Bus Services Bill Contents

4Road conditions and congestion

78.Road space is a finite resource which buses share with other users, including private cars, taxis, delivery vehicles and cyclists. Competition for this shared space is increasing; a recent report predicted a 55% growth in traffic by 2040.144 Congestion is a particular issue in major metropolitan centres, but there is evidence that it is increasingly impacting on smaller market towns and rural areas too.145 The main focus of the Bus Services Bill is the regulatory structure of the market rather than the conditions of the road. However, we received evidence suggesting that the latter was a major contributory factor to the long term decline of bus passenger numbers. In the chapter below we briefly assess this evidence in the context of the Bill. We will return to consider the broader issues in more detail in our urban congestion inquiry.146

Impact of congestion on bus passenger numbers

79.Road congestion slows buses down, meaning that passengers cannot rely on the bus turning up on time or reaching their destination on schedule. In order to ensure that buses arrive at stops at the same frequency bus operators must therefore put more buses on the same route. This increases their costs and lowers productivity. As a result, passengers must pay more and/or receive a worse service than would otherwise be the case. This encourages more individuals to use their cars instead of taking the bus, further worsening congestion.147 For instance, Claire Walters of Bus Users UK told us:

[ … ] clearly if they are not going to have any kind of congestion control, buses will end up stuck in traffic unless they have some kind of priority. There will be no appeal for anybody to sit in traffic with a load of other people rather than sitting in their own little bubble. That is going to lead to people wanting to drive themselves if they can.148

80.A recent report by Professor David Begg for Greener Journeys estimated that had bus passengers been protected from the growth in congestion over the last 50 years, there could be between 48% and 70% more fare paying bus passenger journeys today.149 The last few years have also seen a fall in bus passenger numbers in London, reversing the previous trend of a long term increase.150 We heard from some operators who said that this demonstrated that congestion, rather than regulatory structure, is the most serious issue facing the industry. For instance, Robert Montgomery of Stagecoach told us:

[ … ] an authority should have to deal with, address and sort out traffic congestion before it even thinks about changing the model for delivery. You might very well find that you fix the congestion problem, and the bus market commercially will work very well. Changing the model itself will not solve the problem.151

81.However, we also received evidence putting the problem of congestion in wider context. Department figures from 2011 show that outside of London, factors within operator control (for instance, staffing or mechanical issues) were a bigger cause of lost scheduled bus mileage than congestion.152 We heard little evidence from operators about how they were managing these issues. In addition, and as discussed above in chapter 2, there is the clear potential of benefits for the passenger where LTAs are able choose the regulatory structure which is most appropriate to their local area.

Management of traffic congestion

82.LTAs can manage congestion through urban planning and design of city centres.153 They also already have traffic management powers, for instance introducing bus priority measures or parking schemes. These powers are being used in areas such as Greater Manchester, Leigh and the link between Sheffield and Rotherham.154 For instance, Dr Lamonte from Greater Manchester told us:

We know that where we have bus measures they certainly advantage the bus and make it a more attractive proposition, which is what we are trying to do. We know that some of the congestion caused recently in the city centre has been because we have been doing work, perversely, to introduce cross-city buses and put bus prioritisation on key routes throughout the city centre and, as you are aware, particularly on the Oxford Road.155

83.We received evidence from operators suggesting LTAs were opting not to tackle congestion, despite urging from the Traffic Commissioners and the Department.156 It was suggested by some respondents that this could be addressed by targets on journey times or average bus speeds.157 Traffic management requires the balancing of various local interests by the LTA; as such, we do not consider it appropriate to include such targets in primary or secondary legislation. However, we note that TfL produces comprehensive bus performance data, including analysis of factors affecting performance and bus user surveys.158 We also believe there is scope for the Department to provide guidance on how LTAs may work with operators to agree targets within the different regulatory structures set out in the Bill.

84.Congestion is not the only issue facing the bus industry, but it is a real threat in some areas. LTAs and operators need to fully understand the effects of congestion and other factors on bus speeds and performance. Transport for London already performs admirably in this regard and other LTAs can learn from them. Where they think they would be useful LTAs and operators should be encouraged to build performance and reporting frameworks into their partnership and franchising arrangements. We therefore encourage the Department to produce guidance within six months of Royal Assent to assist authorities who wish to draw up performance and reporting frameworks. We will return to this issue in our urban congestion inquiry.

85.In addition to traffic management powers, around 90% of local authorities have adopted civil parking enforcement powers and can enforce bus lane contraventions.159 However, presently only London and (more recently) Cardiff have the powers to enforce a wider range of traffic offences, such as stopping in yellow box junctions (generally called “moving traffic offences”). The Government has committed to giving mayoral combined authorities the ability to request these wider powers on the basis that the legal mechanism to do so already exists, but has not widened this proposal to include LTAs who introduce partnership schemes.160 The Government was defeated in the House of Lords on an amendment to the Bill that would allow those LTAs implementing an AQP to assume these powers.161

86.We previously recommended that all local authorities be given the power to enforce against moving traffic offences and continue to believe this is the most appropriate approach.162 While we appreciate the aim behind the Lords proposal, it is not clear why the type of regulatory structure which an LTA chooses for their local area should be linked to the extent of their enforcement powers related to moving traffic offences. For instance, an LTA which adopts a voluntary partnership should be accountable for their approach to managing congestion as much as an LTA who has agreed an AQP, or indeed an LTA which has no type of bus partnership or agreement at all.

87.We are sympathetic to the aims of the House of Lords in passing the amendment to allow local transport authorities which are implementing Advanced Quality Partnerships to have greater enforcement powers over traffic offences. We also agree that the devolution of moving traffic offence powers requires further consideration. However, linking moving traffic offences to the bus regulatory structure is illogical and will add further unnecessary discrepancies between the powers held by different local authorities. We repeat our previous recommendation that the Government immediately bring into force the remaining provisions of Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 to allow all local authorities in England to enforce moving traffic offences should they so wish.

144 The Go-Ahead Group plc (BSB0029); Greener Journeys and Professor David Begg, The Impact of Congestion on Bus Passengers, 2 June 2016

145 Q28 [Claire Walters]; Q90 [Nigel Blackler]

146 Transport Committee, Urban congestion inquiry launched, 20 October 2016

147 See for instance, Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (CPT) (BSB0065); Arriva (BSB0095); West Midlands Combined Authority (BSB0017)

148 Q15 [Claire Walters]

149 Greener Journeys, The impact of congestion on bus passengers, June 2016

150 The Association of Local Bus Company Managers (ALBUM) (BSB0058); Stagecoach UK Bus (BSB0078)

151 Q43 [Robert Montgomery]

152 DfT, Lost scheduled bus mileage by metropolitan area, October 2011; more recent data are not available as this survey was discontinued.

153 Q89 [Andy Gibbons]

154 Urban Transport Group (BSB0103)

155 Q77 [Dr Lamonte]

156 Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (CPT) (BSB0065); Stagecoach UK Bus (BSB0078); Wellglade Limited (BSB0091)

157 National Express Bus (BSB0024); Greener Journeys written evidence (BSB0083)

158 TfL, Buses performance data [Accessed 1 November 2016]

159 HL Deb 12 Oct 2016 vol 774 c.1904; Transport Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2013–14, Local authority parking enforcement, HC 118

162 Transport Committee, Second Report of Session 2015–16, Road traffic law enforcement, HC 518, para. 99

22 November 2016