Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Colchester Bus Users' Support Group (BUS 53)

I can only reiterate that it will be a long time yet before the effects of the pending BSOG changes are meaningfully investigable.

But on that subject, one hopes that the Cttee will note in reporting that, whilst the remitting of 80% (or 60%) of the tax paid by bus operators is universally deemed to be a SUBSIDY to buses, the fact that airlines do not have to pay any tax at all does not seem to be deemed to be anything resembling a "subsidy"!! (ditto train companies). The rule appears to be that if something used largely by wealthier people gets supported by government, it isn't a subsidy!

With regard to Sen Citizen pass effects on bus services, you may perhaps be wanting to know if there have been other cases of drastic service reductions as a result of high passholder use and operators declaring the LA reimbursement % inadequate, like the Isle of Wight 2010 cuts. (For which you may like to contact the Isle of Wight Bus Users Group. I can only say that nothing like that has happened here, but of course they have an abnormally high % of Sen Cits on the IOW!

A very few extra journeys have been added on some country routes here to cater for the new peak in demand after 0900. The Co Council and operators have come to some satisfactory arrangement on this.

There must be concern, in a good number of cases in total, about the way in which the free bus travel is artificially abstracting traffic from parallel rail services in the 0900-1600 period, rendering them potentially vulnerable to cuts in due course. This has happened locally with the Colchester-Clacton & Walton services, where the travel time by train is much faster and most people would probably prefer to use the train if there was a level playing field, exacerbated by the fact that the train fares are abnormally high (for no known reason).

I am sure you are aware that commercial operators do not normally "consult" with either local authorities or local users when considering changes to routes and timetables! except occasionally when they may have a "grand alterations exercise" in hand. In the case of the large groups there may be general orders from time to time to cut or expand services for money reasons (or to mount a more aggressive approach to a rival operator via improved services on particular corridors).

We have however found that both the main local operators (First and TGM) are willing to consider suggestions made by us for alterations to services. Our suggestions have in practice been mainly angled at making changes to schedules for greater reliability, based on the analysis of the surveys that we do plus feedback from members. [The operators have info available from ticket machine data as to running, but that does not necessarily mean that a problem actually reaches the top of their in-pile, unless we push it!]. This receptiveness on their part is of course dependent on the attitudes of individual officers, and can always change (as it did for several years under the last local TGM manager) when a bus operator has in post an individual who does not like the idea of taking notice of other people's suggestions! We have never had to seek much in the way of general enhancements in commercial services as the daytime service levels here are generally satisfactory in relation to actual and potential custom. It is of course nothing unknown for there to be general public requests to operators for extra buses, particularly evenings, which it is then found that hardly anybody actually uses!

Essex County Council has a formalised system for consulting with the relevant parish councils when changes to wholly-supported country routes are in mind, which is effective. They are - or have been! - also fairly amenable to suggestions for positive changes from parish representatives and indeed individual members of the public writing in. Of course the fact that these things are so is again to some extent dependent on the personal attitudes of the individual ECC officers responsible.

January 2011

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