(This was published as a letter in the East Anglian Daily TImes 15 Feb 2010)
Passengers suffer, thanks to unreliable bus services
So it took a ‘covert investigation’ by the Department of Transport to reveal what Suffolk passengers have known all along – that First Eastern Counties bus services are frequently unreliable, with 1 in 5 buses leaving early or late – or not appearing at all (EADT 11/02/10 Bus Operator Told to Improve) We’re not surprised at that. What we do find surprising is that a commercial service should be proven to behave in such a cavalier fashion to its passengers. Its as if First Eastern don’t care whether it carries passengers or not. So much for the basis of ‘commercial viability.
In defence, their spokesman said that many First Eastern Counties routes and timetables ‘were improved’ after this report was compiled, on November 15. Now, I remember November 16 very well – it was the Monday morning I and several others waited for an hour at a Woodbridge bus stop for a First bus that had been ‘improved’ out of existence without warning the passengers. Or their County Councillor. (See http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=20) Of course, this is only one example of the generally poor information given out by the bus companies about their services. Can you think of a company that expects to sell their products without advertising? Again, the term ‘commercially viable’ seems far from appropriate!
I do hope the DfT inquiry finding will interest the Conservative run County Council- which is is keen to replace scheduled rural bus services with their pet ‘demand responsive transport’ – a door-to-door service that needs booking well in advance. Their rationale?
“Many rural bus services are not commercially viable …. Alternative services are required to meet the needs of local people.”
But with bus services operating as described above, how can you possibly establish what services ARE commercially viable ? Back in 2005 the National Audit Office identified the most important factors that were needed to support successful country bus services. These were, not demand responsive transport, but positive action:
- commitment to achieving growth in bus use;
- investment in a package of measures to increase demand for bus services;
- strategic planning, partnership working between local authorities and bus operators in a deregulated market and effective procurement of local bus services;
- the provision and administration of concessionary fares; and
- regulation and monitoring of bus services.
The people of Suffolk deserve a viable bus service that they can rely on. But until they are given a chance to use such a service it is impossible to define whether it might be commercially viable or not. What is currently on offer is not fit for purpose!