Monday, 8 July 2019

Modal Shift? In Their Dreams!

Last week, in case you missed it was "Catch The Bus Week". Suffolk County Council must have missed it as there wasn't a peep out of them. In fact Ipswich Buses were the only Suffolk operator I noticed give it a mention. While the rest of the country had lightning ticket sales and special events to encourage more people to use the bus in East Anglia it was depressingly quiet. Go East will point out that they Tweeted encouraging messages, and so they did. However, I do wonder how many of their followers don't already use the bus, and so they are Tweeting very much to the converted, which isn't the point of "Catch The Bus Week".

It was also "Steve's Car Fails MOT Week". I was fully expecting that, I put it in for an early test to see what needed to be done. What I wasn't expecting (no, not the Spanish Inquisition) was a "Do Not Drive" notice to be slapped on it, for handbrake, of all things. All of a sudden I'm a prisoner in my own village again until repairs are complete later this week. Annoying, but after 3 years back on the road it has given me the opportunity to see what my options are if I was to be totally reliant on public transport again, and if things have improved from 3 years ago, when changes to the DRT areas meant the service became as good as useless.

Well, many of you will have gone to the ECW event at East Anglia Transport Museum over the weekend. I would have ventured up there, if only to congratulate my former blog sparring partner, Sam Larke, on passing his PCV test and becoming one of the Lynx team. Well done, Sam - I have a feeling you will be an asset to the industry, as well as a useful contact!! Expect the long awaited Lynx feature in the next few weeks!

But I couldn't get there. I couldn't get out of the village unless I was prepared to pay £30 in taxi fares just to get to a bus stop. Which I wasn't. The Demand Responsive Service doesn't operate on Sundays, and doesn't serve my village - which is on an A road btw so not exactly a tiny hamlet - on Saturdays. To get to church yesterday I was reliant on the kindness of others. So a quiet weekend in it was. Tomorrow (Tuesday) I need to get to Wickham Market for my weekly social duties. That means DRT to Saxmundham then the 64 to Wickham (remembering that the 1457 conveniently terminates at Wickham Market and doesn't go back to Sax). So I rung Connecting Communities and luckily, mainly because I asked for middle of the day times I got roughly what I wanted.

Something has changed, however, in the last 3 years, which I have touched on before. The DRT services no longer accepts Concessionary Passes. This is the service which is meant to substitute for a local bus service remember, to take people without transport to the shops, doctors, friends, and link up with the main public transport network. It's not called Connecting Communities for nothing. So why are they charging the elderly and disabled now, who can use their passes on normal buses? Because DRT can be booked, and therefore comes under the rules governing coach services. How many people catch Megabus to the doctors, or National Express to the nearest bus stop! That rule governing services that can be booked was to protect long distance coach services, not community minibuses. Not going to exactly encourage people out of their cars that one is it!

So the return fare to Saxmundham is £5.20 for a round trip of 12 miles. That works out at 43.3p a mile. Ah but hang on - I'm only going to Saxmundham to catch the bus to Wickham Market, so forgetting about passes I'll need to pay again. (Waits for @FirstIpswich to answer fare enquiry) (Still waiting as First Twitter HQ in Leeds doesn't have fares data to hand and has to contact Ipswich Depot to find out - no, haven't made this up) (No, information not available on the website) (45 mins later I get my reply!) This is an extra £5.00 for a 17 mile round trip working out at 29.4p a mile. A lot cheaper than the minibus, and a timetabled service I can plan around rather than hope the stars are in the right pattern and a slot is available on the minibus.

But, and it's a big but, I live around 10 miles from Wickham Market using the back roads. A round trip of 20 miles, so how much per mile does that cost me when the car isn't in quarantine? Well, petrol is roughly 10p a mile, then we need to work out everything else. Obviously the more you use a car the cheaper it is to run. I do around 12,000 miles a year, which conveniently is 1,000 a month. Road tax costs me a 1.4p a mile. Insurance works out at 3.1p a mile, and maintenance around 4p a mile. So my round trip of 20 miles would cost me £3.70 instead of £10.20. It would also take 20 mins each way not an hour. And that's just me! If I had a partner the bus fare doubles but the car cost stays the same. You are not going to get people to give up their cars at those exchange rates.

Now a couple of Sundays ago I spent the best part of 16 hours riding on buses. I was in London, of course, and I'll get round to a separate post on that soon. If I lived in London I wouldn't need a car, unless I wanted to go outside London of course! But with London fares and what I'd save not having a car I could afford limousines the other end if necessary! The infrastructure is there. Buses are packed on Sundays. Locals use them because they are cheap and convenient. To put it in perspective if London rates and rules were in operation here my journey to Wickham Market would cost me £1.50 each way - CHEAPER than the car!!! It's a massive difference.

So next time you hear politicians bang on about wanting people to ditch the car for public transport laugh at them. If you live or have need to travel outside a major town or city it's a no brainer. And more cuts are happening to make them look even sillier. To expect people to shift modes without providing cheap, reliable, convenient and frequent alternatives is sheer folly. Quite simply the authorities need to put their money where their mouths are, subsidise buses to the same extent they do railways, and provide a realistic alternative to attract new users that doesn't include charging pensioners to go to the doctors. Actions speak louder than words, and certainly in this region actions are in a state of suspended animation. I want my car back!!

PS While I was waiting for First Ipswich in Leeds to respond I tweeted Stagecoach Southeast with a random fare enquiry, using a location I knew they wouldn't know from memory. I got a response in 6 minutes, with the fare and travel advice. Top marks there. Shows it can be done.


  1. Andrew Kleissner8 July 2019 at 16:06

    All good points,however you've forgotten one element of car costs which is depreciation. Obviously this varies according to the car's age and how much you paid for it in the first place: it would easily be £20k or more in the first year for a posh new Mercedes, only £500 per year for a clapped-out banger! But it's the bit everyone tends to forget. I paid £12k for my VW Up and I reckon to keep it for 8-10 years so that's probably £1000/year by the time I sell it.

    1. Good point, how much does that work out a mile for you?

    2. Andrew Kleissner8 July 2019 at 20:22

      Say 10p/mile, perhaps a bit more.

    3. Add that onto my journey and it still makes the car roughly half the price of the bus, for a single occupier. Something has to change.

  2. Steve, you make so much sense! Good on you!

  3. The missing figures I'd like to know is how much it actually costs (and most importantly) the breakdown of costs for running the bus (and the DRT whilst I'm at it).

    I too was quarantined for mechanical reasons (the human ones though) a couple of years ago, and though I could get about, the bus took about four times as long (50% of which was waiting time though). On direct costs it was comparable, thanks to Arriva's competitive ticketing.

    I've always admired Stagecoach who though making their fair share of mistakes, have consistently had the ability in my experience to focus on the end product. First, on the other hand, often seem to disappear up their own backside with the process. Go-Ahead at their best (not in East Anglia, then) can be more like Stagecoach, and sadly Arriva seem recently, in this area at least, to have gone the way of First. There are exceptions that prove the rule, of course.

    Perhaps we forget too about the morale of staff. The passengers can walk (or drive) away. For the staff it's harder. I saw recently a poignant post from a local driver, (a union rep too, so hardly in the anti- camp) who bewailed the depression of turning up smart, cheerful and timely on a Monday morning to be given a filthy bus to drive; and found himself laughed at by colleagues taking the opportunity to complain about the passengers, on First's strangely titled "Better Journeys for Life CPC course, for suggesting they should consider who pays the cost of their wages, and that perhaps they could ask what they can do for the company as well as the other way around. Would it happen with Stagecoach, I wonder? I was discussing the issue with someone in the industry, admittedly with no direct experience of First, who wondered if the depots have so much paperwork to complete for Head Office that they have little time left to actually manage the buses.

    Perhaps it's something easily forgotten. I mentioned on a previous article a successful rural bus. It actually seemed to be an enjoyable experience which its fair number of passengers looked forward to.

    Perhaps if I have a criticism Steve, it'd be adding fuel to the fire of the anti-bus lobby who say the bus can never be a substitute for the freedom of a car. Your own personal bus is a dream for most of us. That's not the point. It's about making the bus an attractive traveling proposition on its own terms. It can be done. But how often do we even try to make bus journeys a pleasurable experience?

  4. DRT costs for Suffolk. Very poor value for money in my view

    Demand Led Transport - Babergh DRT M-S 535.00
    Demand Led Transport - Forest DRT M-S 361.00
    Demand Led Transport - St DRT M-S 361.00
    Demand Led Transport - Suffolk DRT M-S 740.00
    Demand Led Transport - Waveney DRT M-S 440.00

    1. Bus operating cost per Mile (in pence) f0r 2017/18) from Dft)

      No breakdown of costs so gives little more than an indication of costs
      Costs I pence per mile

      England Metropolitan Non Metropolitan Areas

      2017/18 : 362 323

  5. I think you did a blog post on this a while back but have a look at the new Konctbus 5 series timetable that's just come into service. It's ridiculously confusing, especially the 5B one which goes from hourly to half hourly but has several exceptions depending on school days / saturdays / some journeys have an X which means changing buses at St Stephens and waiting 30 mins! Also no buses between 17:00 and 18:00 when most people finish work....

  6. Some info on BSOG payments. The latest I can find. Difficult to understand. There are multiple tabs on the spread sheets

  7. Steve, what you said above is a good analysis of the problem, both financially and logistically.

    There is model shift in rural areas, but to the car. How many other people would want to go to the East Anglian Transport museum from your area on a Sunday? Enough to fill a bus? Rural life and expectations has been changed by the car and the bus is no longer relevant. What I need as a rural resident is more park and ride, but like the local station offering multi-day and 24/7 operation, but not charging £8 a day because it is town centre.

    However over 90% of the UK population lives in urban areas and that is rising. Model shift to public transport is necessary to reduce time wasting congestion and pollution. In places like Bristol and London it is happening. This is due to better public transport running 24/7 and reducing roads and parking available to cars. This needs much more improvement.

    Politian’s will talk to the 90% and you happen to be part of a 10% minority.

    As resident of a rural community you have a choice. Either you work with your neighbours to offer each other lifts and car-shares and the resulting friendship (which I do). Or you move into town where you can walk to a bus stop and the shops (which I plan to do). My parents did the former until their mid 70s and then moved to the edge of town in walking distance of a bus stop and shop, but still with a view of grazing sheep. Locally we have a widow who is now 93 who still drives a bit and offers lifts very much in exchange for companionship, but the local church has realised that her church taxi service also now needs to be offered by others.

    Where you choose to live is your choice and you can’t expect the tax payer to facilitate staying put as your needs change. The free bus pass was supposed to be for use on spare capacity of existing buses. It was not for providing the complete bus or taxi.

    1. But you are expecting them to subsidies you car Park & Rides?

      It is perfectly possible to provide reasonable public transport in many rural areas but in Suffolk even the towns are losing their bus service. IT neds a change of business model. Rural areas are ill suited to the large bus companies and to make matter even worse is many areas are severed by lot of operators which is expensive and inefficient

      Kings Lyn which is not a large town seems to have got a Community bus services that works. It even provides Sunday services. Yes the deep rural areas unless on an Interurban route may be dependent on DRM services but the towns and large villages should be able to support a decent service. . THe approach is really to have a serious of hubs which already tens to exist with services radiating out to the larger villages you then have DRM service feeding into these spokes

      Bus services are the one form of public transport that pretty much gets no subsidy. Cars are subsidised, Rail is subsidized so why should not buses get some subsidy ? Bus can also help to reduce congestion and pollution. In Suffolk it is pretty much only Ipswich which has an acceptable level of service and possibly just about providing a service is Bury St Edmonds. Elsewhere forget it. If the services are not there people cannot use them

      Currently it is not a level playing field. Take Barbergh they heavily subsidies cars but do not subsidises bus at all. If buses got the same level of subsidy services could be dramatically improved, IT is similar across Suffolk. Park and ride facilities are heavily subsidised but almost nothing for the normal public bus services

    2. Lowestoft gets a good level of service and is in Suffolk? A bus to Norwich every 15 seconds criss crossing each other for instance .

    3. Now that's what I call a regular service!!

  8. Latest Bus Cuts All from September

    TM01 Leiston – Aldeburgh – Thomas Mills High School

    TM02 Reydon - Halesworth - Yoxford - Thomas Mills High School

    68 Ipswich – Kesgrave

    1. Kids still have to get to school so imagine someone like Whincops will operate the commercially. As for the 68 that replaced the Kesgrave section of the 165 and has never really caught on

  9. Funding Bus Services

    It does not seem unreasonable that there should be a fairer balance between cars and buses. Councils are prepared to subsidise cars but not buses. I did a few calculation for Barbergh & Mid Suffolk both provide Free Parking I also included some of the main supermarkets. For this exercise I assumed a typical car park charge of £2 for up to 2 hours and just used the hours 9am to 5pm & assumed an average 50% occupancy Mondays to Saturday. If a fraction of the money that is used to subsidise these car parks was used to support bus services it would dramatically improve them

    Barbergh Approx £1.8M a year

    Mid Suffolk Approx £1M a year

    Cost of operating 1 bus for 12 Months between £90,000 and £130,000. If say 50% was used for cars & 50% for buses that would be enough to fund an extra 12 buses at least in Barbergh . Tis assumes fares revenues cover 50% of costs

    In Mid Suffolk it would be about an extra 7 buses

    There will be more parking spaces as well most of these towns will have a Co-oP which will have free parking

    I think anywhere that provides free car parking should be required to make a contribution towards bus services

  10. Plans for London-style bus system in Wales

    A major shake-up of the Welsh bus industry is being planned by the Welsh Government.
    Ministers want to boost services by introducing a London-style system where bus operators bid to provide services.
    It could allow councils to dictate what bus services are provided, but there are concerns it could put some bus firms out of business.
    New Welsh Assembly legislation is expected to be published within the next year.

    Ministers in Wales want to take action to deal with a decline in services and passenger numbers. The number of bus journeys fell from 115.7m in 2011-12 to 99.6m in 2016-17.
    They want to give local councils the power to award firms the exclusive right to run certain routes, preventing other operators from competing.
    This could see councils effectively fund bus operators through contracts that dictate what routes the bus firms run.
    Councils could also be given powers to operate bus services directly - which they have been prevented from doing since the 1980s.

    First Cymru, an operator of bus services in South West Wales, said: "Franchising is an unnecessary expensive and poor value tool that need not be developed - it effectively acts as a brake on investment and innovation whilst it sits as a threat to operators' businesses."

    Cannot say I have seen any investment or innovation from bus companies

    1. Andrew Kleissner16 July 2019 at 18:40

      I was going to post this, you got there first! According to the BBC Cardiff Bus, one of two bus firms in Wales still owned by councils but operated at "arms-length", said it might find its "entire market taken by a knock-out blow" from other larger bus companies. I have to say though that it has had NAT nibbling at its profitable routes over the last couple of years; they also closed some routes which were then put out to tender and taken by Stagecoach.