For Bus Back Better (2021) we are updating information at http://option247.uk
EXTRA Frequently Asked Questions
Questions asked in the last few days ...
• Is this just a consultation response web site?
No - the team are here for the long haul! Based on our prior expereince, we can split down the activities we'll be involve in to four stages:
1. Make decision makers aware there's a case to look at (for option 24/7)
2. Get that case thoroughly looked at and evaluates, and agree what's appropriate
3. Work to gain whatever is appropriate
4. Work to retaain that appropriate service
The first two phases are just for starters. There will be signifcant work to be done when we (that's council, technical advisers, bus company experts and community) specify services and ticketing regimes and operational methods - and then market and implement them. And there will be another large and ongoing task in "snagging" the services initially, and in marketing, maintaining and growing them and continuing to tune them to developing requirements, road loadings and perhaps changing safety and legal regimes.
• How much have you looked at the details?
A detailed set of suggestions was presented to Wiltshire Council as part of the preconsultation and it can be found (with update notes) [here]. Financials were also reported on [here]. We have added a footnote on the technical paper to reflect systemic and background developments in the last six months which have made (in our view) the scheme more attractive and practical.
• Will you use smaller buses for smaller loads under option 24/7?
Modern buses are expensive capital resources, and it's far lower in total cost for a bus operator to use a single vehicle all day than to swap between two of them - and with steadily better / more efficient engines, the modern bigger buses are surprisingly efficient to run.
Under a "network wide" approach such as we're advocating, there is some scope for switching vehicles around during the hours of operation so that the larger vehicles are on the busier network-wide services. However, the busiest times the to coincide on all routes, so that doesn't provide a magic solution. Busiest times, by the way, tend to be school runs, and runs just after 09:30 - made a much sharper peak by Wiltshire Council's change from an 09:00 to 09:30 start to concessionary pass acceptance. There are some surprises too - it's reported by a bus operator to me that Sunday bus loadings are up to the extent that some are full and standing at times.
One "trick" in makes the buses efficient to run - again something we could do under option 247 - is to market a network for use when vehicles are not otherwise filled. If the bus is already running, then only the cost of marketing needs to be offset against the passenger income; if it's a bus service outside current running hours, then you've got driver and additional running costs, but not full capital costs, to consider. We did this for trail period with some success in 2014 / 2015 with the Rail Link bus, using a town minibus in the morniing peak (before school runs) and early evening (after end of normal duties) with great success - on one street this became the busiest bus of the day - BUT it requires the structure and combined marketing for such a service to run permanently.
Both public and private transport have a staggeringly high proportion of empty seats. From our rail experience, people tell us that trains are overcrowded, and yet averaged out over the day 20% of seats occupied is rather good. The TransWilts community rail service does rather better at over 30%. People don't realise just how low these figures are, as they're all crowded onto the busiers services. Most private cars have five seats - but more often than not have just the driver in as they go around, especially on commutes to work. Our observations have shown 1.3 passengers per private vehicle locally in Melksham on the journey to work - a 26% loading. Filling seats at quieter times - perhaps by offering a discount - is an option much used on rail, but brings an added complexity and false peaks much like the concessionary pass dones after 09:30.
• Are commercial services safe under options 1 to 6?
No. Commercial operators can decide at six weeks notice to change or withdraw a service which is not subsidised. Where that's a service which is a longstanding one that's drifted be being unprofitable, whether it's an experiment that hasn't been as popular as was hoped, or whether it relates to a policy change by the operator doesn't make any difference. It's then up to the council to decide whether to subsidise the service to keep it running, to negotiate with other operators to see if they can fill in any wholes left, or to leave passengers to find alternatves. Such changes can rarely be forecast a long way ahead, so any decision to subsidise a service that ceases to be commercial will effect the council's abiity within their budget to subsidise other services.
Case in point ... August 2015, the last commercial service of the day at about 18:30 from Chippenham to Melksham and Trowbridge that took commuters home was withdrawn. Although it conveyed 'several dozen' passengers, no replacement subsidised bus has been provided; the next bus from Chippenham to Trowbridge doesn't tun until 8 O'Clock the next morning.
• What about cutting the salaries of county "Fat Cats" to save money?
You ask about Wiltshire Council salaries. Not my area of expertise, and I would suggest you raise that with your elected councillor (or candidates when the next local election comes up) . But whatever these people are paid, and however the decision to cut bus funding has come about (an interesting question in itself) it remains very much worthwhile us all working together to make for a system that's better tuned for the customer, worthwhile and encouraging for the operator, and will have a minimised requirement for external subsidy funding if any at all.
• Can the Council introduce a small charge per journey for concessionary bus pass holders?
Your frustrations with the distortions imposed not he bus network and system by "bus passes" is widely shared - indeed I can quote Wiltshire Council's FAQ concerning options 1 to 6 which addresses that point:
Q: Can the Council introduce a small additional charge for concessionary bus pass holders (e.g. 50p for each journey) or an annual administration charge for each pass (e.g. £10) or make them means tested?
A: This is not allowed by Government legislation. A number of local authorities, including Wiltshire Council, and other bodies have lobbied the Government on this matter but have been informed that there are no plans to review the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme at this time.
My pragmatic view is that we can't call for this scheme to be changed in our current responses unless we want them to be thrown straight into the "no can do" rubbish bin. We need to ensure that we come up with something that CAN be achieved in and by Wiltshire, works very much with then as far as possible .... and if it has one eye to a future where bus passes are different, then so much the better.
• If the buses were not subsidised and buses run by independent company's how much would the price of a bus ticket be?
For example from pig & whistle to Melksham town asks questioner
I would expect little change in the typical fare level, but overall a simplification of the fare system and a great interchangeability. I think there are different fares from the Pig and Whistle to the Town Centre at present - 1.10 or 1.50 depending on who's bus you catch, and return fares available on one but not the other. That's the sort of "silly" to get sorted!
• Re: cost of fares without subsidy: Route 2 between Devizes and Salisbury is fully funded by Wiltshire Council. If I understand the table published by the Council, each passenger journey cost the Council £1.70 (except, to paraphrase Mrs. Thatcher, it is not the Council's money it is Wiltshire council tax payers' money). So if fares went up by £1.70 I assume the service would break even. Not sure how 'cost' of free bus pass journeys are factored in but as there is no income on the route from concessionary customers I would assume, if we were to pay the fare increase would be reduced.
Route 2 subsidy ... 127,475 journeys, subsidy £216,995 = £1.70 per journey. But there's a hidden extra cost to council and potential saving. 46,666 of the journeys were made on ENCTS ("bus passes") where the council pays around 45% of the single adult fare to the bus operator. A Devizes to Salisbury adult single is £5.50 / lets work on a £4.00 average fare because people don't go all the way, so you're looking at an extra £84,000 - so a grand total of about £300,000 paid by the council. You can argue whether to call that extra 84k a subsidy or not, but the fact remains that if the Salsbury - Devizes bus was totally withdrawn and no alternative offered, the council would save around 300k.
On this route, the proportion of card holders is quite low - on some routes it's over 90% of passengers. And that's a great encouragement to push the adult single fares as high as can be justified, so that they get 45% of a higher figure for card holders. This helps to explain why single fares are high, but returns and all sorts of other tickets are far better value.
• But doesn't everyone have a car?
No. From the 2011 census, the percentage of households without cars in some council wards that don't have a railway station in their town:
Amesbury West 21%
Calne Central 19%
Calne Chilvester 19%
Corsham Pickwick 18%
Corsham Town 17%
Devizes North 35%
Devizes and Roundway South 17%
Marlborough East 22%
Marlborough West 15%
Royal Wootton Bassett 16%
And for wards in towns with a station te figure is even higher:
Bradford on Avon South 20%
Chippenham Lowden 26%
Frome Market 23%
Melksham Central 22%
Salisbury St Edmunds 34%
Swindon Central 40%
Trowbridge Adcroft 28%
Warmister East 26%
Westbury North 20%
• If the subsidised service is withdrawn, how much extra would the operator need to charge the council for the mandated school service?
Many Wiltshire bus services - both subsidised and commercial - make special runs and cease their normal routes to cater for school journeys, contracted and paid for by Wiltshire Council and something they legally must do. On subsidised services, the capital cost / depreciation of the vehicle is split between the school contract and the subsidised service.
It strikes me that making a saving on the public bus subsidy budget could lead directly to a significant increase in the school bus budget, but I have never seen any figure on this ... does anyone know? Has it been worked out / estimated?
• please give An example of what option 24/7 would encourage
An idea. Reroute the Salisbury to Devizes bus to go from Shrewton to Winterbourne Stoke via the new Stonehange Visitor's Centre. It would add journey opportunities for tourists to use the bus as well as for local residents and help provide a total transport plan. It would bring some more people to Stonehenge by more sustainable bus and a few less by car. It would reduce delays getting out of the road from Shrewton at Winterbourne Stoke. Has anybody at Salisbury Red or Wiltshire Council (who subsidise this service) looked into the possibiliity of it calling at Stonehenge under the current system?
Feedback ... That suggestion is similar to the one I proposed and other Shrewton residents who completed the Pre Consultation document did also. We asked that Wiltshire coincided looking at a service, possibly self funding, doing a circular route taking in Amesbury, Solstice Park, Durrington, Larkhill, Shrewton and the the the Stonehenge Visitors Centre. As you say Amesbury and the industrial/retail park are expanding, as is Larkhill with the Army rebasing. Amesbury is well served by a frequent bus service from Salisbury via the train station. So as Amesbury as our local hub, tourists could get from there to Stonehenge on public transport and Shrewton residents, and residents of the other settlements on the proposed, route could get to work, shop and socialise!
These are EXACTLY the sort of integrated / network thoughts we need to have but - beware - we/you still have to do it within a very tight budget / resource at least initially. If / when the restructured network proves itself it can be enhanced. Ask yourself if the No. 2 from Devizes runs via Stonehenge how it would then integrate with the Stonehenge tourist bus(es) to Salisbury and Wilton. At the moment I can't answer that but I can play Devil's Advocate, ask the question, and ask how we ensure that everyone - be they campaigners with a strong voice but a small group, or a silent majority, get a service that best considers them.
• "I used to be able to walk to my local shop. But is closed and now I have to use the subsidised bus to get to the nearest town. What will I do when the bus no longer runs?"
There's a suggestion with a lot of these cuts that people can / could / should use community buses and the link scheme. However, community buses are already stretched for suitable people to drive (and volunteers only have a few years between retirement and mandatory ceasing to drive a public service vehicle) and although the link scheme covers 98% of the county (we are told) it only covers it very thinly and could't cope if it had to take up a significant proportion of the 2.5 million journeys.
The solution suggested is that the "option 247" approach of a true quality network be adopted, and that will then NOT leave huge holes for the link schemes - just smaller holes they can cope with.
• Are you campaigning against the council?
Oh my goodness - Radio Wiltshire had us featuring as campaigners yesterday morning ... and colloquially it's against bus cuts. But actually we're campaigning for a better alternative / system to what we have at the moment.
There could be (and indeed there was in the headline / tone) doom and gloom. From the County person responsible (Phillip Whitehead) on the need to save money. From the passengers saying what hardships to their bus would bring. And from a bus operator saying how seriously it would effect his business. There are acknowldged problems that savings in subsidy must be made, yet people must get to the shops, the doctors, college, work - and this in a county where the population density is relatively low.
To campaign against is negative. To campaign for a better approach that saves necessary services, makes better use of resources, and provides an environment in which bus use can grow is something for us all to get involved with, take pride in, and work together on.
For the current passenger there's a service which provides for their need to travel - it may be modified to combine needs, may be a little less convenient, but it's secure.
For the potential passenger it provides a way of leaving the car at home, or of not having (a second) car at all. It provides a way of getting to education and work that couldn't otherwise be reached. For visitors from further afield, it provides a way of seeing the county and reaching attractions without having to drive on the left,or join a tour group. And as people get older and can't drive, it provides a way of being able to stay independent in their home, of getting out and being encouraged to exercise.
For the bus operator it provides a more stable and more cost effective solution for the future. I noted a local bus operator quoted on local TV this morning that the cuts would put his business at risk, when what's needed is co-operative and long-term development
For the Council tax payer an optimised network solution reduces the need for / level of subsidy required.
For the Councillor and for the MP it provides an innovative solution that doesn't cost a fortune with meaninigful contribution in the hands of the local people in areas where services run .. and that's a vote winner for them.
Can't be bad ... what's stopping us?
• Where do quality schemes work already and how would they fit in to Wiltshire?
Examples of where a quality scheme works already:
1. London, where passenger journeys have risen from 1.8 billion to over 2.3 billion in 10 years. Looking back to before and after changes that brought the scheme in in London (under a different name) looked even more spectacular - 107% growth in 30 years versus 17% decline in non-metropolitain areas of England. See DfT report [here].
2. Bournemouth and Poole "BUS passengers in Poole are jumping on the vehicles in greater numbers than ever before. In 12 months over 2014/15 a total of 10.2 million passengers were carried by buses in the borough, an increase of more than 400,000 journeys on the previous year. Figures show that the number of passenger journeys in Poole has almost doubled since 2004/5 from 5.3 million." - Bournemouth echo article [here] under a quality bus partnership [here].
A key characteristics of a quality schemes is that local authorities and transport operators are working together, under an umbrella provided by / aided by central government, and taking input from "the market" - i.e. what existing and new potential passengers require - to design and implement a system that works for everyone concerned.
The total transport pilot fund was set up a year ago [here], to provide "seed" money for the investigation and research of how effective mechanisms to link together transport into a network rather than a disparate set of individual competing and duplicating operations. Most local authorities applied and got grants, and that money has been spent in preparation of "Shovel Ready" schemes to be progressed as the devolution agenda and new bus bill move ahead.
A few local authorities didn't take advantage of the pilot fund to look into potential in their area - and it's notable that in the long list of successful bidders in the South West, Wiltshire stands out as not being mentioned. Enquiries I have made indicate that no bid was put in for funds ... which (if it is true) is a sad missing out of an opportunity, because we could now be so much more prepared, having been funded by central government in that preparation.
We do have an example of a transport partnership scheme that has worked locally - and that's the TransWilts rail service. The council applied for funding under a new scheme called the "Local Sustainable Transport Fund", First Great Western (now Great Western Railway) and Network Rail and the community all backed them up, and service were improved from December 2013. On a service with 4 times as many trains as in 2012, passenger journeys rose from 18000 per annum to around 230000 per annum in 2015 (yes, there IS an extra zero in there - traffic is up 12 times over - 1277% of what it was!). Predictions are continued growth too.
I note that the LSTF scheme was a new one - building on past experience but with adjustments and differences to make use of the changing opportunities and legal frameworks, and that's exactly what we're looking at with the bus proposals ... and you'll note that the same community team that's worked on the trains is now working on the buses too (and indeed on making the two connect). In Wiltshire Council, though, it's a different department as trains come under "Sustainable Transport" and buses come under "Public Transport". Don't we need to make public transport in all its forms, sustainable?
Wiltshire Council's 'preconsultation' last summer - looking forward on buses - came up with a number of options from within the Public Transport team all on the same theme of cutting subsidy so parts of the network without any restructuring. None looks to any form of re-organising what's left, nor to market development by providing a better product. Just cutting. At least one option put forward by stakeholders was rejected, and there may well have been more - our team doesn't have an 'exclusive' on ideas.
Having lead the consultation, and reviewed the results / presided over decisions as to what to take forward (i.e. internal cut options only), the head of passenger transport retired and has passed the very limited indeed choice of options of what to implement onto his successor.
I hope that the new head of transport WILL take a careful look at the work done by people such as Tim Davis in Devon, and the Poole and Bournemouth and London models, and say to the cabinet members responsible - who have to be involved in so many topics that they can't be public transport experts to the degree of their specialist officers - that there is another option that's not a downward spiral, that does have expert backing and experience through there it will be within a different legal framework from next year (ALL the options may change, of course, because of the bus bill) and is a popularity and vote winner as well as being great for the people and for the economy and for the operators in the longer term.