Towards Total Transport

Waiting for the bus

The bus connects people to opportunity

For anybody involved in the bus industry, the contribution that this mode of travel makes to people’s quality of life is plain to see. The bus is a gateway to opportunity for many people, especially the quarter of all households, and half of all those on the lowest incomes, without access to a car. Opportunity to work, play, learn and to stay healthy and happy.

Benefits of the bus for other sectors

In making these connections, the bus plays a key role in achieving a wide variety of policy goals that extend far beyond the bounds of the transport sector. It can help tackle unemployment, for example, by connecting areas of worklessness to areas of job growth. Combined with fares initiatives, travel advice and information provision for jobseekers, the impact can be significant – in one such PTE-led scheme, 80 per cent of people said they would otherwise have struggled to reach job opportunities.

The bus assists the health sector too. Missed outpatient appointments alone cost hospitals £600m a year. Just one new bus service, connecting disadvantaged communities in Wolverhampton to a specialist health centre, reduced non-attendance by 60 per cent. Social care is also a beneficiary. Bus services help older and disabled people retain their independence, enabling them to do their shopping, get to work and see friends and family without having to rely on others. Analysis shows that just one Ring and Ride service in the West Midlands saved the health sector at least £13.4m thanks to reduced need for care, home help and more costly transport options, such as taxis.

Towards Total Transport

Shoppers boarding the bus

How can we ensure the vital, socially necessary role of the bus is maintained in light of cuts?

The question is, how do we ensure that the vital and socially necessary role of the bus is maintained in light of cuts and spending restrictions that have hit the transport sector particularly hard? Our new report – ‘Total Transport – Working across sectors to achieve better outcomes’ – recommends that agencies across sectors with a stake in transport get together to pool their resources and expertise to deliver desired outcomes as efficiently as possible – a ‘Total Transport’ approach.

Perhaps one of the most tangible ways in which we can move towards a Total Transport approach is by encouraging a more cross-sector, joined-up approach towards the funding and delivery of social needs transport.

In most areas, alongside the mainstream bus network, there are also multiple fleets of vehicles running around performing various functions for different agencies. You have social services, education and patient transport fleets, for example, all with their own separate budgets and policies. Often these services overlap and duplicate one another in terms of their specification, clientele and route. They can also generate significant inefficiencies, with certain vehicles sitting underutilised in the garage for large parts of the day whilst elsewhere transport needs go unmet.

Bringing together vehicle fleets and budgets

Pooling vehicle fleets

Pooling vehicle fleets and budgets could improve efficiency and deliver a more comprehensive service for customers

With money tight and essential services under threat, these inefficiencies cannot be allowed to continue. An alternative, Total Transport approach would see these fleets brought together from across the various agencies and local authority departments into one shared pool under a single budget. The pool of vehicles would be coordinated and scheduled centrally, taking into account capacity on the mainstream network. Such a system would ensure the entire fleet is put to maximum use throughout the day and that the right vehicle is deployed for the right job. Experience from local authorities that have already moved towards an ‘Integrated Transport Unit’ suggests that efficiency benefits can run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Developing such a system is, of course, unlikely to be a straightforward task. Administrative difficulties, harmonisation of different working practices and negotiation of contractual relationships are just some of the challenges that may be encountered. However, there are a range of models already in operation, both here and abroad that can be drawn upon. Also, it is not necessary to move towards a fully centralised system straightaway. Efficiency gains can also be made by identifying synergies at a smaller scale – for example, by utilising the downtime of school buses to provide shopper services during the day or by working with health providers to plan concentrated health assessment days around times when fleets of accessible vehicles are otherwise underutilised. It’s about working together to make the very best use of the assets we already have in order to maintain as full a service as possible for the customer. By doing so we can ensure that the bus continues to help tackle unemployment and promote independence and access to services without placing undue financial strain on any one policy area.

Rebecca Fuller

This article was first published in Coach and Bus Week

Confessions of a wannabe Bicycle Belle

'Keep Riding' street art courtesy of

Fab street art courtesy of

A few snippets about me and cycling:

  • My Dad was a keen cyclist – a member of his local Cyclist’s Touring Club, owner of bikes for all seasons and conditions, wearer of Lycra and avid viewer of the Tour de France.
  • I too love cycling. When I ride a bike I can’t stop smiling and inside I’m going wheeeeee!
  • I get very excited about beautiful old fashioned style bikes and would love to own one of those fabulous British made Pashley’s – ideally bright red with a wicker basket and shiny bell
  • Whenever I see an artfully arranged bike on holiday I have to take a picture of it.

And finally (sharp intake of breath):

  • I don’t own a bike and the thought of cycling in my home city of Leeds terrifies me.

There. I’ve said it. I’m a passionate advocate and enthusiast for cycling in theory but I don’t actually ride myself. Well, I do but only on holiday in places where it feels safe and nicely separate from cars. Like the lovely ride we took in Croatia (which unexpectedly took in a nudist park – bit of an eye-opener). Or pootling around the beautiful (mainly car free) island of La Digue on honeymoon last year. Later this year we’re off to Center Parcs – I can’t wait to get back on two wheels and ride the woodland trails. But what would it take to get me cycling at home?

Red Pashley bike

A red Pashley - my dream bike

The biggest thing that would make the difference for me, and I’m sure this is the case for many others too, would be wide, continuous cycle lanes that are visibly separate from car traffic either using striking paintwork (like the London Cycle Superhighways) or a raised kerb.

Without this basic infrastructure, no amount of softer measures, be they training courses or cycle-to-work incentives, would convince me to cycle in Leeds or any other city. Softer measures are, of course, important, but they need to form part of a wider package that includes improving the infrastructure.

It’s not just the cars that deter me from cycling. Other cyclists can also be quite scary – mainly from the sense that many are ‘built for speed’ – Lycra clad and hurtling along at a terrifying pace. Perhaps wider lanes would allow these speedy cyclists to peacefully co-exist with those of us proceeding more sedately. I’ve written before about cycling in Copenhagen – I didn’t see any Lycra there – is the urban commute really the place for this kind of cycling? Or is it that in many UK cities people are forced to cycle in a more defensive fashion with a ‘me versus the traffic’ attitude stemming from a lack of proper infrastructure and priority for people on bikes?

I’m sure there are lots of other aspiring bicycle belles (and boys) who could be lured onto two wheels if only proper road space were to be allocated to people on bicycles. More city leaders outside London need to take the issue by the handle bars and champion cycling so that, as is beginning to become the case in London, it is seen as something that everyone can do – not just the Lycra wearing few.

Rebecca Fuller

How might franchising change the UK bus industry?

In its recent report, the Competition Commission concludes that local bus markets aren’t quite as competitive as was once envisaged by the architects of deregulation. This is no bad thing in itself – I expect few of us would advocate a return to the bus wars of the 1980s. The problem is that without the discipline of a competitive market larger operators are able to take home a little too much profit, largely at the expense of passengers and, often, smaller operators. So how could we introduce greater competitive pressures in the market without more wasteful competition? The Commission offers franchising as a potential solution. Indeed, this approach is now the norm across the developed world and the evidence shows it can be a powerful tool in delivering both cost savings and patronage growth. But how might franchising change local bus markets? This article tries to draw some lessons from the experience in London, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

Lessons from London

London hybrid bus near the Houses of ParliamentOne of the most interesting examples of bus franchising is in London, where TfL is fully responsible for designing the network and tenders out around a fifth of all routes every year, with several bidding rounds each year. This steady flow of contracts has helped keep the market alive and avoids peaks of activity. TfL also takes revenue risk, thereby removing the biggest advantage held by the incumbent at re-tendering, a common problem in recently de-registered services elsewhere in the country. There are now seven medium-sized operators and two smaller ones, with an average of three bids per tender. With controls at the tendering stage to prevent any single operator from dominating this is likely to remain fairly stable in years to come. Another key feature in London is the use of quality incentives since 2000, which has reversed the decline in reliability and service quality observed in the 1990s.

Lessons from the Netherlands

Outside the UK, the Netherlands provide a contrasting model to London with large area-based contracts as the norm. The province of Limburg is at one extreme, having awarded a long term multi-modal net cost contract to Veolia in 2006 covering both rail, bus and taxi. Despite some teething problem as a result of deviations from cost and patronage forecasts, this integrated network approach has delivered both huge cost savings and substantial growth in demand. Few other franchising authorities have been quite as bold though, most of which preferring to adopt gross cost contracts subject to minimum service levels and quality incentives. However, some degree of negotiation over network design issues appears to be commonplace at the tendering stage. Overall, the Dutch approach has been effective in the difficult task of moving some large public monopolies into private ownership.

Lessons from Scandanavia

A slightly less conventional model has been developed in Norway, where reasonably efficient incumbents in some parts of the country are allowed to maintain their monopoly position but with all public subsidy awarded through highly incentivised contracts. These are typically a combination of unit payments per bus-km, per passenger and per passenger-km, varying based on local priorities (for example, with more emphasis on bus-kms in rural areas and passengers in urban areas). The objective is to ensure operators’ decisions are well aligned with public sector objectives. Underperforming operators can be replaced through competitive tendering by default, a more credible threat than Quality Contracts at present. In a way, this model is not dissimilar to Statutory Quality Partnerships with the key difference that UK transport authorities directly control little more than 10% of industry revenues, compared to over 50% in Scandinavia. Changes in subsidy flows could certainly make this a more viable model.

What does this mean for the UK?

In general, international experience suggests that there is more than one way to improve the functioning of local transport markets, with all-out deregulation possibly one of the worst models around  both for passengers (as demonstrated by the contrasting faith of London and the metropolitan areas over the past 25 years) and for smaller operators. The precise model that each UK local market ends up with in the future will depend not only on the Competition Commission but, crucially, on the current market structure, LTAs’ funding and attitude to risk. It is conceivable that some areas could end up with a Limburg-style model while others will prefer to develop something closer to current partnership arrangements. On the whole, these are very exciting times which offer the potential to deliver a more sustainable market structure, increasingly attractive bus services but, above all, long term passenger growth.

Pedro Abrantes

This article was first published in Coach and Bus Week.