Written evidence by the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) UK (LRS0002)
- The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) represents the operators of bus and coach services across the UK. We have more than one thousand enterprises in membership, including major PLCs, municipally-owned companies and family businesses with fewer than ten vehicles and accounting for in excess of 95% of the bus fleet and 55% of coach fleet in the UK.
- This evidence seeks to highlight the important role that the sector can play in the delivery of economic growth in the UK, and the importance of partnership working between local authorities and bus operators.
- Buses in England outside London are operated by private companies on a commercial basis. Bus companies determine what routes they want to run, how they run them and what fares to charge, provided they meet some basic notice and licencing obligations. Bus operators and drivers require a licence to operate and vehicles must comply with certain safety requirements. The Traffic Commissioners have overall responsibility for operator licensing compliance and must be notified of changes to routes, including decisions to withdraw routes.
- A local authority can step in where a service it deems to be socially necessary is not being provided by the market. Councils can contract bus operators to provide such services.
The role of bus in economic growth
- Buses have an important role to play in supporting economic growth and reducing social deprivation. They connect people to work, school, medical facilities and leisure activities. They can also play a huge role in reducing air pollution and congestion – a fully loaded double decker bus can take 75 cars off the road, whilst a brand new diesel car with a single occupant can emit more nitrogen oxides than a new bus carrying 50 or more passengers. Pre-pandemic, more people commuted to work by bus than any other transport mode and these bus users generated £64bn of economic output each year. Buses were also the primary mode of access to city centres, supporting 1.4bn shopping trips and facilitating nearly a third of city centre expenditure.
- Partnership working between local authorities and bus operators is vital to ensuring that bus travel can play its part in supporting sustainable economic growth – connecting homes to jobs, shops and leisure facilities and tackling congestion which, pre-pandemic, cost urban areas in England at least £11bn a year.
- Consideration of bus service provision should also be a key part of the planning process for new developments such as homes and workplaces.
- There are numerous examples of operators and local authorities working in partnership to deliver improved services to passengers, and we have seen the results of such partnerships in places like Merseyside, whose Bus Alliance has seen a 15% increase in fare-paying passengers since 2013-14 and the number of bus journeys taken by young people rise by 168%. Bristol’s bus partnership has seen passenger numbers grow by 52% since 2013, and over the past seven years, Sheffield’s bus partnership has delivered more than a million extra adult journeys by bus.
- The pandemic has also demonstrated how well bus operators and local authorities can work together to safeguard services and put passengers first. A number of examples from CPT members can be found at Annex 1.
The case for continuing the commercial model of bus service provision
- There have been calls by some - Combined Authorities in particular - for greater control of bus services as part of the Government’s devolution agenda. We do not think this is the most appropriate mechanism to fund bus services.
- Given the current unprecedented conditions that bus operators currently face, bus services are currently receiving subsidy from Government in the form of the Coronavirus Bus Services Support Grant. Nonetheless we do not see this as a reason to devolve greater control of bus services and funding to local authorities. Private companies have consistently delivered services during the pandemic. Continuing with the current model of operating bus services will:
- Ensure operators have the financial certainty to plan for the future, adapting and adding services in accordance with local need;
- Give ministers a single lever to pull when they want to react to changing conditions nationally. The industry has shown its ability to deliver huge changes in service levels in a matter of days;
- Guarantee local authority involvement in matching services to changing conditions locally;
- Maintain shared incentives to reduce the level of funding as the reopening of the economy drives increased passenger demand.
- In the longer term, bus operators, government and bus passengers all want the same things - a joined up, integrated network, fast and reliable journeys, simple fares and ticketing and clean, well-equipped buses. Experience across the country shows that these outcomes are most effectively delivered where operators and local authorities work in partnership without council tax payers having to take on the risk and cost of council control. A franchised model of bus services, as proposed by some Combined Authorities, would have the following disadvantages:
- There are huge transitional costs involved in the move to a franchising model, none of which deliver direct service improvements to bus passengers.
- There is significant opportunity cost attached to the money that would be spent on the transition to franchising which will come from the public purse, including higher taxes for local residents. Taxpayers should not have to fund the cost of regulatory change.
- The time taken to make the transition to franchising could be better spent delivering real improvements to bus services for passengers.
- A franchised model for bus services places all the risks associated with underwriting any shortfalls in fares income on the local authority and, ultimately, the taxpayer.
- It is in commercial bus operators’ interests to continuously strive to improve the customer experience in order to increase passenger numbers and revenue.
- There are also concerns over the capacity of local authorities to take on this additional responsibility and any logjams created by extra bureaucracy would undermine the practical delivery of services. There would also be a serious risk that some of the money allocated for bus services by central Government would not, in fact, be spent on bus, but would be siphoned off for light rail or to plug gaps in parking income, for example.
Below are a number of examples from CPT members of effective co-operation between bus operators, local authorities and the NHS during the pandemic period to put passengers first and safeguard services.
Brighton and Hove Buses
- Brighton and Hove Buses, a subsidiary of the Go-Ahead Group, serves the urban area of Brighton and Hove and connects the city to Crowborough, Eastbourne, Lewes and Tunbridge Wells.
- During the pandemic, Brighton and Hove Buses added a number of early-morning journeys to the Royal Sussex County Hospital to support NHS key workers in getting to work, responding to feedback from the NHS and local authority..
Stagecoach East Midlands
- Stagecoach East Midlands provides services from Grimsby and Cleethorpes to the Europarc business park, helping thousands of workers get to work every day.
- Stagecoach worked with North East Lincolnshire Council to ensure that services were available to accommodate increased food production at Europarc during the pandemic.
- In May 2020, Stagecoach launched Stagecoach Connect, the UK’s first dedicated app-based demand responsive bus service for NHS workers. The service was developed in partnership with local authorities to support the NHS in its critical role in tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
- Stagecoach’s customised travel solution was developed with technology partner ViaVan in just two weeks to help NHS employees access hospitals and other key workplaces.
- Through the mobile app, healthcare workers can track the location of their bus, change or cancel a booking and pre-book up to one week in advance to match upcoming shift schedules. They select a desired pick-up and drop-off location and are matched with a seat in a high-capacity bus that is fully compliant with social distancing guidelines. The technology directs healthcare workers to a nearby ‘virtual bus stop’ for pickup, allowing for quick and efficient shared trips without lengthy detours, fixed routes or schedules. Staff simply use their NHS ID badge when they board.
- Tees Flex is a state-of-the-art on-demand service provided by Stagecoach in Tees Valley as the result of a successful partnership with the Mayor of Tees Valley, Ben Houchen. The service aims to help residents in more isolated communities across the region access essential services along with training and employment opportunities that are being created across Tees Valley. Nine new, high-quality Mercedes Sprinter buses operated by Stagecoach are being used for the pilot, which has been funded by the Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority.
- Serving three key zones in Darlington & Stockton, Hartlepool and Redcar & Cleveland, passengers are able to pre-book the bus via a smartphone app, a website or over the telephone. They can request pick-up and drop-off points within the serviced area, and to destinations including train and stations along with hospitals outside of the area. The pilot, which will run for three years, has the potential to be extended across the region if successful.
- During the pandemic, Stagecoach worked with Thames Valley Combined Authority to redeploy Tees Flex vehicles to help with patient transport at both Hartlepool and North Tees Hospitals.
- Also during the pandemic, Stagecoach has worked with other operators and with local authorities across the North East to accept one another’s tickets while bus services are on reduced frequencies and capacities.
West Midlands Bus Alliance
- The West Midlands Bus Alliance, the first of its kind in the UK, was formed in 2016 to bring together bus operators, local councils, and other partners to work together to deliver high levels of passenger satisfaction and to make bus travel in the West Midlands cleaner, greener, safer and faster.
- Since 15 March 2020, National Express has recast its entire bus network across the West Midlands eight times to ensure that it was continuing to transport people safety for essential journeys. Transport for West Midlands was fully consulted and involved on each occasion on the impacts to coverage, frequency and tendered services, and network changes were not made until TfWM agreed.
- National Express West Midlands worked closely with TfWM on passenger communications throughout the pandemic, holding weekly meetings to share best practice across tram, trains and buses operating in the region and agreeing messages to customers.
- Throughout lockdown, TfWM and National Express West Midlands held regular Bus Alliance meetings to exchange intelligence and information with other operators, local authorities and the police, under the auspices of Transport Focus.
 Greener Journeys (July 2017) greenerjourneys.com/news/leave-cars-home-catch-bus-week
 Passenger Transport (12 January 2017) passengertransport.co.uk/2017/01/a-diesel-bus-emits-less-nitro-than-a-diesel-car/
 Mackie, P. Laird, J and Johnson, D. (2012) Buses and the Economy, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds
 Greener Journeys (July 2018) Tackling Pollution and Congestion: Why congestion must be reduced if air quality is to improve