Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from U Benjafield (BUS 23)


1.1  Qualification to comment

1.1.1  As Parish Passenger Transport Representative for Althorne in Essex, a small village of 1,100 people, I would like to comment on how my community is likely to be affected by the Comprehensive Spending Review.

1.1.2  Parish Passenger Transport Representatives are volunteers, either parish councillors or nominated to represent parish councils, who work with Essex County Council's Passenger Transport Department to receive ECC information and provide feedback from the community. I have had this role for more than 21 years.

1.1.3  I am a founder member of the Dengie Hundred Bus Users' Group.

1.1.4  I am also a member of the Essex and South Suffolk Community Rail Partnership and Althorne Station adopter.

1.2  Background

1.2.1  My comments will be in the context of a rural background which, as Members of the Select Committee from rural constituencies will know, is relevant to many other small rural communities.

1.2.2  Althorne has twice the national average of over 60s. Many residents have never driven or are no longer confident to drive, many still drive although they would prefer not to due to infirmity, etc.

1.2.3  Only 20% of the village has access to a regular hourly bus service.

1.2.4  The village appears superficially to be well supplied with buses—about 13 services. However, most are school buses which can also be used by adults, shopping buses which run only in term time, or commuter buses which only serve peak time trains at Althorne Station which is about a mile from the edge of the village.

1.2.5  Three of our buses are part of a county council contract; one of these in particular is very poorly used, probably because it does not go where bus users need to go, and is too infrequent and too complicated to understand. ECC also provides a twice weekly shopper bus to replace the hourly commercial service which was withdrawn from 80% of the village in December 2009.

1.2.6  Until December 2009, the whole of Althorne was very well served by the hourly First Bus 31X service which still runs between Burnham on Crouch and Chelmsford via Maldon but has been withdrawn from five of the six bus stops in the village and now serves only the one stop on the northernmost tip of the village and is easily accessible to only 20% of the population.

1.2.7  Since the 31X was withdrawn, two families have moved from the village because they had no transport, three members of staff at the local residential care home have had to find other jobs because they could not get to work, and visitors to the care home have found the journey long, complicated or impossible.

1.2.8  80% of the village does not have regular access to a bus which would get them to work, to the doctor's surgery, hospitals, clinics, dentists, opticians, libraries, shops, swimming pool, adult education, or to visit friends and family.

1.2.9  There are no evening or Sunday buses and the timing of the bus which now serves the major part of the village does not allow for residents to go out on Saturday afternoons.


2.1  Although the reduction in the BSOG has been less than was expected, I understand that at times such as these when margins are very tight, any reduction in support for bus operators may well lead to commercial services being withdrawn.

2.2  The knock-on effect of withdrawing commercial services will be to place an even greater burden on local authorities to provide contract services at a time when their finances are equally stretched.

2.3  It is difficult to see how bus passengers, especially those in rural areas where journeys are longer, will not suffer a huge reduction in their services with the consequent deleterious effects:

—  2.3.1  Inability to access employment (Althorne is located in the Dengie Pensinsula which is already subject to higher rates of unemployment than the rest of the Maldon District).

—  2.3.2  Social isolation, with the consequent deterioration in health and well-being.

—  2.3.3  Difficult or no access to health services.


3.1  Free concessionary bus travel since 2007 has had a hugely beneficial effect which includes committed car owners being tempted out of their cars and on to the bus.

—  3.1.1  In our area, initially the greatest effect was to get people to use the Chelmsford park and ride service because concessionary pass holders could then drive to Chelmsford and park free of charge.

—  3.1.2  People who were previously proud car owners discovered that buses could be clean, reliable and enjoyable. The result was a great reduction in traffic in Chelmsford town centre which, coupled with the advantage of a bus lane into town, had a great effect on all buses in the town.

—  3.1.3  The result was that people were then tempted on to other bus services and concessionary pass holders started taking their grandchildren with them on the bus, thus encouraging good bus-using habits in a new generation.

3.2  One of the beneficial effects of free concessionary bus travel has been the resultant independence and consequent physical and mental well-being.

3.3  I am very concerned that there will not be sufficient funding for bus operators to continue to run services which are heavily used by concessionary pass holders.

—  3.3.1  Originally, fare paying bus passengers could support passengers travelling free off peak because every extra passenger (at around 60p in the £) was a bonus.

—  3.3.2  Now there are so many concessionary pass passengers that if the level of reimbursement falls too far, services will become unprofitable and will be withdrawn, causing problems for paying passengers too.

—  3.3.3  One solution would be to ask concessionary pass holders to pay a small fare. A show of hands at our local bus users' group indicated that concessionary pass holders would rather make a contribution than lose a bus service. In this way, government could still support concessionary pass holders but bus users could also make a small commitment themselves.

—  3.3.4  It is important to remember that whilst the Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007 has brought free bus travel for many people, there are still many more on low incomes who either have no bus at all where they live or who are reliant on Community Transport where, certainly in our area, they pay less than a taxi fare, but a considerable amount more than a bus fare.


4.1  Passengers' views carry very little weight

4.1.1  There is no requirement to consult with passengers regarding commercial bus services. When our bus service was withdrawn, I was notified—as a courtesy—by the operator, but by then the decision had been made and there was less than a week before the change was registered with VOSA.

4.1.2  Essex County Council do consult with us on contracted services but their minimum service levels often do not allow for a very satisfactory service. The absence of evening and Sunday services leads to social isolation or to heavy reliance on cars. (Once someone has bought a car because they need to travel in the evening or on Sunday, they will use it for all their journeys because the investment and basic costs of tax, insurance, etc. need to be justified.)

4.2  The role of Passenger Focus

4.2.1  My only contact with Passenger Focus regarding bus services was last year when I reported the withdrawal of our bus service and received a reply stating that the necessary legislation was not yet in place for them to take action on our behalf.

4.2.2  I notice from the Passenger Focus website that a board paper dated 17 November 2010 under "Progress report" mentions a meeting with Essex Parish Passenger Representatives, of which I was not aware. I wonder how many other parishes were excluded?


5.1  Funding, possibly from Central Government's new Local Sustainable Transport Fund, could support a new hourly commercial bus service which would slot in between the existing 31X First service but run only between Burnham on Crouch and Maldon. This would provide:

—  an enhanced service for more than 15,000 people in Southminster and Burnham;

—  some slack in the system to take in villages such as Althorne/North Fambridge, etc;

—  an additional short hop service in the towns and villages (at the moment all buses run in Burnham at the same time);

—  a service to entice people out of their cars (½-hourly service is more attractive);

—  a connection onwards to Chelmsford to enable hospital access; and

—  the possibility of involving Viking Community Transport and/or local taxi firms to "feed" the 31X and the new 31 service.

5.2  The result would be:

—  support for economic growth (money in the bus industry and opportunities for access to employment);

—  reduced carbon impact/delivering cleaner environments (fewer cars);

—  improved safety (fewer very elderly drivers—and others—who don't want to be driving);

—  increased levels of physical activity (walking to the bus stop instead of climbing straight into a car);

—  better public transport for all;

—  changed patterns of behaviour and more sustainable travel, especially for short journeys (including short hops in Althorne village and elsewhere);

—  local partnerships (maybe a partnership between Essex County Council and First, including Maldon District Council, Burnham on Crouch Town Council, parish councils, Dengie Hundred Bus Users' Group, etc;

—  voluntary sector involvement—contributing to the Big Society;

—  reduced congestion; and

—  elimination of contracted bus services running empty.

5.3  There is no reason why this solution should not be applied in other areas of the country too.


6.1  I cannot envisage any outcome from the cuts in the bus operators' support and local authority funding other than bus services being reduced or disappearing completely.

6.2  As we already know, a poor bus service will be poorly used. There is currently a higher than average level of car ownership in our area and I can only see this increasing, with all the concomitant congestion on poor country roads.

6.4  The answer is to be brave and to seek an innovative solution as suggested in Paragraph 5 above which could:

—  encourage a continued modal shift from cars to buses;

—  improve bus services for both fare-paying passengers and concessionary pass holders;

—  boost access to employment;

—  encourage independence; and

—  reduce social isolation.

6.5  A comparatively small investment via a source such as the Local Sustainable Transport Fund could lead to savings in many other areas, including job seekers' allowances and health care.

January 2011

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 11 August 2011