Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from TravelWatch SouthWest (TWSW) (BUS 65)

This response is based on feedback from over 90 affiliated organisations, either in writing or delivered orally at the annual general meeting of the company held in Exeter on Saturday 19 February 2011.

TravelWatch SouthWest (TWSW) was established in 2001 as The South West Public Transport Users' Forum (SWPTUF) to promote the interests of public transport users in the South West of England government region (comprising the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire and the unitary authorities of Bath and North East Somerset, Bournemouth, Bristol, North Somerset, Plymouth, Poole, South Gloucestershire, Swindon and Torbay)—the Forum became a Community Interest Company, limited by guarantee, in August 2005. SWPTUF adopted the trading name of TravelWatch SouthWest in June 2006 and the Community Interest Company changed name to TravelWatch SouthWest CIC in November 2008.

Membership of the TravelWatch SouthWest CIC is open to every "not-for-profit" organisation in the South West England government region whose sole or principal purpose is to represent the users of any public transport service or to promote the development of public transport services.

Membership is also open to other "not-for-profit" organisations in the South West England government region who represent the interests of special and potential classes of public transport users eg the disabled or the elderly. TWSW currently has over 90 affiliated organisations.

TWSW, which is a social enterprise company, acts as an advocate for passengers to lobby for the improvement of public transport in the region and works closely with the South West Councils, the South West Regional Development Agency and the South West Strategic Leaders Board - with the dissolution of the former Rail Passengers Committee for Western England in July 2005, TWSW is the representative body for public transport users throughout the South West England region. TWSW is currently funded by the South West Councils, the South West Regional Development Agency, local authorities and a number of public transport operators.


TravelWatch SouthWest cic (TWSW) welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to this inquiry. The first three bullet points in the terms of reference ask for evidence of the impact on bus services of the "triple whammy" of Bus Service Operators' Grant (BSOG) reduction, lower concession fare reimbursement and reduced Local Authority bus support budgets.

The effects of the "triple whammy" will take two or three years for the full effects to become apparent—this very important issue therefore needs to be kept under regular review.

In rural areas the "triple whammy" could be life changing for some residents.

The impact of the changes needs careful monitoring. Data needs to be collected over the next two or three years to enable the issue to be revisited in an informed, evidence-led manner.

The fourth bullet point of the terms of reference asks how passengers' views are taken into account in planning bus services and the role of Passenger Focus (PF) in that area. Bus passengers are far greater in number than rail passengers but feature less in transport discussions.

Many bus users have no alternative. The likely reduction in service coverage will have profound effects on some. In the South West around one in five households (20.2%) have no access to the private car. This is highest amongst those living in unitary authorities where around one third (30.2%) have no access. The shire county areas vary from 16.1% to 20.5% with more than a quarter of households having no access in three of the district authorities. For these people there is little alternative for necessary transport to work, training, shopping and leisure activities. Full attention should be given to bus provision—or else to reliable and regular alternatives.

TWSW welcomed the bus role given to Passenger Focus (PF) and has found its research material to be of considerable value in informing its day-to-day contacts with the bus industry and local authorities in the South West of England. We are concerned that budget cuts could adversely affect PF's research capacity although we do not yet know how PF intends to match its expenditure to its new budget.

TravelWatch SouthWest cic, its constituent Members (who comprise several dozen users' groups throughout the South West) and, we understand, our sister TravelWatches elsewhere in England, are obviously willing to facilitate the use of their own regional and local networks for the purpose of gathering passenger information and ensuring that passengers' views are taken into account. We have had preliminary discussions with Passenger Focus to this effect. While our existing resources are nothing like those previously available to PF, our organisations do have the twin strengths of extensive local knowledge and the level of commitment to community interest activities that frequently characterises social enterprises and the voluntary sector.

The Committee are urged to press that the important task of bus passenger advocacy is adequately resourced, particularly during the next few years as the full effects of the "triple whammy" become apparent. In particular, the Committee is urged to ensure that adequate provision is made to measure and monitor the developing impact of these effects.


1.  TWSW believes that there are five important issues for the inquiry that are very timely and these are commented on here:

—  Firstly it is important that the bus market, use levels and passenger reactions are monitored over the next two to three years and that the Select Committee revisits this issue at regular intervals to determine what has happened.

—  Secondly the bus passenger, now more than ever, badly needs effective and well-resourced champions, particularly at a sub-regional level, capable of looking across local authority boundaries.

—  Thirdly, with the availability of diminished local authority funding, commercial bus operators need to be innovative in developing way of promoting and operating marginal services with less support from public funds.

—  Fourthly, some local authorities are making cuts to bus support budgets at a far higher level than the cut in their central government grant.

—  Last, but certainly not least, bus fares need to be monitored and compared with changes in car costs and rail fares.

Bus Monitoring

2.  Each Local Authority used to collate bus use and report it in the Bus Strategy within its Local transport Plan (LTP). TWSW understands that there will be far less recording of bus use but it is imperative that the Select Committee presses government to ensure that the there is a consistent time series of such data, geographically disaggregated, to observe the effects of the "triple whammy". Passenger Focus's bus passenger satisfaction surveys appear to have stalled but again it is vital that the Select Committee press for a consistent time series of such satisfaction levels over the next two or three years. The one PF bus passenger satisfaction survey covered only 14 small areas of the country with about 1,000 in each sample. There is no sign of this being repeated. PF have also done some very useful work on non bus users to help determine how to attract more passengers. The projected severe cut in Passenger Focus budget may not allow this useful approach to be continued. It is imperative that the effects of the "triple whammy" on the bus industry for bus users should not be disguised whether from Parliament or Government.

3.  TWSW believes that the effects on the bus market, use levels and passenger satisfaction from the "triple whammy" will take a couple of years to fully manifest themselves. TWSW doesn't attempt to quantify these effects at this time. We do believe that the bus market and passengers will suffer greatly over the next two or three years. TAS has estimated a cut of 8% in bus mileage outside London and a 3% real increase in fares. The effect in rural areas will be far more traumatic.

4.  The effect on people's lives of a frequency reduction on a busy urban corridor from 12 to 10 buses per hour will be marginal. The removal of the only bus of the day to a village or a reduction from four buses per day to two will have life changing effects on the rural communities affected. The third element of the "triple whammy", the cuts in local government bus support budgets, will primarily affect rural areas.

Bus Champion

5.  We greatly admire PF's early achievements in this area and share profound concerns about the potential impact on bus passengers and decision makers about the significant cuts to PF's budget. Bus passengers need properly resourced and active champions both nationally and at a local level. Perceived rises in car costs, higher rail fares and low performance by rail attracts great media coverage and there is no shortage of editorial criticism and pressure on government to reduce fuel duty etc. However, the plight of bus passengers rarely attracts media comment. Media people seem to rarely use buses or only use them in London where services are far superior. In the absence of a an adequately resourced statutory body there is a need for established associations of voluntary groups and social enterprises, like the regional TravelWatch organisations, to bring the plight of bus users to the attention of the public and their representatives and to lobby bus operators and local authorities on behalf of passengers. The need for this over the next two or three years is greater than ever.

Commercial Operators Step Up to the Plate

6.  These comments will apply differently among the large group operators. Some operators take the view that any service not fully contributing to overheads and meeting group profit targets should not operate without a local authority subsidy. For any service operating at a time that adds to Peak Vehicle Requirement (PVR) the desire to fully cover overheads is understandable. Taking cross subsidy too far is not sustainable but an inter-peak, evening or Sunday service that covers its marginal cost should be considered differently. The danger is that operators have grown accustomed to subsidy, even on non-PVR services that cover marginal costs but only make a partial contribution to overheads.

7.  The Select Committee should invite operators to open their books to inspection of non-PVR services to consider the fare and subsidy revenue and marginal costs of them. Some operators may need to be reminded that a network with adequate temporal as well as spatial coverage is needed to grow their business and that lack of subsidy should not deprive passengers of a service that covers its marginal costs

Local Authorites

8.  Some councils in the South West have applied larger percentage cuts to bus support budgets than the percentage cut in their central government grant. Local Authorities in the South West that are closing community facilities, including libraries, should ensure that it is still possible for residents to reach the available alternatives, including larger libraries etc by bus when their local facility has closed.

9.  TWSW hopes that the Select Committee may bring this to the attention of local authorities and include in any re-visit to the issue an analysis of changes in the level of council support for buses.

Bus Fares

10.  Recent above RPI rail fares increases have attracted strong media criticism. Increases in fuel costs cause outrage, even though overall car costs (in the long term) have fallen. Bus fares over a couple of decades have seen continuous above inflation increases, without any wider media reporting, let alone protest. Data available suggests that in real terms, between 1997 and 2009 overall motoring costs fell by 12%; rises in running costs were more than cancelled out by cheaper car prices. However, rail fares increased by 12% but bus fares increased by 22%. There is no central collation of bus fares and no regulation. The negatives for bus passengers from the "triple whammy" will work through as a mix of reduced service and higher fares. It is imperative that the Select Committee presses government to ensure that rises in bus fares over the next two to three years are monitored and that the long term trends in overall car costs, rail fares and bus fares are researched and studied when the Select Committee returns to look at changes to the bus market and bus passengers.


11.  TWSW hope that the committee will revisit this inquiry at regular intervals with particular reference to rural areas but that in the meantime would consider making recommendations to the relevant bodies on the following topics:

—  (a)  Continued collection of consistent data sets on bus market indicators especially passenger numbers and satisfaction.

—  (b)  Appropriate funding to allow sufficient bus passenger surveys.

—  (c)  Appropriate funding to ensure that the role of bus passenger champion is met, either by a properly funded statutory organisation (PF) or by established associations of voluntary groups and social enterprises like the regional TravelWatch organisations.

—  (d)  Bus operators to be encouraged to innovate with a view to running non-PVR services that meet marginal costs with reduced local authority subsidy.

—  (e)  Local Authorities recognise that cuts to bus support budgets above the general level of grant reduction is not compatible with closing other local facilities.

—  (f)  Continued collection of data on bus fares and their long term comparison with rail fare increases and overall car costs.

February 2011

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Prepared 11 August 2011