a Parish Transport Representative for my local village, Althorne, in Essex. The role is unpaid and involves working in partnership with Essex County Council Passenger Transport Department and also liaising with local bus operators, in the case of First with Alan Pilbeam, MD of First Eastern Counties.

The effect of my input is often fairly minor, but in 2007 as a result of discussions over a long period, First agreed to divert the 31X Burnham on Crouch to Chelmsford bus through our village. This diversion took only an extra four minutes but the effect on the residents was enormous. Althorne is a small village of about 1,100 residents, including more than twice the national average of elderly, and this new bus service transformed our lives. Suddenly people could access their doctors' surgeries and hospitals in Burnham, Southminster, Maldon and Chelmsford, get to work, to the bank, libraries, shops, swimming pool, visit their families and friends, etc, all under their own steam.

Sadly, in December 2009, the service was withdrawn from five of our six bus stops and many people have been cut off; the bus now effectively bypasses the village, stopping once at the northern edge of Althorne. The geography of the village—on a steep hill—has meant that very many of the former users of the 31X service are not able to walk up to 1½ miles to the only bus stop. We have a patchwork of other bus services, but nothing to match what we had with the 31X.

First's reason for withdrawing the bus was to meet punctuality targets—we were told that insufficient people were using the bus. This is a small village and we see and know what people are really doing. We believe First's figures were wrong—their survey was undertaken during August which is atypical."


There are 13 different bus services which go through Althorne but only one (the 31X) which could be said to be really useful, unless your needs just happen to coincide with the odd service.

Of the 12 services, six only run during school days, ie term-time M-F. The 67, 510, 524, 593 are school buses which can be used by the general public if there are spaces. The 200/220 are school buses which are used during the school day as shopping buses between their morning and afternoon school runs.

The Fords 5 & 6 run fortnightly, one on Thursday to SWF and one on Friday to Chelmsford, and you need to phone Fords to find out which week you are in.

The D2 runs one bus from Southminster Station to Latchingdon which passes through Althorne in the late afternoon, but different time M-F and Sat.

The D3 runs from Burnham to Maldon through Althorne, M-F only, but during the school holidays too. It runs children to school, as well as people to work

The D5 is fairly complicated:

Sundays—no buses at all unless you can get a lift to Latchingdon—then two hourly to Maldon and Chelmsford.

Annex B



B.1  This Map is seen to show a diversity of service routes but also suggests a more integrated service plan could be designed / developed. Follow on enquiries on this possibility tended to confirm our doubts on the management system currently in use.

B.2  A response from the Bus Company explained:

"Essex County Council (ECC), may decide to support a service through tender subsidy; subject to the local authority's transport strategy and parameters set for supported services.
My understanding from discussions last year, is that Althorne has a population between 1,000 to 1,999. I believe ECC's parameters for supported services, based on the funding at the time, is at a level of four return journeys per day for six days of the week."

B.3  In turn we looked at the Essex Road Transport Strategy 2006-11 Table E.3 which sets out the Minimum Service Levels for Deep Rural Areas which are based on settlement size. We question the validity of this approach partly on the issue of population size but also on the "separation of settlements". Our analysis suggests that a more valid measure would be population "on the route" ie the cumulative total of the populations for all settlements on a specific bus route. Similarly we feel a better statistical base would be on households / adults.

B.4  Given the need to have local verifiable data our conclusion is that the better indicators are the number of properties having a liability for council tax linked with the electoral roll. MDC provided the data. There could be a further indicator from analysis of "work places" ie through Business Rates and possibly the number of households qualifying for Council Tax Benefit / Single occupant reduction as a measure of deprivation.

B.5  Whilst it has not been possible to assemble local evidence on income and expenditure, the impression is that earnings for those working locally are less than those commuting to work.

However soundings suggest that research for Joseph Rowntree Foundation [A minimum income standard for rural areas] has a relevance to the local transport costs for rural communities.

Footnote: Work in partnership with representatives from other bodies

The Group:

—  has two committee members who are Representatives on the Parish Passenger Transport Group;

—  has affiliated to Bus Users UK;

—  has direct access to the Director of Viking Community Transport;

—  has close support from Burnham Town Council and Althorne Parish Council; and

—  has access to officers at the RCCE.

Burnham Town Council Office is an information point where people can pick up bus and train timetables and apply for concessionary bus passes and senior rail cards.

The Group will seek actively involved in consultation when the Essex County Council Dengie Connections bus contract comes up for renewal in 2012.

January 2011

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