60.Increasing bus passenger numbers does not just depend on integrated networks and predictable journey times, important as those are. It also requires providing a service which different sections of society are able to use with confidence. There are a number of elements to this, from providing information in a timely and accessible way, to a simple ticketing scheme which means that people can easily understand which fares offer the best value. In this chapter, we consider some current difficulties in relation to accessibility, open data and ticketing in bus services, and assess the provisions of the Bill which seek to address them.
61.Many bus users have particular accessibility requirements. Outside of London, 30% of all journeys were made by disabled or elderly concessionary pass holders. Older people are more likely to have difficulty accessing services; for instance, of the 11 million people with hearing loss, over 8 million are aged over 60. Focus groups carried out by Age UK in Falmouth and Newcastle upon Tyne demonstrated that buses were essential for many older people in allowing them to access medical care, provide voluntary care to others, and engage with the wider community.
62.The Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000 (PSVAR) set down accessibility requirements such as low floor board devices, provision for passengers using wheelchairs, and visual contrast on handrails and step edges. All single-deck buses were required to comply with these provisions by 1 January 2016, and all double-deck buses from 1 January 2017. The PSVAR do not, however, make provision for audio-visual (AV) equipment on buses. AV equipment is used to make visual and audio announcements, usually including the route number, final destination, and next stop. In London, all buses are fitted with AV providing this information. It is not clear what proportion of buses outside of London are fitted with AV; although the Department collects this information, the data are not considered robust enough to publish. However, it was suggested to us that only a minority of buses in England outside of the capital are fitted with AV.
63.AV on buses has been the subject of a campaign led by the charity Guide Dogs for the Blind and supported by 30 other organisations. We received evidence suggesting that without AV, passengers with visual impairments, hearing loss, learning difficulties, or simply those who are unfamiliar with a route, struggled to access bus services. Jacqueline Juden, a guide dog owner, told us about her experiences trying to use buses that were not fitted with AV:
One thing I do at the moment when I have to get a bus somewhere, even though, believe me, I try to avoid that at all costs if I am not in London, is to think about the route I am taking. I practise a route several times with somebody before I am willing to do it on my own. Even then I have a system set up where I have to count how many right turns and left turns until the point when I know I need to press the bell to get off the bus. That can be extremely stressful. It can take a lot of concentration, and if I miss it I am completely lost. I have been in situations when a driver has forgotten to tell me where I am and I have missed a stop. I missed an important hospital appointment because of that. I have been unable to take jobs because I have not been able to get there, as I felt that I could not use the bus.
64.Smartphone apps or wearable technologies such as wristbands are sometimes suggested as alternatives to AV. These technologies should be encouraged; as discussed in paragraph 68 below, apps that use open data can significantly improve passenger experience. However, such innovations come with their own difficulties. Smart phone use tends to be lowest among the parts of the population that have the greatest accessibility issues; only 18% of people over the age of 65 owned a smart phone in 2015, while one in four disabled adults has never used the internet compared to one in ten across the general population. In addition, smart phone users face technical issues such as a lack of signal or unsustainable drain on battery life, or may not feel comfortable operating an expensive piece of equipment in public. In 2013 our predecessor Committee recommended that the Department should require a phased introduction of buses with AV systems. The evidence we heard leads us to conclude that the case for AV is as strong as ever.
65.Since we took evidence on the Bill, the Government brought forward an amendment to enable the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring operators of local services to provide accessible information on board their services. The onus is on operators providing the information in a particular format, rather than installing specific equipment. The regulations will specify which operators must provide the information, what information must be provided and how, when the information should be provided, to what standard, and who will be exempt from the requirements. The guidance makes clear that AV provision of information will be required in relation to route and direction, upcoming stopping place and diversions from the scheduled stopping place. Some smaller operators may be given more time to comply or exempted from some of the requirements. We welcome the regulations as a positive step in supporting a wider range of people to access bus services. However, we note much of the detail, for instance in relation to the timescale for implementation, the scope of exemptions and assessment for impact remain unknown. Indeed, while the Government has indicated that it would consult in 2017 with a view to bringing forward regulations in 2018, we know from experience that Governments can give themselves regulation making powers which are never in fact brought into force.
66.We are also aware of the debates in the House of Lords on a number of other accessibility issues concerning buses. European Union Regulation 181/2011, which mandates disability training for bus drivers, is due to apply in the United Kingdom from 2018. Although the Government has stated that it will continue to prepare to implement this requirement, it was suggested in the Lords that the provision be mirrored in domestic legislation in case it not be recognised as an existing obligation in the discussions to leave the European Union. In addition, the Lords debated requiring operators to establish policies to protect the interests of disabled people using its services. Finally, there is some uncertainty about the obligation of operators to require passengers to vacate space designated for wheelchair users as demonstrated the case of Paulley v First Group, currently awaiting judgment from the Supreme Court. These are issues which deserve further consideration by the Commons.
67.Audio-visual equipment on buses as standard is now long overdue. We welcome the Government’s commitment to bring forward regulations under the Bill relating to audio-visual as a pragmatic response which balances the interests of bus users and operators. The Government should ensure that bus users and their representatives are involved not just in the development of the regulations but also in assessing their impact after they have been implemented. The Government should commit on the face of the Bill to implement this change by 1 January 2019.
68.Passenger friendly bus services are not just about how information is delivered; they also require making sure that information is available in the first place. Open data can allow passengers to compare offers from different providers more easily and increases their confidence in understanding what service they can expect and when. It is also useful for LTAs and new operators in understanding where there are gaps in the market and what services have the greatest impact. At present, operators have no obligation to provide information on fares (except at the point of boarding a bus) or release information on how bus routes are performing. The current data management process is largely manual and requires re-entry of data into multiple downstream systems. In the capital, Transport for London (TfL) has used its franchising powers to require that all operators use Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) which tracks the network of buses. This live information powers real time information screens and on-board AV, but is also made available to smart phone travel apps.
69.Open data is also being used in other areas to improve the passenger experience. Arriva, for example, told us about its app with journey planner, access to timetables, fares, and real time information for every individual route that it operates. However, experiences vary widely between local areas. For instance, the West Midlands Combined Authority reported that operators in the area had been very open about sharing their data but noted that this had not been the case in other parts of the country. Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) told us that open data opportunities had been restricted due to individual operators sharing little information with TfGM or other authorities and having different levels of commitment in implementing appropriate technology.
70.The Bill seeks to address these varying standards by requiring operators of local services to release open data on routes, timetables, punctuality and fares in a specified format. We heard from Mr Fearnley of the Confederation of Passenger Transport that “the industry welcomes the provisions on open data. It is so important to our customers that they have access to information about services, and increasingly in real time.”
71.As with the powers of the Secretary of State in relation to franchising consent (paragraph 39 above), however, it is difficult to properly assess the impact of these provisions from the face of the Bill and the policy notes which have been released. For instance, the cost implications for operators will depend on the exact data which needs to be published and the standards to which it is likely to be assessed. The Government has said that it will develop a central open data hub to store the data, but operators will presumably need access to back office systems that will allow them to submit data electronically. Some small and medium sized operators have understandably expressed concern about the burden that these provisions may have on their services.
72.The Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee similarly concluded that the open data provisions in the Bill were unacceptably wide and ill-defined. The Government accepted the Committee’s recommendations, and Government amendments setting out the purpose for which the information can be used, the description of persons to whom the information is to be disclosed, and requiring the Secretary of State to consult before making the regulations were passed in the Lords. However, it remains important for the Department to set out in more detail how it envisages the open data provisions in the Bill operating in practice.
73.The London experience shows the potential of open data in empowering passengers and allowing local authorities and operators to better understand local needs and gaps in the service. However, the Government’s failure to prepare the draft open data regulations in time means that it has been impossible for this Committee or the House of Lords to assess the effect of these provisions on operators. The Government’s amendments in the Lords are to be welcomed but only go some way to mitigating the issue. The Government should publish an update on its previous open data policy including, ideally, draft regulations, to allow Parliament to better assess the impact that these provisions are likely to have on industry.
74.One consequence of head-to-head competition is that passengers are often offered a variety of tickets covering different operators and using different technologies. Progress has been made in some areas by operators working with LTAs to deliver multi-operator tickets or smart cards. In addition, we note the commitment of the five largest operators to introduce contactless bank card acceptance on their buses outside of London by 2022. We also recognise that some level of choice in ticketing may well be desirable if buses are to remain accessible to groups such as older or disabled people who may wish to pay in cash for a ticket. However, passenger experiences of ticketing vary widely from area to area. Smart cards have proliferated, but this has not necessarily reduced the complexity; we were told that there are three operator specific and two multi-operator smart cards in Nottingham, and that in some areas, passengers need to use paper tickets alongside smart cards. Dr John Disney of Dales & Bowland CIC told us:
[ … ] in London, if you want to travel, all you need is an Oyster card or a contactless bank card. I live in a semi-rural area in Derbyshire. For my local travel needs, if I want to use services that are available at different times of the day and on different days of the week, I need three different multi-journey tickets to access those services.
75.As discussed in paragraphs 19–20 and 29 above, franchising and partnership schemes can include provisions around ticketing structures. The Bill also introduces a mechanism for Advanced Ticketing Schemes (ATS) whereby an LTA can require operators to sell multi-operator or multi-modal tickets in particular formats. Like ticketing provisions made under partnerships, an LTA would not be able to set fares under an ATS. The Government has said that the objective of the ATS scheme is to “‘future proof’ the LTA power to make multi-operator ticketing schemes, by ensuring that ticketing schemes can introduce new technologies”.
76.Some respondents were concerned that the Bill was unduly focused on mature technologies in a way which would hamper the ability of operators to innovate in ticketing. For instance, Real Time Information Group told us that the legislation as currently drafted would impede the development of new technologies such as account-based services that allow billing in arrears. In addition, the development of new technologies in a poorly co-ordinated manner has the potential to create additional cost for operators, particularly small and medium sized enterprises. The Department will need to take a hands on approach to managing this. For instance, where passengers pay on contactless cards, operators will need to be able to access back office functions to ensure that the fare is apportioned correctly; there is a role for Government in co-ordinating such systems, so as to minimise complexity and expense.
77.We welcome the Advanced Ticketing Scheme provisions as a tool to encourage simpler and more integrated ticketing. However, more must be done to ensure that innovation in ticketing technologies is encouraged and not hampered. Within six months of Royal Assent, the Department should produce, in consultation with industry partners, guidance which supports local transport authorities in developing ticketing schemes that do not impede newer technologies, are not a disproportionate burden on operators, and which pay due regard to the accessibility needs of different groups. The Government should co-ordinate the development of back office ticketing functions to limit unnecessary complexity or duplication.
103 DfT, , 18 October 2016
104 Action on Hearing Loss ()
105 Age UK ()
106 PQ on Bus Services: Disability, 19 May 2016
107 Guide Dogs (); [James White]
108 Guide Dogs ()
109 For instance, RNIB (), TravelWatch NorthWest ()
110 [Jacqueline Juden]
111 Action on Hearing Loss (); Campaign for Better Transport ()
112 RNIB (); Newcastle Society for Blind People ()
113 Transport Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2013–14, , HC 116, para. 29
115 DfT, , 12 October 2016
116 see also Transport for All (); RNIB ()
118 UKSC 2015/0025; Equality and Human Rights Commission ()
119 Bus Users UK (); Transport Focus (); RTIG ()
120 Community Transport Association (); North East Combined Authority ()
121 Urban Transport Group ()
122 ITS United Kingdom ()
123 Transport for London ()
124 Arriva ()
125 West Midlands Combined Authority ()
126 Transport for Greater Manchester ()
127 DfT, , 26 May 2016
128 [Giles Fearnley]
129 DfT, , 16 June 2016; DfT, , 26 May 2016
130 RTIG ()
131 DfT, , 26 May 2016
132 The TAS Partnership (); The Association of Local Bus Company Managers (ALBUM) ()
133 Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, First Report of Session 2016–17, ., HL Paper 13, para. 19
135 See for instance, East Yorkshire Motor Services Limited (), FirstGroup plc ()
136 The UK Cards Association ()
137 See for instance, National Pensioners Convention (); RMT (); Transport Focus ()
138 Dr Roger Sexton (); North-East Combined Transport Activists’ Roundtable ()
139 [Dr Disney]
140 DfT, , 26 May 2016
141 RTIG (); see also Roger French (); The Go-Ahead Group plc ()
142 East Yorkshire Motor Services Limited ()
143 The UK Cards Association ()
22 November 2016