Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Ian Wright MP (BUS 105)

I welcome the Select Committee's investigation into local bus services following the Spending Review, and the opportunity to contribute to it.

Hartlepool is a relatively compact town, with a population of about 90,000. Its population is predominantly based in the dense urban centre: the town is made up of a number of distinctive and close-knit communities in addition to a number of attractive rural areas and villages such as Dalton Piercy, Elwick and Greatham in the Borough. The Borough also contains a small suburban seaside resort, Seaton Carew, with a population of over 6,000.

The town is governed locally through a unitary council, headed politically by a directly elected Mayoral model.

Despite improvements in recent years, Hartlepool still has longstanding social and economic difficulties. Of 354 local authorities in England, Hartlepool was ranked 23rd most deprived in the country. This ranking was an improvement from 14th most deprived in 2004. Hartlepool has 17 wards, seven of which fall into the top 10% of most deprived wards in Britain. Five wards - Brus, Dyke House, Owton, St Hilda and Stranton - fall into the top 3% most deprived in the country. All of these wards, in addition to others, have been affected by recent changes to bus services. About 40% of households in Hartlepool do not have regular access to a car, which means that it is important to have a comprehensive, cheap and reliable public transport service.

The bus service in Hartlepool, for both commercial and supported services, is dominated by one large company, Stagecoach. Stagecoach is the only large provider in the town which has a depot in Hartlepool.

A number of other bus operators provide a small percentage of routes: Arriva, for example, tends to provide services within the town that also incorporate routes outside of Hartlepool, whilst a number of very small local bus companies, such as Tees Valley Coaches, which is a company based in Hartlepool, provide several additional routes. I have seen no evidence of true competition within the bus market in Hartlepool: there have been no new entrants into the market in recent years; the market is dominated by one large national provider; and other providers appear too small to compete effectively or respect the current established territorial position. The market in Hartlepool is distinctive in not having "medium-sized" players offering wider choice and competition.

Ticketing arrangements undermine competition and choice in Hartlepool. I understand that Stagecoach offer a ticket discount scheme, but this is only available on Stagecoach buses, rather than across all bus services in Hartlepool. Anecdotal evidence from my constituents strongly suggests that passengers who have purchased Stagecoach discount tickets are dissuaded from considering other bus operators because of the additional cost of buying another ticket. For one ticket discount scheme operated by Stagecoach in the wider Teesside area - the Teesside Daytripper - this is allowed to be used on Arriva buses as well as Stagecoach vehicles; however, this is only permitted on buses within the boroughs of neighbouring Middlesbrough and Stockton-on-Tees.

Hartlepool Borough Council has faced cuts to its budget from central government of about 9%. The local authority decided to cut all subsidised buses in Hartlepool by the end of March 2011, amounting to a saving to the local authority of about £287,000. It has also decided to scrap the H1 hospital bus service, running between Hartlepool and the University Hospital of North Tees, saving £85,000 per year, as well as the "Dial a Ride" taxi service.

Specific bus routes affected by this change included:

—  the number 1 service, operated by Stagecoach, which ran from High Tunstall to Seaton Carew, and then onto Middlesbrough, has had all evening and Sunday journeys withdrawn. In addition, the 0550 and 0635 Monday to Friday departures from Hartlepool have been cancelled;

—  the 516 service, operated by Tees Valley Coaches, which ran from Tesco Extra to the villages of Elwick and Dalton Piercy, has been completely withdrawn. This means that the villages have no bus service whatsoever; residents have a three mile walk to amenities in the town such as doctors' surgeries, shops or schools and colleges;

—  the 527 service, operated by Arriva, which ran from Hartlepool Marina to the village of Greatham, has been withdrawn;

—  the number 4A service, operated by Stagecoach, which ran from the Headland to Hart Station, has been withdrawn;

—  the number 6 service, operated by Stagecoach, which ran from Clavering to Owton Manor, through the town centre, has had its evening service withdrawn; and

—  the number 7 service, operated by Arriva, which operated from the Headland to Owton Manor, has had its evening service withdrawn.

I am concerned that these changes will have an adverse impact upon my constituents. The community of Burbank, which is in Stranton Ward and which is in the top 1% of deprived communities in the country, as well as the rural villages such as Elwick and Dalton Piercy, now have no bus services at all, leaving such communities isolated. In Greatham, the village was previously served by two bus services: following the loss of the 527 service, the only other service, the number 36, stops on the outskirt of the village, which makes it difficult for the elderly, disabled and others to walk to the bus stop.

The loss of evening services will have a disproportionate effect upon the town's social and economic amenities. Entertainment venues such as the Town Hall Theatre will suffer, as will the prospect of evening matches for Hartlepool United Football Club. Jobs in these sectors will undoubtedly be affected. For the resort of Seaton Carew, which provides seasonal and often low-paid employment, as well as attracting day visitors from the rest of Hartlepool and elsewhere, the loss of Sunday bus services will have a detrimental impact upon the resort's economy and will in all likelihood reduce the prospect of employment in the area unless one has access to a car.

Unemployment is relatively high in Hartlepool, and the town's economy cannot afford the adverse impact on demand for services that the loss of bus services will produce. There are areas of potential economic growth through the development of high value added manufacturing industry, with a particular focus on renewable energy, on the outskirts of town. However, economic potential is not matched with transport routes or a suitable timetable: no buses are available, for example, for early or late shifts in factories, meaning that people could be left without transport and therefore unable to take up the offer of employment.

I would like to see the whole business model for local bus services looked at again. I am concerned that bus companies can cherry pick the profitable bus routes and force local authorities to pay ever increasing public subsidies through expanding the proportion of bus routes which are categorised as supported services. When this public subsidy is removed, as we have seen in Hartlepool following the cuts to Council budgets, passengers are badly affected.

I am also concerned that there is limited competition between bus operators; since deregulation in 1986, we have moved from a monopolistic situation provided by the public sector, albeit one concerned with the wider social good, to a monopolistic situation whereby a dominant private bus operator's main priority is to widen profit margins and enhance shareholder value rather than provide a comprehensive service.

I would like to see the possibility of local area agreements between the Council and bus operators, whereby private bus companies could be provided with the right for a period of time to operate commercial services, on condition that loss-making but socially-important bus routes are also provided. This concept is similar to the Quality Contract Scheme, as established by the Transport Act 2000 and refined in 2008, but which has seen little take-up. Such an initiative could also incorporate the concept of Quality Partnership Schemes as established under the 2000 Act, whereby the local authority could promise to provide improved or enhanced facilities, such as bus priority lanes or electronic information at bus stops, in return for a more co-ordinated approach with bus operators for commercial and supported services.

Last month I provided a petition to the House of Commons, signed by people who are concerned about the poor provision and loss of bus services in Hartlepool. I have encouraged the people who have signed the petition to contact the Select Committee to express their feelings about the loss of bus services.

I look forward to reading the Select Committee's findings.



I wanted to thank you for signing my petition to the House of Commons on the loss of bus services in Hartlepool. I have provided an extract from Hansard, the record of Parliamentary proceedings. I will let you know once I receive a response from the Government to the petition.

I still wish to campaign on this important matter. The powerful Transport Select Committee is looking at the impact of the Spending Review on bus services outside of London. The Committee is particularly keen to hear about the experiences of places like Hartlepool, where cuts to public subsidies to bus operators are seeing the cancellation of essential services. I have provided for your information my own contribution to the investigation, but I would urge you to provide your own personal experience, particularly in terms of how the cuts to bus services will affect you.

The Committee will accept written contributions until Easter by mail to: Transport Committee, Room 101, No 7 Millbank, London, SW1P 3JA; or by e-mail at transev@parliament.uk.

Thank you again for signing the Parliamentary petition. I do hope that you feel able to contribute to the Transport Select Committee's investigation.

April 2011

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