Bus Services Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by Wellglade Limited (BSB 25)


1. Wellglade is the UK’s largest independent bus group, employing around 1,500 staff and a fleet of nearly 500 buses. Its largest operating subsidiary is trentbarton which has acquired a national reputation and numerous awards for good quality bus services, excellent standards of customer service, innovation and marketing. The Group is also part of the Tramlink Nottingham consortium.

2. We have broadly welcomed the Bus Services Bill, and in particular the partnership approach which has proved successful in Nottingham and elsewhere in delivering better bus services and halting the decline in bus use. We firmly believe that strong local authorities, imaginative bus operators and others working together is the only successful way to develop attractive, modern, reliable bus services.


3. We are deeply concerned that franchising will not achieve better bus services for the customer but it will increase public spending. As an organisation whose ethos is to put its customers’ interests at the very heart of its culture, we firmly believe that it should be a fundamental principal that any proposal to introduce a franchise must be based solely on the passenger benefits that will be delivered.

4. Introducing a franchise is a major change in the delivery of bus services and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse should it subsequently fail. It will come with considerable financial risks to the authority in question and it must not therefore be taken lightly. Any authority considering this major change in approach should therefore be required to demonstrate that it has has first explored all other alternative options, and fully satisfied itself that passenger benefits really can’t be delivered by alterative means such as through an Enhanced Partnership Scheme or an Advanced Quality Partnership. There are plenty of examples of effective partnership working between authorities and operators in addition to Nottingham and for this reason franchising really must be a last resort.

5. There should also be a requirement for an independent audit of a franchise proposal. It is critical too that any audit of a franchise proposal is carried out by an auditor who is, and is seen to be, truly independent of the local authority in question. It would be best if the auditor was appointed by somebody other than the authority itself to ensure that any audit is robust and credible. An auditor who is appointed by the franchising authority risks having his or her impartiality compromised, and that would undermine confidence in the rigour of the audit.

6. Finally, franchising gives a local authority the right to take away all or part of an operator’s legitimate business without compensation. We strongly believe that this is fundamentally wrong whether it is a large authority with an elected mayor or some other local authority. The Bill should provide for full compensation at market value for the operator from the franchising authority for the confiscation of its business.

The customer’s first priority

7. Customer research over many years makes it clear that punctuality is the bus user’s number one priority. Every other customer demand including information, integration, accessibility and most importantly fares and ticketing pales into insignificance against punctuality and time-keeping. Recent work by Transport Focus has once again identified punctuality together with journey time, frequency and value for money (which relates to the first three items) as the top priorities.

8. A Bill which is designed to improve the delivery of bus services should not ignore bus users’ first priority. To do so is a failure.

9. Traffic congestion is the primary cause of punctuality problems and it is the biggest threat to the long term viability of bus networks. No bus network will ever achieve its full potential unless the delivery of punctuality is the focus of attention.

10. Traffic congestion causes:

· Late running buses which causes passenger dissatisfaction and hence a decline in ridership.

· Slower bus journeys which means more attractive alternatives and hence a decline in ridership.

· Slower journeys which means more resources to deliver the same timetable which leads to higher operating costs for operators. As a result fares increase faster than inflation which leads to a decline in ridership.

· Falling ridership and hence lower profit margins puts the weakest bus services in jeopardy and will eventually result in cuts to the network, service withdrawals, further loss of passengers and a perpetual downward spiral.

11. Bus operators are well aware of the importance of punctuality and give it the highest priority. Local authorities whilst being fully aware of its importance have difficulties in finding solutions as they also have the competing demands of other road users to consider. They avoid the issue and it loses priority and instead they concentrate their efforts on service integration, ticketing and other issues. Important though these other issues may be, they will never achieve customer growth if the customer’s first priority is not addressed.

12. In a franchised framework where the local authority controls the network the focus will always be on the issues which are most easily solved, as can be seen in the reasons advanced by those local authorities that favour franchising. Punctuality is rarely mentioned. Service integration, coordination and ticketing are the issues in focus.

13. Punctuality will only remain at the very top of the agenda (where it belongs), when bus operators are working in partnership with local authorities for the simple reason that the service providers will not allow their customers’ top priority to slip down the agenda.

14. We would like to see clear requirements placed on local authorities by the Bus Services Bill to reduce passenger journey times through imaginative and innovative traffic management schemes or by measures to discourage car use.

15. In addition we would like to see the use of secondary legislation and guidance to ensure that local authorities who wish to introduce franchising schemes demonstrate how they intend to tackle the factors that lead to poor punctuality.


16. The Bus Services Bill should be amended:

· To require any proposed franchise to include a clear and robust demonstration of the customer benefits of the scheme together with an explanation of why the same benefits cannot be delivered by any other means.

· To require any proposed franchise to be the subject of an independent audit.

· To provide for full compensation at market value to any operator that has all or part of its business confiscated by the franchise from the franchising authority.

· To require any proposed franchise to take action to reduce passenger journey times through imaginative and innovative traffic management schemes or by measures to discourage car use.

· To require local authorities who wish to introduce franchising schemes to demonstrate how they intend to tackle the factors that lead to poor punctuality.

March 2017


Prepared 16th March 2017