Tag Archives: Buses

Let’s re-regulate our buses – and put (our) service before (their) profits

Faced with the major collapse of  rural bus ‘services’ in Suffolk, I have long been calling  on both Suffolk County Council and our government to look at re-regulation of rural bus services.  The response of both  institutions has been largely negative, despite clear evidence that ‘competition’ and ‘market forces’ have done absolutely nothing to benefit rural users .

Yet re-regulation  is not impossible.

Last Friday the five Tyne and Wear councils voted to start the consultation necessary to re-regulate their buses . It will be the first region to take the plunge since the silly and ideologically driven  deregulation  of bus services in the 1980s. Re-regulation  will allow the region to aim once again for the efficiency, coverage and price which is standard for bus services  in regulated London by giving bus companies franchises to run  all local services, instead of letting them cherry-pick the ones on which they can make the most money.

Deregulated bus services are in a parlous state.  Tyne and Wear was warned that without change, all local school buses would go; a further 200 bus routes would likely disappear, and concessionary child fares would vanish. However, if the councils take over the bus routes, they could use the current subsidy and profits to grow the service to make it meet the needs of all residents.

Just as we did in the old days.

It’s not rocket science is it?

Hardly surprising that other local authorities are showing interest in doing the same.

The big bus companies may well not be in favour of these schemes – and with good cause. According to the FT “Bus companies earn higher margins outside London.. Stagecoach makes an average of 17 per cent outside London, while the figure for Go-Ahead is 10 per cent.” The FT says  that in contrast, average London operators make between 4 and 5 %.

Buses are Britain’s main form of public transport, and in the old days the concept of bus ‘services’ meant service: popular routes would fund socially necessary but less income-generating services elsewhere. De-regulation was heralded by the Thatcher administration as providing competition, but in fact since the 80s some big bus companies have  used their size to see off other competitors   creating  local monopolies  which do not benefit passengers at all .  In Woodbridge, First Group recently were running identical routes against rival Anglian Buses  at identical times. Anglian Buses no longer run these services, and Woodbridge residents have lost out.

Competition?  Bus companies should be forced to compete with each other to  provide proper services rather than to maximise profits. I once again call upon Suffolk County Council and my local MP, Dr Coffey, to do everything they can to make this possible.

SCC answer to my question on rural buses, July 13

You may remember that I tabled a question on the increasingly poor rural bus services at July’s Full Council and promised to post the answer when I got it.

My question was

  Caroline Page to Cabinet Member for Roads and Transport (Graham Newman)“Public transport is an essential part of supporting the welfare of the county, particularly in rural areas. It is coming under increasing pressure and is failing to meet the needs at the time when Suffolk needs it most. When is Cllr Newman going to pressure national government to alter the ridiculous ethos of so-called ‘competition’ which has caused deregulated buses to provide such a terrible service to the people of the Suffolk countryside, over the past decades?”

Cllr Newman’s  response was: “I’m a strong supporter of public transport services in Suffolk. I wish to see more effective coordination of services. The government clearly set out its position in March 2012, in its full response to the competition commission report; ‘Local Bus Service Market Investigation’.
I believe the focus of our efforts should now be on working with the commercial sector to improve the availability and the affordability of transport, particularly to support young people to continue to learn and take their first steps into employment. I therefore welcome the cooperation of the commercial sector in developing our new ‘Endeavour Card’ for young people, and hope that we can build on this relationship to further improve services without unaffordable financial support, in this county council.

As Cllr Page will know*, we are meeting with Therese Coffey MP, to discuss these very issues, and indeed I have previously discussed them informally with Dr. Coffey.”

Caroline Page:  This last was actually news to me  – though very welcome news, particularly as Dr Coffey has not so far answered the specific points I raised with her in June concerning this subject, although she has replied to my letter.

You can find the answers to the other Lib Dem councillors’ questions here – that is, to two of them. Very unfortunately my colleague John Field’s pertinent concerns on potential carcinogens was lost in transit – although submitted correctly, and acknowledged as such by the Suffolk County Council Monitoring Officer. It disappeared from the Full Council agenda and therefore was neither asked nor answered

Questions to Suffolk County Council

At every full council meeting elected members have the opportunity to put questions to the Cabinet members at Suffolk County Council. I am asking the following:

 Caroline Page to Cabinet Member for Roads and Transport (Graham Newman)

Public transport is an essential part of supporting the future welfare of the county – particularly in rural areas. And yet it is coming under increasing pressure and failing to meet needs just at the time Suffolk needs it most.

I would like to ask the Cabinet member when he is going to press national government to alter the ridiculous ethos of so-called competition which has caused deregulated buses to provide such a terrible service to the people of  the Suffolk countryside over the last decades

The other questions can be found here

What’s happening in Suffolk July 2013

Things are still fairly quiet  as the new electoral cycle gathers momentum. Locally, more bus services are cut. Countywide, SCC announces a £3.5m  underspend. Its a shame nobody puts these two together and realises you have to speculate in order to accumulate..

Update on local bus issues The loss of the Anglia 164 and 165 buses  and reduction of the 63 service that I mentioned in last month’s report has taken place. The  63 is now restricted to 4 daily buses on working Mondays to Fridays with one additional bus on schooldays. This means there is no bus link whatsoever between Ipswich/Martlesham/Woodbridge and Framlingham on a Saturday!

However after  representations made as to the damage done by the loss of the 164/165  which ran from Aldeburgh and Leiston to Ipswich the situation has been improved additional services from the First 64 and 65. However, I have had a number of elderly correspondents in places like Knodishall who have had their transport lifeline cut.

One of the issues appears to be that very few elected members at any governmental level use buses – and those that do use city ones and have therefore little understanding of the problems facing those without transport  in rural areas.

I wrote to our local MP, and to the County council, asking  if they could use their influence  to try and change some of these decisions at a local level. (This appears to have had some effect.)

I also asked them to use their voice

  • to press to alter – at national level – the ridiculous ethos of so-called competition which has caused deregulated buses to provide such a terrible service in  the countryside. In the past County Councils ran bus services on the basis that popular routes could subsidise essential routes with smaller passenger numbers. I have sympathy with Councils that see no reason to subsidise only loss-making services. The loss of the 165 shows us on what a tightrope the services run. Yet rural services are not a frivolous luxury – they can make the difference between productive employment and training and expensive enforced idleness;
  • to press the government to address the situation of local transport in the forthcoming spending review in a holistic sense. (That is, considering the expense in social care and welfare payments that will occur if public transport is not  supported. )Ask them to support it at all costs because it is an essential part of supporting the future welfare of the country – particularly in rural areas;
  • to press the government to look at the frankly unfair differentials in per capita spending on public transport across the country. Each Londoner gets about three times as much spent on them as each person in Suffolk despite the huge economies of scale London offers – and London buses aren’t deregulated. Why should our constituents be worth any less?

Although I have not heard anything from Dr Coffey, I was at a Transport meeting at the County Council where it seemed as if the council were indeed contemplating lobbying central government over the situation with rural buses!

Underspend: latest news is that Suffolk CC  has managed a £3.5 m underspend on the proposed budget of the year to date. That kind of money would subsidise a lot of buses.

Suffolk’s ‘Most Active Community’  Suffolk County Council is launching a competition to find Suffolk’s most active town – as part of it’s latest declared ambition to become ‘the most active county in England’.

Organisers are looking for communities that can demonstrate that they are getting people active through such means as new walking or cycling routes, programmes of activities in village halls, improved community facilities or new community events.

Winners and runners up will receive grants to fund further programmes of physical activity, or to invest in initiatives to promote active lifestyles.

The grants would be:

Winner – Suffolk’s Most Active Town £2,500

Winner – Suffolk’s Most Active Large Village £1,500

Winner – Suffolk’s Most Active Small Village £1,000

Runner Up – Suffolk’s Most Active Large Village £500 

Runner Up – Suffolk’s Most Active Small Village £500

The winners will also have the opportunity to install a sign to recognise their achievement as the most active village/town in Suffolk.

The deadline for applications is Friday 9 August 2013 To enter the competition or for more information please visit: www.mostactivecounty.com/community_activity.

Wheelchair access from Wilford Bridge to Kyson Point Full access has been interrupted by the steps on the pathway leasing north from the Art Club. I talked to the Rights of Way team and have been informed that full access at this point is imminent – by means of a ramp.

 Locality budget grants     I have been delighted to fund from my Locality budget a cup – the Kingston Allotment Cup – to be awarded to the winning Allotment every year. I have also had notification that the broken bench on SCC land at the junction of Grundisburgh and Hasketon Roads is now being replaced. This was also funded from my Locality budget.

Sandy Lane calming  The longstanding Sandy Lane calming scheme  (simply lines and signs) – which finally looked like becoming a reality  at the end of the last electoral period – stalled during the election moratorium and unfortunately seems to have had a bit of time restarting. However I am now  told that “The contractor is going to take a look on site to confirm the working arrangements and we may be in a position to complete these work in the next 2 weeks.”

Hopefully this will allow the Cemetery Lane lining finally to be done at the same time. These were funded out of last cycle’s quality of life budget (now Highways budget).

 My July Surgery 2013  As you know,  I hold a regular monthly surgery on the THIRD SATURDAY of every month. This is held at Woodbridge Library, 10am – 12 noon. The next surgery will be:      20 July 2013

  • Please note: there will be no surgery in August 2013

Shhh: Concessionary bus passes – the very QUIET Consultation

OK, the saga of Suffolk’s cheeseparing provision for bus passes for the disabled and elderly goes on and on.

Three weeks back SCC’s scrutiny committee decided that  Suffolk’s Conservative run County Council had NOT consulted fully, OR considered the impact of its decision (see here for details) when it reduced the terms of travel for Suffolk’s 140,000 passholders, 7,000 of whom are people holding disabled passes.

(And of which group I unexpectedly – about a year after this saga first started and I first got involved – became a member. Perhaps the Cabinet needs to ponder upon this. Make all your decisions about ‘them’ with care. Who knows  when ‘they’ may suddenly become ‘us’. Just saying).

I digress.

SCC  is now getting around to the consultation. And, bearing in mind it took them a full year to look at their decision the first time, they are moving pretty speedily, if remarkably quietly. So quietly that the Lib Dems  – as Councillors, as the SCC official opposition party, as the political group who asked for this to happen, and (in my own case, not only as spokesperson for Transport and representative of the elderly and disabled people of Woodbridge,  but also a disabled passholder,  and a 24/7 carer of another disabled passholder on my own account) – have been left out of the  loop completely.

I only heard about the consultation SCC is now doing for the Concessionary bus passes when it was mentioned in passing yesterday, by a spokesman for a specific disability group!

There are three elements to the consultation.

  1. A sample survey of the two user groups (that is, elderly pass holders, and disabled persons ) asking them to answer a questionnaire
    3% of pass holders eligible by age
    10% of pass holders eligible by disability
    20% of pass holders who have travel voucher;
  2. A survey monkey survey to the operators asking their experience of the concessionary fares scheme – eg. overcrowding issues ;
  3. Distribution of the questionnaire to user groups asking for comments either about the questionnaire or about the scheme itself:
    Optua
    RNIB
    Age Concern
    Outreach Youth
    Suffolk Family Carers
    Suffolk Consortium of User Led Organisations and Individual Disabled People.

Everyone else wishing to comment should do so via this email address: concessionarytravel@suffolk.gov.uk 

So, if this concerns you, don’t delay, email today.   The consultation finishes on November 9th!