Sunday 18 November 2018

Bus Passes - Good or Bad?

I was approached by the Association of British Commuters last week, asking if I had ever made a post on Concessionary Bus Passes. I knew I'd mentioned them many times, but a quick search suggested I had never made a dedicated post on them. So here goes, and I think I could possibly break my own fairly impressive record of upsetting more people with one post than ever before!

For those who don't know I have a Bus Pass due to my eye condition, which is variable, particularly affecting me at night, in unfamiliar territory. So I speak as a pass holder, not a jealous bystander or someone who has never had to rely solely on public transport in the past.

First some background history. The National Concession Transport Scheme (NCTS) was introduced in April 2008, extending the provision of free bus travel within local authorities to allow travel throughout England. Prior to that, local authorities had various schemes. I remember Kent issuing half fare passes which cost an annual fee - one fee applied after 0900, and if you wanted to travel before that our pass would cost more. I'm told Suffolk and Norfolk had similar schemes. What I don't know well enough to discuss is how the bus operators were compensated, if at all, as the data gathering technology we have today just wasn't there in those days.

It is worth noting at this time that London has different rules. The London Freedom Pass has been around for many years, and is covered by the GLA Act 1999.

The first point that immediately comes to mind is that the word "National" in NCTS is entirely misleading. Yes, the 2007 Act dictates basic requirements of the Travel Concession Authorities (TCA'S, or Councils to us), ie that free bus travel is to be provided between the hours of 0930 - 2300 Monday - Friday, and at anytime weekends, and that there should be no charge for the passes, but then the Act turns into a free for all, no pun intended, by allowing each TCA to offer additional benefits, eg free travel for the disabled before 0930, or reduced fares pre 0930. This has led to utter confusion, particularly for the disabled, as to where you can use your pass and when, particularly before 0930. As part of my research for this post I looked for a guide as to which TCA permits what and when, but to no avail. It seems you have to search authority by authority, which is a minefield of confusing websites, which considering the passes are for the elderly and disabled makes little sense.

Some offer free travel for the disabled before 0930, others don't, and Surrey County Council are proposing to cut their funding for pre 0930 travel next year, which is what triggered the debate and this post. I imagine others will follow, despite the Chancellor's assertion in his Budget that "austerity was at an end". This announcement by SCC has caused outrage and consternation among the disabled folk of Surrey, but are they right to be outraged? Let's explore why the passes were introduced in the first place.

As I have already stated, prior to 2008 there were no free passes for anyone outside of London. If you were elderly or disabled you got half fare, if you were lucky, and had to pay an annual fee for your pass. NCTS was created to get those people out of their homes more often. It wasn't to make it cheaper for people to get to work, or even hospital. It was designed for leisure travel, to get bums on off peak seats, to hopefully give the bus industry a lifeline by subsidising passengers instead of routes, to encourage operators to use initiative to boost passenger numbers instead of relying on route subsidy. Sadly, in 2010 that all changed with a new regime and austerity. Reimbursement fell, routes were culled anyway, and those very people the passes were created for lost the services they used them on.

I have been in regular contact with the Association of British Commuters since May of this year, when the debacle of the May 20th rail timetable happened. They know that I champion disabled travel and access. I clearly remember one bus manager's face, who having proudly shown me around one of his new buses, complete with USB chargers, went pale when I asked him where the charging point was for the wheelchair bay. I am for disability equality in all forms, but sometimes with equality comes some things we don't like. Why shouldn't disabled people pay like everyone else before 0930? That would be true equality wouldn't it? Arguments include that just existing as a disabled person costs more. That's why benefits such as Disability Living Allowance etc exist, which the able bodied don't receive. It also only seems to be those in wheelchairs complaining, I've heard nothing from the blind, deaf, or those with invisible disabilities. The entire bus fleet of the UK has been altered in the last 20 years to rightfully accommodate wheelchairs. So why shouldn't the occupants pay their way before 0930? Everyone else has to, and I'd much rather see the money spent on that used to subsidise the services they are using the passes on. No, I'm not having a go at wheelchair users, Lord knows they have it tough, especially on the railways, but if they are on a bus before 0930, with everyone else then they should pay something, like everyone else - me included. Equality is equality, not just when it suits you.  Another argument I've heard is that hospital patients currently using their pass for free will switch to more expensive to provide free hospital transport. I am well aware that if you are on certain benefits you get fares to and from hospital refunded, so no excuse there, I'm afraid.

Speaking of the railways a disabled Railcard costs £20 a year, and although there are time limits you only get a third off, and fares are higher before 0930, especially if travelling locally ,when you can't book in advance.

Of course, and I know what you're thinking, I've avoided the big issue, which is the cut in funding for the scheme. Since 2010 some 3,500 bus routes have been lost, and the amount of reimbursement for operators, who are legally obliged to accept the pass, has been slashed. The pass was introduced by a Labour Government in 2008, and severely affected by the austerity policies of the Conservative Government in 2010. One gave, the other snatched away, but because the Bus Pass was set in legislation they couldn't abandon the scheme. It's even more entrenched in Law now, the irony being there are now far fewer buses to use them on. Looking at forthcoming Council budgets that trend will continue - Suffolk CC are even thinking of doing away with timetables at bus stops. Won't be that long before they're not needed anyway at this rate.

The good people of Surrey should count themselves lucky they have buses to complain about having to pay on. There are now vast swathes of the country where people have a bus pass, but precious few buses to use them on, and that wasn't the idea behind the scheme. However, and here's where I break my record, the operators haven't exactly helped themselves either. Several operators I know of give reduced fares pre 0930 to pass holders. How often have you seen that publicised? You'd think it would make sense to encourage them on before 0930, as even with a reduction it's a fair bet that the operator would make more money from that journey than they get reimbursed from the TCA. I'm sure it's on the various websites, but as I said before - you're dealing with the elderly and disabled....

One local firm has worked with the community, and told them outright it couldn't afford to keep a route going if everyone used their passes all the time. That route has survived due to pass holders voluntarily paying a fare once or twice a week. It shouldn't have to be that way but it is. More operators should try working with the communities they serve, to encourage the community to help save their bus service. Wouldn't work everywhere, but you can't use a pass on a bus that doesn't run.

So now I've upset wheelchair users, Conservative supporters, operators and just about anyone else connected with transport what are the solutions? How would I sort this mess out?

The first mistake the Labour Government made (got the matching pair now) was to make the free pass, erm, free. No one realised that people would do what they wanted and go out more. The more they travelled the more the Councils had to stump up in reimbursement, and it seems the maths was done on the current loading figures of the day, not projected ones. No wonder the next Government took a deep breath and said they couldn't afford to keep the funding at that level. So, charge for the pass. If a Disabled Railcard costs £20 a year and you only get a third off, then charge £30 a year for a buss pass giving you free travel, and legislate that the money is used on bus subsidies. No pass holder I have ever asked has indicated they would object. Except a leading wheelchair disability activist last week, who went very quiet when I asked him if he would pay an annual fee to use his pass before 0930... There are over 12 million pensioners in the UK. If all of them paid £30 for a bus pass that would mean £360m extra for bus services. Per year. If that figure was announced tomorrow we would all be celebrating. Then you'd have the income from disabled passes on top. If more routes were subsidised more buses would operate, meaning more people would once again get out more often. More bus routes means more income for operators and more custom for the local economy.  But at the same time operators need to work with communities so buses are run at the time people want them - there must be drivers of a certain vintage reading this who remember the busiest buses in the evenings were when the bingo halls emptied. You won't make much from two pass holders on a service, but you will if there are 20. Won't be as much as 20 fare payers, but more than 20 empty seats.

Secondly there simply must be an end to the postcode lottery. There needs to be a National standard, and if anyone wants to use their pass before 0930 then they pay more for it, like they used to in Kent. It needs to be emphasised that the pass is to encourage leisure travel, and is not for commuting. Information needs to clearer and Councils need to stop assuming that all elderly and disabled passengers not only have access to, but are also competent on the internet. Community groups and charities, such as Age UK need to be brought on board as consultants, so the potential for the Concessionary Pass can be fulfilled.

Finally, and here we board the bus with the destination "Cloud Cuckoo Land", the Government, Councils, Operators, passenger groups and yes, the passengers themselves need to work together (stop laughing) to ensure that services are provided to those who need them regardless of their post code. If the infrastructure is put in place, and is marketed, promoted, and encouraged well enough it will be used. But you won't get the elderly finding out about bus services in a quiet corner of the internet. Why isn't the local bus timetable printed in Parish Magazines, for example. Everyone needs to muck in, be honest (I warned you), and together we might, just might save the bus industry outside major towns and cities. That will benefit everyone, regardless of how they get on and off the bus. It's ironic that in years to come, the people making the cuts today, destroying the fabric of the bus network, will be the ones complaining there's no buses.

The Concessionary Bus Pass was, and still is a great idea, but right now its framework and financing is not what was intended. Until that is returned passengers will continue to lose services, operators money, and everyone will lose when everyone, so easily, could win.


  1. Well, that's the comprehensive analysis that everyone needs to read. The important question though is: what happens next?

    1. I've suggested what needs to happen. Trouble is it won't. It will need a legislation change to charge for passes, and that relies on MP's having the sense to realise it's the way forward, and not keep passing the parcel to the Councils. Enough said...

  2. Might I just say that the situation in Wales is covered by the Transport Act of 2000. This gives concessionary bus travel to everyone over the age of 60, and disabled people, at all times throughout Wales (and on some services across the Border). Sensibly it also gives free train travel in certain rural areas where there are few buses (in some places only during the winter months); theoretically it also gives reduced fare tickets on the Cardiff Valley lines but the station ticket machines don't seem to know that, at least for the journeys I've made! I've still not worked out if they are valid on the Government-sponsored longer-distance Trawscymru services or not; these are free at weekends anyway.

    1. Note to self; Wales on list of possible retirement locations.....

    2. Also Wales is funded directly by the Welsh Authority not the local authorities (the operators claims to the local authority where their head office is located but the money comes from the Welsh Authority) so the cost lays with the people who legislate for it. Scotland also centrally pays out for it's scheme though there it limits the total annual pay-out for the free pass scheme which means that when the money for the year runs out the Government stop paying for the passes but the operators must keep accepting them (generally funding runs out a couple of months before the end of the financial year).

    3. The Welsh schemes has become far to expensive. It allows passes to be issued at 60 so many uses them to commute to and from work

      Wales once had good bus services but these have been decimated as a result of this scheme

  3. DfT does an annual survey of concessions over and above the statutory minimum. 2017/18 results here:
    What I can't find is an up to date figure for the proportion of pensioners holding passes. There is a 2010/11 figure of 77%, so that knocks the revenue down a bit, but from memory, the take-up rate when passes were paid for was nearer 40%.
    Unfortunately, not all of the money raised would be devoted to bus services: the costs of administering the scheme would need to be accounted for as well. Again, I'm out of date, but a typical cost for a council of processing a cheque was around £5. Nonetheless, that still might generate the best part of £100m available.
    However, most TCAs would say they are already spending significantly more than government provides funding for - Norfolk for ecample gets a grant of £8m, but spend £11.4m. That £100m would disappear very quickly.

  4. A fairly well-balanced and thought through piece, I will add a couple of factual clarifications to what you said. Central Government free passes were actually introduced in 2006 however at that point it only had to apply to the your local authority area (generally it went in at county council area but funding at the time was actually at Borough Council area). The method of funding & calculating that reimbursement is largely unchanged today as it was in 2006 (though with smartcard readers on almost all buses there is less need for council officers to check buses covertly that recording is correct though the recent Express Motors case in Wales shows the continued need for regular auditing of the numbers) though most councils have moved to the less accurate and less generous DfT calculation rather than other methods. Funding for free fares from Central Government has never been good and hasn't been massively affected by austerity, it was just never calculated based on any sensible metric. The funding was based on how many qualifying residents each authority had not bus usage or even availability (I know of certain Borough Councils receiving funding for free bus passes but having no bus services whatsoever to use them on - Isle of Scilly being the most noteworthy though I think they did apply it to the inter-island boat services instead) which means that some authorities received more than they spent and many received less (particular in tourist locations, some coastal ones received a slightly higher amount but places like Derbyshire with the Peak District surrounded by major cities in neighbouring authorities got nothing and were spending about double what they received). A number of major conurbations had already offered free bus passes before the national scheme was introduced so effectively got extra money for something they had already paid for (and since the money from Central Government isn't hypothecated it wasn't necessarily spent on buses), in Manchester when the operators appealed their low rate the local politicians got very vociferous about nasty private businesses taking money from schools and social care but an investigation by the local paper confirmed that even after the operators won their appeal the councils still were paying out less money to the bus operators than they got from Central Government.

    Under the half-fare scheme operators got half the fare in cash from the passenger and then a reimbursement from the local authority (typically 25-30% of revenue forgone) so the operator tended to receive 75-85% of the adult cash fare (I know some smaller independents were happy with the 50% cash fare so didn't bother claiming from the council as the admin cost to them was not worth the extra revenue so councils got caught out with higher use than expected as smaller independents who hadn't claimed before suddenly started claiming). Whilst some authorities at the start did provide reasonable funding (economic theory based on actually observed generated growth would indicate a reimbursement rate of around 70% of average adult fare) Hampshire, where I worked at the time, didn't change the reimbursement rate from half-fare so was only paying about 30% of revenue forgone (a rate that meant that even a full bus of free bus passes would lose money) and I know that Devon & Sussex were down in that region of repayment almost immediately as well. With the wider austerity meaning that authorities could no longer top up the funding as much as they had many other authorities have dropped to reimbursement rates of 40% or lower.

    1. Why should the disabled get a Free Bus pass and a subsidised car? It should be one of the other

      Free bus passes for the disabled should be linked to income. So say only those below the basic rate tax threshold get them for free unless over the state retirement age

      There could also be a case for treating all free bus passes as a taxable benefit. The money raised being used to improve bus passes The tax would be based on the notional value of the bus pass so if a basic rate tax payer and say the pass have a value of £200 They would pay £40 a year

      All passes in England should be valid 9:30 to 11Pm

      For passes issued to those over the state retirement age they should be able to be used but would half to pay half fare

  5. It's become an accounting game again . . .

    I suspect neither good nor bad, depending of course as always on our point of view. But maybe it has skewered things, if the objective is a comprehensive bus network to provide an alternative to the use of the private car.

    Together with the competition framework it's tended to concentrate buses together, and perhaps distorted network planning to the detriment of everyone else. Has it kept rural services alive? May be in a few cases, but I suspect where they had only a few passengers anyway, a few passes won't save them. Has it though overall helped to concentrate even more services in urban areas?

    It comes back to that hoary old chestnut, what are we actually trying to achieve as a society with buses? The various pressure groups have their own interests of course, as always. Having what seems spent much of the last weekend in gridlock, I just don't know anymore.

    1. Bus companies have to provide services that meet the needs of their customers and potential customers rather than as now providing services that suit the bus companies

      Most companies still operate on the lines of the 1950's business model now that may work still in the cities and very large towns but it does not work elsewhere and the bus are failing because of it

      With most services standards have risen significantly but with public transport standards and service have fallen

      Bus companies have shown little interest in using technology and have had to made reluctantly to use it and where they do use it , it is implemented badly and almost ever operator uses a different system. It is still almost impossible to pay by credit or debit card on a bus. WE have over complex fares structures that even the bus companies own staff so not understand so what chance to their customers have

      People will pay a decent fare for a decent service but they will not pay for the dreadful services that are operated at present. The attitude of bus companies to customers service is dire and to all intents and purposes is non existent. The standard of the buses they use are bad and breakdowns are frequent with no attempt to even put on a replacement bus

      The industry has to change or it will disappear in much of the country. Well in many parts it has already almost gone

      The government & Local council have not helped as they are equally clueless. WE also need a better balance between cars & public transport. Local councils will spend on building car parks etc but will not spend a penny they don't have to on public transport. Look how keen councils are to getting rid of bus stations. Bus station help attract and retain passengers at least if they provided proper facilities. Bus stations also provide toilet facilities which are also of use to the drivers. They can also provide catering facilities again of use to passengers and drivers

      Even stranger is Councils will spend on good facilities fort Park and Rides services but not for normal bus services again biasing things toward the use of the car

      How much would it cost to provide good town bus services? It would not be a lot. Most good get a reasonable service using 3 or 4 midi buses
      So perhaps £300,000 to £350.000 a year. That's not a lot . The fares revenues initially would perhaps cover 50% of that. Put a small levy on car parking spaces and that alone would bridge most of the gap. Maybe a small levy on shops in the town. The buses would help improve footfall and reduce congestion which puts people off going into town centres. The shop could perhaps get some free advertising on the buses in return

    2. Don't know who you are but we sing from the same hymn sheet.

      However, rather than charge High St shops a levy, I'd prefer to see them encouraged to give bus users a discount of some sort.

    3. I don't agree. I think the modern bus business - like everything else, is increasingly targeted towards specific market segments. So in a University town, you might get quality, frequent all day (and night) services designed to get students from to and from their halls of residence or "quarters" to use the modern parlance. Similarly for commuters, or for new developments (supported by Developer financial contributions for new residential areas), shopping centres, or even designed around hospitals; perhaps for pensioners too. Nearby and traditional services, established - and even well-used - will be as you say, dilapidated, unreliable, and even cannibalised, for these new services. The result is often a patchwork, that destroys the network, and the whole shebang ends up in a mess, where everything collapses - look at recent events in Bristol; and nearer to home, perhaps Chelmsford and Colchester, as examples.

      And when the money runs out . . . Incidentally, the story of Suffolk too who have in the past had their share of innovation - anyone remember the Route 66 and Manningtree buscycle?

      The other thing is territorial battles, where service frequencies, and less frequently quality, is improved on a route to compete (or keep out or deter) an actual or potential competitor, to the detriment of other well, and sometimes better-used, established routes in the locality. Both damage and run down the network; usually to the detriment of both "improved" and existing services, leading to the same problems you rightly identify, as resources are stretched to the limit.

      It's not that the Companies aren't adapting to the market, but doing so; rather trying too hard in a clumsy and ham-fisted way. Something similar happens with technology, though I've yet to find a tech supplier that understands customer service! The customer fits the technology and not the other way around.

      Though try the Arriva app: it shows scheduled times, the delay (in red) - or if the bus is running early or on time (in green) and the bus location on the route map (which looks like a train symbol, though I suppose that may be appropriate for a German rail offshoot after all.

    4. Stagecoach seem to me to have it about right. They suffer the same problems, and complaints as everyone else; of course. And are worse in some areas than others, that is the name of the game. As with Concessionary Fares, you can't change things which are outside your control. You have to deal with them.

      But their strategy is to protect and enhance a core network in each operating area. Nothing compromises that. Nor should it. The hard bit is to know what it is. Neither the passengers nor the competitors might like it at times; but it gives them the strength to engage in the same games as everyone does, and which are an inevitable part of modern business everywhere. And a solid criteria on which to make judgements. The success of many smaller independents is based on a similar formula.

      Does anyone know what the core network of the local FirstBus OCs (or the Go-Ahead local bus division) is? Even they themselves? Is that at the root of their problems? Perhaps, even probably, they can't afford the necessary resources. And that is a strategic issue. It's like plotting a route without a map, how do you know where you are going?

      Where do concessionary fares fit in all this? They are another tactic (to what end?), not a strategy or even a substitute for one.

  6. What I've wondered. 9:30 - 11pm M-F and all day weekends. Does 11pm on a Friday count as weekend, or is there an hour you cannot use it?

    1. I assume after midnight counts as a weekend. Why passes should be valid at night beats me but in most of the country it makes no difference as night services do not exist

      If passes at Weekends were only vailed 9.30 to 7 pm and they paid half fare outside those hours it might mean there would be evening and Sunday services as it is the passes have probably substantially contributed to the demise of evening and Sunday services

    2. If you can find a operator with buses out at 11pm AND working revenue inspectors I suggest it's a rhetorical question.

    3. The 23:30 route 25 in Norwich then. Would the driver let you on?

    4. Technically no, and the ticket machine should be programmed nor to accept the pass.

    5. Sorry, you are wrong Steve. Old person passes and disabled passes are valid 9:30am Friday- midnight Sunday.

    6. Sorry, wasn't talking specifically about Fridays, but using that scale why aren't they valid before 0930 Mondays?

    7. Bit strange Steve when the original question was about Fridays....obviously you can't use it on a Tuesday at 23:30 when it's till 11pm....sounds like you got caught out with your answer and backtracking.

      Unsure why not after midnight, but that's how it is. Most companies count a day up to 4am, but ask the government about that one!

  7. I have an invisible disability, and I am in my 20s. I have lived in Norfolk, Surrey, London and Manchester.

    I see it that the standard is 9:30 - 11pm Monday - Friday, and all day at weekends; however, different councils offer different perks.

    For example...London. If you have a London pass (Freedom Pass), you can travel on the buses, tubes and local trains for free at any time.

    Surrey - for the disabled, free travel before 9:30.

    Norfolk - No perks - however, several operators have their own discounts in place.

    Manchester - if you have a Manchester issued pass, you can use the trams for free after 9:30 as well.

    Should the disabled get free travel before 9:30? I wouldn't say it should be a right, but if a council is prepared to subsidise this, then that's their matter, and I am not going to argue. If they don't, then I pay. Simple.

    Should there be a charge for the pass? If it's £30 a year, yes I'd pay it. Others? It depends how much they value the pass, and how often they use the pass.

    I've previously said that for OAP's, getting a free bus pass should be based on income. However, I know several couples who have a car, and their husband/wife has a blue badge. They use the bus as it's free. If they had to pay, they may get the car out in stead, as their parking is free anyway, so it's just the cost of the petrol. On the other hand, especially in Norfolk, where they want to cut the use of car travel, how would making the passes means tested benefit congestion which seems to be Norfolk's priority with all of the bus lanes and bus only routes?

    I know it's a bit out there, but what about means testing for the pass, but all OAPs get free use of the park and ride (if available in their city/town)? This would then hopefully mean that people which didn't qualify for a free pass can still use their car, but unless you have a blue badge, would be better off parking at a park and ride. Steve - your thoughts?

    You mention the "local firm" where passengers often pay for their fare. This is all well and good, but I cannot see this happening with any multinational company. Passengers just see that they are a multimillion pound company and would not pay them a penny. They don't see that routes are monitored on a route by route basis until they are axed and then start complaining. It's great for the independents, as passengers can see that they are small and local, and they know where their fare is going.

    Finally, as for the Norfolk discounts from 8:30 - 9:30, I know First advertise this on their website, by the bus entrance on many buses, inside the bus, and on timetables. However, it is only allowing them to travel an hour earlier. I can't see many deciding to leave at 8:30 and get a 1/3 discount on a £2.70 fare instead of getting on an hour later and the bus being free. Unless they had an appointment where they needed to use the bus (and would also have no option but to use the bus and pay full fare if there wasn't a discount) then I cannot see many people do this.

  8. I think some lose sight of the fact that outside the Monday to Friday peak periods OAPs are probably the only people around to make use of bus services. Look at shopping centres, garden centres, pubs, cafes etc during the day and they are full of OAPs providing employment for younger people. As we have seen bus usage by OAPs has increased so if the scheme were withdrawn, means tested or an annual charge was introduced it would reduce this usage to a lesser or greater amount with some OAPs getting back in to their cars. As a result day time frequencies of services would inevitably drop so non pass holders would see a reduction in the services available to them.

    The idea of a National Concessionary scheme is all well and good, but as we all know at the moment it is not funded properly. I feel that one of the main drawbacks to the scheme is the fact that it is the local authority where the journey is made who has to stump up the funding to operators. This is very unfair on some areas and indeed many operators. We have read a lot about how the Concessionary Scheme has allowed people to feel less isolated as it gives them the opportunity to get out more. It also helps those who have to use the bus to visit hospitals, doctors, shops etc. as they have no alternative.

    My suggestion would be that free travel should only be available on services that start and/or finish in the area where the pass holder lives or to put it another way, in the area of the local authority who issued them with the pass. All other pass holders from outside the area would pay half fare.

    As an example someone living in Norfolk would be able to travel free throughout the County and on cross border services. Equally those living in adjacent Counties would be able to use cross border services both ways free of charge, for example Spalding to King’s Lynn, Lowestoft to Great Yarmouth, however once the latter had arrived in Norfolk or a Norfolk resident in Lincolnshire or Suffolk, if they wished to travel further they would pay half fare.

    This would cover the needs of those mentioned in my second paragraph and those for whom their nearest town for shopping/hospital/doctor etc. is over the border, such as Diss or Thetford. The local authority, in this example Norfolk County Council, would not reimburse operators for those travelling at half fare, but they would continue to reimburse them for journeys made by Norfolk residents and those travelling back from Norfolk to an adjacent County. This should mean that NCC would be able to make a bigger contribution to operators as they would no longer be paying for all of the journeys made by those living outside the County.

  9. "My suggestion would be that free travel should only be available on services that start and/or finish in the area where the pass holder lives or to put it another way, in the area of the local authority who issued them with the pass. All other pass holders from outside the area would pay half fare".

    In many ways, this sounds admirable. And it would work fine in some places - eg all Ipswich Buses town services. In practice, it might lead to a great deal of confusion. For instance, a bus pass issued to someone living in Ipswich would work for a local journey in Lowestoft or one between Lowestoft and Yarmouth, but not for one wholly in Yarmouth (unless the bus was going back to Lowestoft and the passenger alights while still in Norfolk!) People wouldn't necessarily recognise that they'd crossed a county boundary. Might be even harder in urban and PTE areas. Also, many people don't actually show their passes - they leave it in their wallet and just bleep the whole thing against the scanner. Older people with arthritis might find it fiddly to get out each time. There might well also be a need to update ticket machine software. So good in theory, possibly harder to implement.

  10. The passenger who travels free from Lowestoft to Yarmouth and back on a Suffolk issued pass would be charged half fare for a journey entirely within Yarmouth or for onward travel to anywhere else in Norfolk. Likewise a Norfolk resident travelling in the opposite direction would travel free to/from Lowestoft, but if they then made a journey entirely within Lowestoft or to anywhere else in Suffolk they would also be charged half fare. I am sure that technology could be introduced, if it is not already available, so that the ticket machine/scanner was able to identify where the pass was issued without the need for the driver to see the pass. I suppose my suggestion really applies to the many people who holiday in a particular area and then use the bus all week for nothing with local council tax payers picking up the bill, but again the ticket machine/scanner would need to be able to identify between local and non local passes. I would really like to see the system retained as it is with nationwide free travel, but going forward this can only happen if it is funded properly and operators receive a better level of reimbursement.

  11. Totally agree, but it would involve a change in legislation and all of a sudden the Council would realise it could affect tourism. Of course, as I suggested a couple of posts ago, the operators could do more to get more fare paying holiday makers on board to compensate. As the Beeb might say - other types of passenger are available. You just have to get out, make the effort instead of expecting the passenger to make the effort, and reel them in.

    1. I tend to disagree. You just make the scheme complex and confusing over the validity of the passes and the overall saving would be slight as the passes are over 90% of the time used in the area where issued

      Stop issuing them to Higher rate tax pensioners and may e treat the passes as a taxable benefit and perhaps limited the passes to 9.30am to 7pm and charge a fare of 30% of the full fare after 7pm. This might make evening services more viable

    2. "I tend to disagree. You just make the scheme complex and confusing over the validity of the passes and the overall saving would be slight as the passes are over 90% of the time used in the area where issued."

      I have no reason to doubt your figure of 90%, but if that is the case only the 10% from outside the area might find the scheme complex and confusing. Also I would imagine the 90% is an average across the country, there must be much higher usage of passes in tourist areas by those from outside the area.

      Do we know what percentage of Higher rate tax pensioners actually have an OAP pass?

  12. Concessionary pass use in the evenings is often minimal (from the schemes where I see the figures). Changing the end time - either earlier or later - would in most non-large urban areas make no noticeable difference to costs or revenue at all.
    Fully agree though that they could be treated as a benefit to higher rate taxpayers (as should free TV licences and winter fuel payments!).

  13. Given the discussion on here, and elsewhere, it'd be difficult enough to get any consensus on changes to the Scheme (and even more difficult to enact wider tax changes on elderly perks (sorry, entitlements they've "paid for"!) But that pales into insignificance:

    1. would Councils use "savings" on the mandatory scheme to pay more (discretionary) bus subsidies given their parlous financial position with so many of them facing effective bankruptcy? - Not a chance. It's probably not even an option. (Watch Northamptonshire's Commissioners). The same for moving car parking expenditure (the income from which is keeping even more of them afloat) into public transport expenditure.
    2. it's a fair bet that the biggest beneficiaries from a reduction on the cost of the Scheme would be the likes of Stagecoach, who are (relatively) already doing nicely, thank you; and Arriva and Go-Ahead in some parts of the Country, though not East Anglia, perhaps.
    3. would it help those bus operators who are struggling, including perhaps First (maybe Go-Ahead) locally and some (not all) of the independents? Hopefully, but not so much, and I suspect not enough to make it worthwhile. They have bigger problems, which need to be addressed. Bailouts (usually transferring resources from the successful to the unsuccessful however they are dressed up) have rarely, if ever, been a successful mission of improvement, even when it's been seen as a political necessity. And in this case it isn't.
    4. More Central Government and Regional Mayoral financial support for buses. It's the best hope. But more important than the NHS, education; or even road infrastructure demanded by business and bailing out the rail network demanded by the commuters and the lobbyists??? How many votes in buses? (And before anyone mentions the elderly and disabled, how many would vote to reduce their "benefits"? BorderBus' voluntary collection has, I suspect, a better prospect). The Regional Mayors (not of course in the eastern part of East Angia) have "committed" themselves to an ever-lengthening shopping list. We should surely have learnt something about electoral promises in our time on this earth . . . razamatazz and likelihood seem to run in some sort of inverse proportion relationship.

    Every Little Helps should, I suggest, be left to the marketing agencies. Dream on . . .

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Didn't Dr. Beeching have a bright idea that it made economic sense to replace rural rail lines (which weren't viable without subsidy - though now is anything on the rail network?) by buses? Whatever happened to all those buses (which I seem to recall were "sold" to the affected communities as being more financially secure)?

      I gather someone once said there is nothing new under the sun.

    3. There needs to be new ways found to fund bus services , SCC in it draft budget proposes further cuts to bus service funding. ECC & NCC don't have much detail for their proposed 2019/20 budgets but given the level of central government funding it is almost certain that bus service support will be cut

    4. 5p a litre on petrol to fund a comprehensive bus network. Simples. Any politician brave enough to do it? Not so simples.

    5. Fuel prices tend to be politically very sensitive. Putting fuel prices up would also tend to impact rural areas more than urban areas. I think a small annual level would be far less politically sensitive and could be easier to sell. Say £12 a year per parking place applied to all Council and business parking places. It would exclude vehicles required for a business ie lorries and vans and car sales etc. So basically employee parking and parking in public car parks. £12 a year works out at about £0.05 a day over 5 days. It should raise enough to boost bus services in towns. Town Centre shops could also make a small contribution in return for perhaps free advertising on the buses. It could be sold to them on the basis it would slightly increase footfall in the town and slightly reduce congestion

      Bus companies could also work with the out of town shopping centres to prove services to meet the needs of staff and customers. At present car is the only viable option in most cases

      The average small town might only need 3 or 4 buses. Lets put the costs at £60,000 per year say a middy bus service so that's £240,000 a year. Fares revenues should cover at last 50% of that so a £120,000 . A car paring place Levey might cover £120,000 . And a contribution from shops say £50,000 a year. Over a period of time good frequent town services would also drive up passenger numbers

      The above is one approach there are probably others. The costs are not really that great in the grand scheme of things. WE just ned a better balance between car & public transport. At the moment it is to heavily tipped in favour of the car

      To drive change though you need to have public transport there in the first place and at the moment for the average working person bus services are simply not a viable option

      The current a bus every hour or two hours is simply not going to drive change particularly when standards and reliability are so low. The failure of bus companies to take up new technology is also a problem and that's not helped by the fact that no one is in overall control of bus services. It is very fragmented. IT is not helped neither as bus services are just seen by the bus companies as individual routes and not as a transport network

      When bus rout fail. the councils are reluctant to step in and when they do what is offered as a replacement Is more driven by costs than the actual transport need. We see this with the councils moving to token Demand responsive services where a token service once a week or once a day is provided to a hospital or Health centres. They then wonder why it is not used

    6. Unfortunately, I have the questions . . . but not the answers. Sorry.

      I've said before that we make things so complicated for ourselves. We're a small island but everything is so convoluted.

      Steve's idea of a hypothicated fuel duty supplement is great, but regressive and as so much travel is for work it'd put the price of everything up. And the Government collects duty but doesn't fund buses. Where would it end: the NHS, social care, education . . . everyone would like a hypothicated tax.

      We create Councils like confetti. So Districts control car parking; but don't financially support buses, which is a County responsibility. And they each have their own separate agendas and financial issues. Heck, they can't even co-operate on planning, either across tiers or with their neighbours! The Planning Inspectorate are even rejecting their Local Plans as irrecoverable for these reasons. More mayhem results.

      Of street parking is local councils, on street the police (unless the Councils opt to do it which is another bureaucratic nightmare). Some do, some don't. The Counties, who fund buses, aren't involved. And everyone wants their "share" of the cake, before anyone else gets a bite. Some roads are the responsibility of government, others the Counties, and they forever dabble in each other's business. It's easier to talk . . . as TalkTalk didn't quite say.

      Everywhere is different. Go around Cambridge and the latest report from their Consortium suggest funding daytime half hourly buses between the local towns (Stagecoach) - there aren't any evening and Sundays; but go around Colchester, Chelmsford and Ipswich and First provide them already (and Essex County funds two hourly services on evenings and Sundays), without extra subsidy. Stagecoach fund urban evening and Sundays though; in Essex the County does. The local Stagecoach profitability is a multiple of that of First. I wonder why? (oops, perhaps I shouldn't have let on?) Better quality buses, too, though. Lots of people have pointed out you could almost solve things at a stroke around Cambridge if schools (private and public) provided transport which parents had to use from the Park and Ride. Could you imagine the multi-tiered bureaucracy to enforce that; and I haven't yet found any parent in favour? Just moving the congestion around, perhaps?

      Same with evening buses. Who feels safe waiting for a bus on the streets in our towns at night, whether justifiably or not, or likes walking home from the bus stop in the dark?

      I've pointed out before that when you have to get the kids to (different) schools and get to (at the same time) and travel for work, how is the conventional bus an option? School buses are the exception, not the rule, and as Suffolk finds, an unaffordable cost drain. But how many of us can afford to live in town, so we have to travel.

      We've talked endlessly for decades about joined-up thinking. We've even tried to impose it. Result: nada.

      Perhaps like our forebear we're just the children of Boadicea, tribal heathens, and hate all this Roman stuff that tries to organise us, sensibly . . . Mind you the Great Muddle keeps a lot of us in jobs. Look at the NHS: several bodies to do it all, each with another to fund the others, another to regulate the other and then to enforce the rules on the others . . . before you get to the Government. All in the interests of efficiency and economy . . .

  14. Some interesting comments above . . . . . let me add a dose of realism!

    I've recently been costing a start-up operation for a link between a station and the Town Centre, about 1.5 miles apart. The train service runs about every 15 minutes (about every 10 minutes in the peaks), so for a service between 0630 and 2000 one bus is required all day with a second in the peaks. This will need 3 drivers to cover (trust me, it will!).

    So - roundly 210 miles per day (including dead mileage); assume a pump price @ £1.40 for diesel; assume 20 MPG (a new Mellor minibus with c21 seats) so around £67 per day for fuel.

    Three driver duties - two normal and one split . . . assume a pay rate of £12 ph (this is Home Counties; you won't get decent drivers any cheaper) and pay hours of around 29 hours/day, so around £390/day (includes employment premium of £50/day).

    Three buses are required, although one will be a spare so can be older than the service buses. This is where I'm guessing, but I reckon around £100K purchase price each for the new buses, £30K for the spare, won't be far out. Leased over 5 years . . . say about £300 per day all in for all three buses.

    Maintenance - I've assumed £5K pa per bus; that's for a safety check every 6 weeks; one MOT prep and test, and sundry consumables . . . . an engineering colleague reckons that's a wee bit light, but it'll do for now). That's around £60 per day.

    Now for the income . . . . I've scheduled 64 round trips per day, and an average passenger load of 12 pax per round trip (so 6 each way). Now assume a single fare of £1.50 (no discounts yet). Further assume that a passholder will be worth 50% of an adult (which is actually about right!), and that pax numbers are split 6 cash; 6 passholders. The revenue per day will be around £864 per day.

    BSOG (or whatever it's called this week) is an income, and is £0.34 per litre of fuel used - that's around £16 per day.

    So - costs of £67 fuel; £390 staff; £303 buses; £60 maintenance - that'll be £820 per day or (253 days) roundly £207K pa costs.

    Now - income at around £864 from all passengers; £16 BSOG per day, so (253 days) around £222K pa revenue.

    Great, you all say - £15K pa to the good!! Yippee - where do I sign up?

    Just a mo . . . . that's £15K profit, which isn't even 10% profit on turnover. One engine failure (around £7K) and the profit's almost wiped out. There's no allowance for driver holidays or sickness; overheads (HR; IT; management time), neither is there any start-up costs included (initial training etc)), nor for the first few months whilst patronage is building . . . so, at present, this is a non-starter . . . . a profit of around £30K pa would be required as a minimum.

    I'd look for a promise of additional funding of at least £30K pa for year one; £20K pa for year two and £10K pa for year three, plus £20K start-up funding. If, after year three the operation is still struggling financially, then it'd be closed down. No local council could come up with that at present (£50K total in year one) . . . . when Saturday contracts are being closed down to save £10K pa, there's no chance!

    I'm happy to be proved wrong on my figures, but based on 43 years experience, I'm pretty confident!
    Would I bet my own money on this one? Not without the financial support, no.

    And for an additional Brownie point - if anyone's still awake . . . . what's my Town??!!

    1. Excellent post, dose of realism. Chancing my arm, somewhere like . . . Hemel?

      Decades ago (in the good 'ole days of NBC, and before) buses had the reputation of being a bottomless pit into which you could chuck as much money as you liked, and it wouldn't make much difference. What has changed? The bus companies aren't to blame, when I try to reconcile the number and frequency of buses with the patronage, I'm amazed. It's an everyday miracle - no wonder everyone suffers, from the shareholders, passengers and the staff to the fleet.

      What is keeping the bus on the road, as it were, is the emergency sticking plaster of short term support from anything we can lay our hands on. Buses are stuck in the 1950s - erm, no, they are begging and borrowing, and constantly adapting, to try and survive in the present, and doing an amazing job, quite frankly. If there was a magic way to double or more patronage, they'd seize it with both hands, and do. What happens when the money runs out . . . hence the constant change, which doesn't help to build confidence (and patronage). But the quick fix seems to be a national obsession.

      We all say we'd use the bus more, if only . . . but the truth is we don't. It's not hypocritical; the traditional bus is based on a predictable lifestyle; and we are a "just in time" society, where we are trying to cram too much into too little time, dashing hither and thither. We can't turn the clock back. The Concession Scheme and school transport have kept buses alive, which is why we can't afford them and have to cut back. There isn't some other magic wand.

      And that's before we get to logistics: peak demands and the shortage of drivers for a miserable job.

      I was pilloried (rightly) for once suggesting that outside the met-type areas the conventional bus has had it's day, and perhaps the future is ride sharing which builds on our car obsession, rather than trying futilely to change it. Or we're into car bans and hypothicated road charging, and I've yet to find anyone who thinks that is a starter, at least outside the mets, again. When the Councils are still spending millions to give us what we've got at the moment, it's a hopeless mission. Hence why I think as a society we have to re-think what we can reasonably expect from buses, and where they fit into a transport strategy (haha - I'm rolling about on the floor at that one, laughing). We are further away than ever. And sorry but given the all-embracing and never-ending Brexit fiasco - which does nothing to sort out the country's problems of its own making, but is our traditional "blame someone else for everything" - buses are at the end of the queue, if they haven't dropped off it altogether. Persuasion, which we've tried for ever, just doesn't hack it. "Catch the Bus Week" (what about the rest of the year) when politicians who no one has heard of stand around waving their hands in big green gloves just about sums up the political pantomine that passes for government in this country.

    2. Oh well that's that then. We're doomed. May as well just sit and wait for the end to happen rather than try and come up with anything innovative and new.

    3. errm, no. What was it that Blair came to power on the back of "things can only get better"?

      But we have to realise the state we're in. It's no good pretending or wishing for the moon. As you rightly say there are are plenty of good ideas, and people willing to, and still using buses; and the staff who deserve our support. We have to find a way to build on that goodwill. Maybe not the present shower of our so-called leaders, but there are people who have the ideas and the skills to do it. As long as they don't give up.

      Even where bus funding has collapsed, services haven't. It can be done, it involves compromise but what worthwhile in life doesn't? For most of us, life is about making the best of a less than ideal job.

    4. I think outside of the Met areas the old style huge double deck bus wandering around country lanes and taking a detour around every little village to get to its destination has had it day

      I think every one agrees that what we have at present is not working. What we do no have is consensus on the solution

      The need to carry wheelchairs and buggy's tends to suggest a midi type bus is the most suitable and you move to a flexible taxi bus type service. When bus fares for two people are not much more than the taxi fare such services should be viable. Get 3 people on it and it should at least break even

      The problem is getting the technology in place and getting the acceptance of it. This could be a challenge given many users will be elderly. A way around that might be to allow booking by phone . The booking would need to then update the ride software on the bus

      It is all perfectly possibly but bus companies and councils are not good with technology. The bus companies also need to have proper and reliable real time data for their services which is another problem area. They also need to accept debit and credit cards for journeys

      The fragmented nature of buses is a major obstacle. Multiple bus companies and multiple councils involved

      Probably for these frequent and flexible bus service a charge would need to be made for Concessionary and disable pass holders and that yet another problem as the government controls that

      Another challenge is to move bus services up market. his means better and smarter buses and drivers and bus with comfortable seats and bus that don't rattle and vibrate . The buses could also have a visual next stop display

      It can be done but I don't see any commitment particularly as no one is in overall control of buses it is every man for themselves
      There is another government review of bus services. I would suspect it will just generate yet another report and nothing will happen. IT will be like these local transport plans which are just a box ticking exercise. The reports themselves say nothing meaningful and are never updated and what little is in them is ignored.

      The other farce is with new housing developments. They are supposed to access the transport needs but that's another box ticking exercise. They usual pretend the exist services are adequate and in many case between producing the report and the houses being built half the bus services have disappeared

    5. Isn't that very close to Suffolk's idea (oops, I nearly said dream) of community transport schemes?

      Developers (rightly) are being fleeced (or rather their purchasers and tenants who ultimately bear the cost) for up to millions for bus support. Unfortunately each Development has its own bus caught in congestion and when resources are short, so that all of them are unreliable. It's not the way to create an efficient, sustainable network, but the rules are set by the planning game. The new Planning Contributions framework might improve matters eventually due to the time lag between permission and development and when the Councils get around to actually having an up to date Local Plan which is more than enough of a struggle; but it still requires someone to make the effort, and in many cases they just aren't around anymore.

    6. Sounds more like a connection to a Thameslink station to me. And the costs continue to stack up - nothing in for property, nor Vehicle Excise Duty at £220 per bus, nor ticket machines...
      Most major operators carry out inspections every 3 to 4 weeks, perhaps the interval can be extended on smaller newer buses, but on the other hand, so as not to invalidate the warranty, they'll probably have to go off to the main dealer for servicing.
      But maybe there is a PlusBus scheme that could generate some income, but it won't be as generous as real fares. Any mileage in advertising revenue? A small dent in the ever increasing costs, perhaps.

  15. Let me tell you another story which illustrates the issues (a bit simplified, but never mind). The local politicians would have me shot for this. I live near a town, oops sorry we're now supposed to call it a City - which being born in another one, makes me laugh (you can guess which - long known - probably only - for its congestion) which has over the last decade virtually created a new town on its northern boundary, and which is still growing and set to grow more. We export most of our population to work in London, so didn't provide for much employment; housing estates 'n shops was what I called our Local Plan.

    But we had a brilliant idea, a new railway station (with a passing loop to help "solve" the problems on the Great Eastern line) and £20-30m in Developer funding to pay for it; and a new multi-storey car park or two next door. Meanwhile we have a multiple of temporary funding for new bus routes into the town centre, all of which infuriate their users because of the unreliability due to congestion and as the bus company struggles for resources. Just what you need: an unreliable bus to get you to your commute or no bus when you try to get back home, and it's increasingly the same all day - a real encouragement to use the bus; and the bus mayhem around the town centre station has to be seen to be believed. No one can work out where the bus is often as well as if, because of the congestion around the single lay by.

    After a decade of waiting National Rail are still evaluating the proposal, and although I don't know the current position we seem no closer to a commitment, let alone delivery. Cambridge had the same sort of wait for Cambridge North in a less congested area, but at least they had a major employment site and pressure from multinational employers for encouragement.

    Now we did quickly dismiss a dedicated busway into the town as an alternative. (It would have to use the linear parks along the river so would spoil the view for local residents, though. Those buses, especially of the new hybrid, gas or electric variety: what horrible, dirty, smelly, noisy things and concrete, ugh; and all those ghastly people riding on them and looking at us sunbathing, or whatever!) Would it have been better and quicker to deliver? How many buses and how much bus infrastructure can you get for 30 mil? And what sort of frequency and reliability on a dedicated busway, compared even to the rail network? And since buses can go anywhere, no multi-storey car park necessary. It's a moot point. The land which might have been required at the town end has now been developed, though. The roads are now gridlocked all day, not just at peaks. The trains from the new station will have of course to run through the existing station and along the present tracks beyond the passing loop, if it ever happens. And the timetables need to be comprehensively reviewed; um remind me what happened the last time that was done?

    As ever, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And things don't always work out as we expect, even with the best will in the world . . .

    1. Oh, and the busway could have served the Park and Ride to take people from further afield, rather than the plethora of short bus lanes that only add to the congestion as the buses merge into or out of them. So they are adding buses to the P&R to try and alleviate the delays. Less drivers, more buses again.

    2. Finally, you can guess what has happened to the rest of the pre-existing bus network . . .

    3. ... and what happens to the Developer funding in the event the railway station can't be delivered.

  16. Shieldsman - quite right - ETM's; Vehicle Tax and a multiplicity of other "sundries" - when it became clear that top-up funding would be required I stopped any detailed work on the proposal. In re property . . . . I rather assumed that an existing operator might take the service on, and find a corner of the yard for parking. In re inspection intervals . . . . 4-6 weeks is the recommended, but with new buses then 6 weeks is acceptable initially.

    In re location - - no Brownie points yet, but neither smurfuk nor you are very far away . . . !!

    Generally speaking . . . . . I really do believe that the Bus industry does have many success stories, but these are concentrated in locations where a high-frequency service can be provided; where there are many types of passengers (students, commuters, shoppers, OAP's) so the services aren't over-reliant on one type. We all know about the Oxford's, the Brighton's, the Norwich's, the Exeter's, the Canterbury's (and plenty more) . . . . all towns where there IS a good mix of passengers and time, care and money has been spent on nurturing the local bus networks. Yes, each of these has their own challenges, but the big operator does try, and keeps trying. There are many such towns . . . . equally there are many towns where the reverse applies; in too many cases simply because the town isn't big enough; has a council that doesn't care or has given planning permission for out of town centres (thereby killing off the traditional High Street. None of these are the fault of the bus company!!

    HOWEVER - you cannot make a passenger travel where they don't want to travel! Similarly, you cannot run a frequent bus from everywhere to everywhere else; it simply isn't possible under the present rules.

    Society DOES need to have the discussion as to what "society" wants . . . if fully inclusive public transport, then fine . . . . perhaps we should let Tyne and Wear have their all-singing all-dancing franchising set-up, and prove that utopia comes at a price.

    I stand by my thesis as to where the industry should go within the next 5 years:

    1. Comprehensive urban networks, possibly with a small element of revenue support to infill if appropriate and a large chunk of bus priority measures.
    2. A network of quality inter-urban routes, linking large towns with each other via smaller villages, minimum hourly frequency, not diving off the main road round every little estate (it's good to walk!).
    3. Park and Ride for those people who just HAVE to drive their car, either for choice or because there's no bus; again with decent bus priorities.
    4. IF funding is available, then small minibuses linking into the inter-urban routes or to/from Park and Rise sites . . . but only if funding is available.
    5. A properly co-ordinated transport strategy from Central Government, which sees bus and train operators talk to each other at appropriate notice to amend timetables to maintain connections between modes.

    Oh, and by the way . . . . sufficient accommodation for the herds of flying pigs that we'll see overhead!!!

    I'll not hold my breath . . . . .

  17. Generally, I agree which is why I've said I'm a fan of the Stagecoach (and yes, Arriva) approach which is successful, and sustainable, and used by all the big operators. But I can see us quickly getting into the bus companies are serving their needs not the needs of the public, argument. Perhaps as an example, why the passenger need for a dedicated town centre to station route all day, unless it's a tourist honeypot like Cambridge, Norwich or Colchester, perhaps? Should we get a bit more out of the can I attract the passengers to my idea for a bus mindset, and into a bit more of the the what do the passengers want, line of question? In fairness, though they have other problems, First have for instance grown much more pro-actively responsive to passenger requests in recent years, and Stagecoach show signs of it, too.

    I still think in the urban areas we have to go beyond the token bus priority, and actually look to create highway networks which are bus-friendly and actively discourage the use of the car; or traffic will just continue to multiply beyond the network's ability to cope. And the bus will suffer as much, if not more than, everyone else.

    I think though we are, and should continue to aim beyond your 1-3 which will leave many readers in despair. If I give you examples close to home, perhaps, the services recently taken on from EoS and the 331 as examples, though perhaps both are touch and go (and Uno's services to Wheathampstead and Redbourn). Similarly First's 31 across the Dengie, north of Great Yarmouth, and the more recent extensions to Southwold and Fakenham. But they are on a case by case basis, and not examples of any general rule. The old idea that we could have bus provision by formula: a population size got a defined level of bus provision, have gone in the Shires, and are never coming back. Whether it can be resurrected in the Mets, and more importantly at what cost, is a moot point.

    The key point is that the bus isn't just the job of the provider on a "take it or leave it" basis. Everyone has to work together to make the bus work, whatever the location. It's no coincidence that the 31 was "saved" by co-operation with a local bus user group. Do the rest of us care enough? Or the staff in the companies themselves?

    And perhaps we really should aim for half hourly inter urbans where we can. Hourly really is a bit measly perhaps, if we are committed to a sustainable future.

  18. I guess that I'm looking into the future with somewhat jaded eyes, but after 43 years . . . . .

    My proposals would (generally) give a commercial network of routes at times when passengers (generally) want to travel. If there are passengers wishing to travel outwith core 0600-2000 times, then let the councils pay for them. If scarce resources aren't used to operate services that few passengers travel on, such resources can be used to safeguard the core.

    Whether we like it or not, we (almost) all have cars, and we will use them at times when it is more convenient to us.
    There are alternatives to the bus for use after 2000 each day; a bespoke service that is door to door that a bus can never replicate . . . . it's called a taxi. Maybe, for the few passengers travelling in the evenings, councils could subsidise taxi fares for the (relatively) few journeys.

    Quite agree in re frequencies of inter-urbans . . . . . a minimum of hourly, but half-hourly if at all possible. With a quality coach and speedy journey, what's not to like? (Red Arrow, anyone?).

    The station link I'm referring to is that between Watford Met and Watford High Street (so I keep the Brownie point!!). The prospect of the extension of the line to Watford Junction is now pretty much dead, but there are still many passengers walking between the two because there's no alternative.

    For a tiny tiny subsidy (say £30K pa over three years compared with £350M plus for construction) this would answer almost all passenger needs, and another bus linking the Met Station with the Hospital would answer the rest, although that wouldn't be commercially viable.

    Yes, we should work together to improve things, but as long as there's no outside money available to kick-start any proposals, why should the bus companies fund everything themselves? (And then get pilloried when it doesn't work and they withdraw it!!).

    Jaded eyes, again, I'm afraid . . . . . hindsight will show that Buses had two Golden Eras . . . 1946-1955 when petrol was rationed and no-one had cars anyway and 2002-2012, when Government funded new schemes on the basis of use it or lose it (Rural Bus Grant; Local Sustainable Transport Fund). Unfortunately, in many cases they weren't used, so they were lost.

    Realism, again . . . . .

    1. Realism is fine, and essential; I try to bring us down to earth, enough; but . . .

      I think bus companies are a bit behind the curve. The world's successful companies "get inside" their customers' heads and almost anticipate what they are thinking. We all have to do it. With all due respect, with the bus companies we are too often left with the feeling that the passenger has to understand the company (and we do try, very hard) not the other way around. It too often comes across as preaching from above rather than, perhaps, we're all in this together so how can we help and let's try and sort something out. They can do it: First's 37 and the Stagecoach A (formerly 26). More times we can't, but at least passengers know that we are trying.

    2. I, and many others that I know (including older and disabled people without major mobility issues when social transport is often available, and better) are happy to walk to catch the bus, and indeed ask whether we can walk it before we even consider waiting for a bus. Which I suggest answers your Watford Met to High Street issue. If we have mobility problems then we are hardly going to be able to walk around the shops or even across a hospital campus, some of which are very unfriendly (as I've found)! So I've no problem with rationalising routes for efficiency, indeed I'd rather have a single regular route within walking distance, than have three unreliable routes in close proximity. I need the bus where I'm waiting at the stop, it's no use if there may be one at a different stop three streets away. I may be fit (at least for my age) but I'm not Dr. Who.

      But in my experience most passengers do appreciate and take into account the problems the Companies face, and will try to find compromises that work within your constraints rather than impractical ones. So let me try and ask the question as politely as I can, greenline727: is that your experience too?

    3. Ummm . . . . I'd say that many passengers, when it is clearly explained to them, do realise that bus companies actually like running buses, and the more passengers on board the better!!

      Unfortunately, many bus companies do themselves no favours when engaging with passengers, and this goes back to deregulation and privatisation in 1986-1989. We've never clearly explained how the industry works now (and especially at the base, when drivers and inspectors, when faced with an awkward question, say "speak to the Council". That answer might be correct, if the question is "why no evening/Sunday buses", but it gives the wrong impression. We should've taken more responsibility for explaining matters clearly.

      Many passengers (and non-passengers) still believe, like the railways, that bus companies operate a "public service". We don't, we operate bus services for the public, and there's a huge difference.

      In re the Met Link . . . . yes, it's a difficult one in that passengers are used to walking (and it's not an unpleasant walk outwith rail and snow). However, we all want to get somewhere quickly now, and out of maybe 40 passengers exiting a train, hoping for around 12 of them to use the bus isn't too far fetched. It's looking at a potential market and trying to meet that expectation . . . . and that's what many commenters on here are asking for.

      Quite agree with your next point - a high-frequency bus service that's reliable is better that three low-frequency routes that might not be. High frequency is always better; if one bus is missed on a route with buses every 6 minutes, it's not a disaster, but one bus missed on a 20-minute frequency is. This is what FirstBus did in Leeds, Glasgow and elsewhere, and got pilloried for it because Mrs Scroggins had to walk to the bus stop. The only loser is the Bus company!!

      I attended a Parish Council meeting for my small bus company (at which the local Arriva manager was invited but didn't attend) to explain why bus services in the evenings were to be withdrawn. I spent most of my time defending Arriva's performance, but was able to put the point across that bus services have to make a profit, and that when locals were told "use it or lose it" and then disn't use it, the inevitable happened.
      I will say that the people who attend these meetings are very vocal and often have their own agenda (poor air quality; dirty buses; traffic congestion) and are very difficult to persuade towards any alternative viewpoint.

      And finally, to answer a later point of yours . . . . when local managers are continually bombarded with "please explain" demands from Head Office, they'll inevitably prioritise such requests in favour of meeting passengers. FirstBus managers did this in the fading years of Lockwood, where the bottom line was everything, and job security was uncertain. Poor bus services and poor quality buses was the result, and we've all seen that. Now, the emphasis is different, and, surprisingly enough, FirstBus is steadily improving. Stagecoach have always understood this . . . . I'm concerned about Arriva's seeming efforts to centralise everything; their performance at Garage level is not good; branded buses on the wrong routes, drivers not prepared to do anything untoward (fear of "please explain" and dismissal is what I'm hearing).

      A good Manager will manage well; but they must be given time and resources to do so . . . . just being told "get on with it and mind the bottom line" won't work.

    4. Sadly, I do have to agree with you. I use a lot of forums internationally as help resources; and the one thing that stands out like the proverbial sore thumb is that the British hobby, almost uniquely, is to look for something to complain about, and then get a bee in their bonnet about it so that they can moan endlessly! Common sense doesn't come into it. Sigh.

    5. But - an important addendum - we are talking about a vociferous minority. The overwhelming majority of us just quietly get on and make the best of it: something which the bus companies deny us the opportunity when not just one, but two, three or more buses are missed out. That isn't accident, but negligent. And it's OK, as with my local company, calling the police out to the angry passengers (as if the police don't have anything else better to do with their time than sort out an industrial dispute); but just perhaps the managers should ask themselves whether the passengers wouldn't be so angry if the bus company were seen to be doing anything about it? Apart that is from wringing their hands; and before the passengers think the hands would be better placed around their necks!!!

  19. Konect Bus is still a mess

    23-11-18 Route 18 will not be able to operate today due to no bus available
    Route 17 will be operated by Norfolk Coachways today.

    1. I'm not sure that I know of a regional Operator who isn't having problems with running all their scheduled services in current conditions, though as ever some are more successful than others. The difference is between those operators that are upfront about it, and those that perhaps aren't.

  20. I'm going to throw this in here.

    This thread, as with many public transport threads throughout the net, illustrates something that worries me. The professionals wake up, even become animated, at any discussion of financial matters. No problem, like a toddler learning to walk they are essential to get right in any business. But any discussion of reliability or things that matter to passengers, and they appear to go back to sleep. It's unnatural.

    A toddler that stops development once it learns to walk, as much as we all cheer it on when it does for the first time, is never going anywhere. You can always make a profit selling a turd, but you may not be running a successful business for long, I'd suggest.

    The Operators like Go South Coast who have just won Operator of the Year Award, from the competition of the likes of Ensign (another one), even First West of England under James Freeman, or Andy Campbell of Stagecoach East, have MDs whose principal concern is the operational side. They don't ignore finance, far from it, indeed they make sure to get it right; but their primary focus is on the passengers. So why do so many of their colleagues elsewhere seem to stop their interest at the accounts? I suppose that figures are far easier to deal with for simple minds than people. Is that it?

    1. Even getting their buses on the right route, or the right diversion in the case of the never-ending roadworks diversions seems more than some operators can manage . . .

  21. Traffic Congestion in Suffolk Getting Worse

    Many areas of Suffolk are seeing an average of 15% increases in traffic and clearly over the next few years similar double figure increases will be seen

    The data also shows there has been a 15% fall in bus usage largely driven by cuts to service. This seems to me to indicate a direct link between bus service cuts and increases in traffic. Clearly some of the traffic increase is down to new developments which in general have no public transport

    The biggest blackspots are as you might expect. Ipswich, Felixstowe, Sudbury , Bury St Edmonds

    The data though does give some data to quantify the benefit of buses in reducing congestion and pollution and even accidents and that can be quantified.

    It would not in my view be unreasonable to say traffic could be reduced by 5% to 7.5% by better bus services

    The services though ned to meet the need. Attracting shop workers onto buses should be quite easy as most services run into town. The trouble at present is buses work 7am to 5pm and most shops don't work those hours so buses are of no use and similar applies to most working people and even if they work those hours the buses are so infrequent they might have to wait an hour and people will not do that. Why would they who wants to wait around in the freezing cold for an hour for a bus that may or may mot turn up on time or may not turn up at all


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. We've always seemed to me to be a country in which everything is set in stone: blame the rules; and "that's the way we do it". We used to call it the Jobsworth mentality. The answer to the question "can't you change the way you do it?" is always "No" with every excuse under the sun.

    There aren't the resources to add bus services. We know that. But that doesn't answer the question of whether we can use our existing resources better. It just often seems too hard to get out of our bunker. I know that there are lots of companies, big and small, that do, routinely. And even more with staff that don't. It varies hugely between one OpCo and the next, or different branches, hospitals and whatever else you care to mention; and even between neighbouring depots. And I agree that a lot of it is due to the attitude of the staff at the top. Stagecoach are a good example of the right attitude. First and Go-Ahead are much more patchy, with some really good examples, and some absolutely terrible ones! And, yes, I know too that Councils are universally the worst of the lot - just listen to the excuses of any politician. Playing over and over like the proverbial broken-down record. I tried to work with them for long enough!

    Go abroad and it doesn't happen nearly so much. Which is presumably why we hate those foreigners! We seem to have lost our creativity somewhere along life's bumpy road. It is not someone else's fault.

  23. A wake up call for rail operators? The travelling public now has an ombudsman

    Is it not time there was proper regulation of bus services and an Ombudsman for them. Currently there I no real means of getting redress from bus companies who can pretty much do as they please. There are the Traffic Commissioners but they are as much uses as a wet blanket ie Totally ineffective

    1. More costs to be paid by the passengers, I fear?

      I think the rail industry, as much as the bus industry, needs to sort itself out. No one else can do it for them. I suspect that half of the problem in the UK is that there are so many fingers in the pie already.

      Is at least part of the reason that our buses are so bad that half of them are specified by clueless Councils, and politicians that think they know it all and know next-to-nothing? Is it any surprise that the areas where services are best are those that had the former municipal operations run by Councils who know at least something about what they are doing, and appreciate the needs of buses; rather than see them as a bl00dy nuisance amongst everything they'd rather be doing? Our politicians seem in love with sexy white elephants.

  24. The ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) launches on April 8 next year and there is concern about a lack of awareness of the round-the-clock £12.50 charge.

    Weekend shoppers, Sunday drivers and evening theatre-goers are all at risk of falling foul of the new rules - and being hit with a £160 fine if they fail to pay. It is also in addition to the C charge

    It initially covers Central London but in 2021 will be extended to include anywhere in London bounded by the North & South Circular. Buses also have o pay it at a rate of a £100 a day. This may well impact on the viability of bus service particularly those coming into London from outside

    The system is quite complex and confusion and many will not understand the system and even fewer will understand they may have to pay the C Charge & ULEZ charge. Many hybrid cars are affected by this as well

  25. Nothing to do with the above, but read this: What I find amazing is not only allowing a 77-year old to work for 70 hours a week, but for keeping him on after repeated accidents (which may, to be fair, have been minor bumps or due to other drivers).

    1. I am not at all surprised by it, Very low standards in the bus industry and very lax regulation and almost zero enforcement of what little regulations there are

    2. hmmn: not just buses is it? Everyone on the roads from car drivers to taxis, lorries, cyclists, white van man, farmers and, yes, buses and coaches do what they can get away with, especially when the enforcement isn't "automatic" by cameras; and that includes the construction and use stuff. Even when the police see it, they often just pass by: they have other pressures on their time. Shocking cases emerge from time to time, even leading to death. 'Elf and safety? Wots that?

      Vehicles are often getting older, the roads are getting in an ever worse state, traffic is horrendous, costs are being cut everywhere, and resources are often pared to the bone. Between servicing, the drivers are relied upon the report faults, and if they do . . . it's not exactly the fast route to popularity is it?

      I know of at least one local depot (not a small company or depot, either), where drivers have pleaded with VoSA and the police for attention from their enforcement teams on the "shockers" they are expected to drive. Welcome to Britain 2018, probably not that much different from Britain 1958, despite all the legislative diarrhea. It's not anything we are concerned about is it? We can't see it or feel it. The eternal problem.

      They might get caught out by the insurance company bills, if at all.

      Do any of us worry about "the rules of the road," anymore, when there isn't an enforcement camera about to catch us?

  26. So, when all has been said, done, and thrice commented on, one must ask, Steve, if you have received any constructive feedback on your report from the Association of British Commuters?

    1. Hmm. One of the things I've learned in life is that it's what you don't do that often matters as much as what you do.

      I wonder too if buses are so very much different from the rest of business, where if you want new, and repeated, custom and even to expand your footprint, the best policy is to look after your existing customers well? Word of mouth and impressions still count for a lot. Not just the level of fares and reimbursements then.

      Commentator GreenLine helpfully pointed out that the approach of "just get on with it and watch the bottom line" has been the source of many a woe. I think it still is.

    2. That approach looses focus on the customer. If you don't meet their needs the customers disappear and that is what has happened

      At present 90% of what customers have left is school children and pass holders which wrecks the economics of buses as well as that of the Concessionary pass system, That system started of with good intention but has evolved into n unsustainable model. IT started of with the intention of charging a much reduced fare off peak to encourage off peak usage when the buses were running around lightly loaded. IT has now evolved such as it is a free service for concessionary pass holders and hardly any fare paying passengers, As council have reduced the reimbursement rates the bus companies react by putting up fares driving away even more passengers. Now bus companies are facing losing school transport as that has now become to expensive for councils and they are looking at alternative ways of providing school transport

      The existing business model is broken but no one is doing anything about it.

      Already most bus service in Suffolk are down to a very basic level and data shows they are declining at 3% a year. What will happen? Who knows at the moment it seems it will be nothing. Everyone seems to be happy to bury their heads in the sand and watch the decline

    3. Yes. Buses are not just about marketing and financial engineering. Like subsidy, they are sticking plaster that falls off, quickly. Cosmetics to cover the ugliness which don't fool anyone.

      I don't care whether passengers are OAPs, disabled, full paying, students or anything else: when your passengers are left waiting over an hour for buses that should be half-hourly, or every ten minutes, it's unacceptable and can't be allowed. There isn't a shortage of passengers, there are abandoned passengers. I know all the excuses (reasons): congestion, driver shortages and maintenance issues. We don't achieve anything by ignoring them or pretending they don't exist. The job is to work around those issues, there is nothing that can't be changed with the will and the imagination. And there is absolutely no need to add insult to injury with bullsh1t and uncaring drivers and management. When the management up the line (to the top) don't care then nobody else will either. Why should they? Everyone has to be a good example, not pass the buck. Silence condemns.

      It's no different from any other industry. But when will the bus industry ever learn? There are exceptions, we all know who they are; so why don't the rest get it? No excuses. No burying the head in the sand or looking the other way. That one is the hallmark of the cowboys.

    4. And a word perhaps to those at the top (and yes I know they don't condescend to listen to anything the passengers have to say). If your management on the ground find they have to chose between serving Head Office and serving the passengers then you've failed. No one else.

    5. Interestingly things like cancellations due to staff shortages, breakdown's and even strikes by staff directly under the control of airlines result in the airlines having pay compensation with buses there are no penalties so they do pretty much as they please. With School contracts there are controls on them and they rarely cut them out as f hey don't run it they don't get paid and the contract can be terminated

    6. The airlines are heavily regulated and monitored (as trains are, to a lesser extent). As you say with buses, get your route licenced and you can pretty well do as you please. There are enforcement powers, but no enforcement regime.

      The trouble is the costs will just add to fares; for so long as these effective monopolies subsist.

      The big boys are often uncompetitive, and know it. There is every incentive to schedule buses to deter competition, perhaps especially when resources are scarce. Service quality takes the hit.

      I wonder if, without evidence of unmet demand and that there is no reasonable prospect of competition, no single operator should be licenced for more than 3 buses an hour on commercial routes along a route corridor (say between settlements of 1,000 or more). Without some such restriction, it seems to me that competition isn't working to raise standards as it should. And hopefully the quality of the rest of the network should improve too with resources better matched to demand. Perhaps with the ability to fine the senior officers of the like of MDs and Commercial Managers for anti-competitive behaviour to control their wilder exuberance.

    7. Where routes compete there would have to be a regulatory requirement for mutual ticket acceptance too, which would be no bad thing.