pteg visits…Dales Integrated Transport Alliance (DITA)

The pteg team outside the Grassington Hub

The pteg team visit the Grassington Hub (L-R: Rebecca Fuller, Saila Acton and Jonathan Bray – all pteg; Ann Wild, Grassington Hub; Randall Ghent, DITA; Pedro Abrantes, pteg)

On the 7th August, the pteg team travelled from Leeds to the beautiful Yorkshire Dales to visit Dales Integrated Transport Alliance (DITA). DITA is a community-led group of individuals and organisations who want to get better transport in the rural area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. DITA was formed to assist Metro (West Yorkshire PTE) to deliver the ‘Connecting the Dales’ project which secured £1.1 million from the Department for Transport’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF).

An on-train briefing

Our day began with a train journey to Skipton station (‘Gateway to the Dales’) during which time Connecting the Dales Project Leader Randall Ghent was able to fill us in on some more of the background to DITA.

He told us about the four strands of DITA’s work:

1. Local transport needs assessment – including a baseline survey of 1,200 local people conducted by sustainable transport charity, Sustrans complemented by a Visitor Survey to capture the travel needs of the many tourists who flock to the Dales.

2. Integrated service development – including trialling of new transport services; subsidies for bus (and sometimes rail) services; a fares initiative for young people; and improved coordination of the existing transport network through a network of local ‘hubs’.

3. Active Travel support – including through the hubs; printed leaflets; education work; support for cycle paths; and electric bike hire. Future plans include a series of accessible circular walks as well as activities linked to next year’s Tour De France Grand Départ, which will take place in Yorkshire.

4. Customer-facing marketing and information – delivered through the local hubs, online and via printed materials.

Randall is keen to stress the ‘bottom-up’ nature of the project – this is very much a community-led scheme which accepts bids for funding from local operators and communities who have identified a transport need and a sustainable approach to solving it.

Your Dales Hub Grassington

Train journey and initial briefing complete, we hop on a Pride of the Dales bus service to Grassington, which calls right outside Skipton Station. Later, we would visit the Pride of the Dales base in the village, however, our first stop is Your Dales Hub Grassington, one of the eight hubs across the Dales started with funding from DITA and a key delivery mechanism for DITA’s work.

Bespoke hub leaflets

Bespoke hub leaflets

Each hub provides the local community and visitors to the area with advice on all forms of transport. They can make bookings, access real time information and pick up helpful leaflets. All hubs have their own bespoke leaflet outlining travel options in the area – these are distributed to every address locally, often together with the parish magazine. Indeed, the idea is for hubs to have a hyper-local marketing and outreach role, building community capacity and ownership.

In common with all the hubs, Grassington’s is located within an existing community facility – in this case, the village library. Other locations include Tourist Information Centres, Community Offices, a museum and even the front room of a Bed and Breakfast!

With funding tight, multi-functional spaces – and people – are essential. The LSTF funding allows each hub to pay for a manager for one day per week. This person usually performs a number of other roles, with funding from a range of sources. In Grassington, that person is Ann Wild who we meet in a small office at the back of the library, together with Helen Flynn, Chair of DITA.

Ann provides advice on transport via the hub and works closely with the community and local operators to gather information on local transport services and needs. In common with every hub manager, she maintains a page on the DITA website for the area she covers, providing up-to-date transport information for Grassington. Together with the pages for the other hubs, the website provides a comprehensive picture of transport services across the Dales. Ann also maintains the twitter feed for the hub @GrassingtonHub (you can also follow the Dales Connect project on twitter @DalesConnect).

As well as transport, Ann’s role covers community development, outreach and fundraising (including submitting bids to funding bodies, a regular village movie night and a photocopying and printing service for local businesses).

Helping Hands

When we meet, Ann is in the midst of applying to the Big Lottery Reaching Communities fund for funding for a coordinator for the hub’s Helping Hands scheme that provides transport to medical appointments via a network of 40 volunteer drivers who use their own cars. The nearest big hospital is a 44 mile round trip from Grassington.

Given the distances and costs involved, transport to health facilities is a big issue in rural areas, particularly for those who do not qualify for free patient transport. Even those who do qualify experience a service that is over-stretched and can involve long journey times and waiting times at either end.

Ann and Helen agree that local providers could deliver a better, more responsive service but that they struggle to bid for NHS contracts. Helen tells us that the Social Value Act should mean that bid evaluation takes into account other factors that add value (e.g. that the bidder is a social enterprise) – however, the legislation is still new and seems not to have filtered through to decision making. There is also as yet untapped potential to consolidate hospital appointments to make patient transport more viable in rural areas.

It has been a long held ambition of DITA to get local transport and NHS stakeholders together to discuss the issues of access to healthcare and of more sustainable funding options. The Helping Hands service, for example, is reliant entirely on the goodwill of volunteers and donations from those who use the service. It would be in the interests of the NHS to support such schemes which, among other things, help avoid missed appointments. This is something we too have noted in our ‘Total Transport’ report of 2011.

One Way £1 for under 19s

Next on our itinerary is a visit to the Pride of the Dales bus garage, base for a small fleet of vehicles providing bus services between Buckden in the North, and Skipton and Ilkley in the South. The services are provided on behalf of North Yorkshire County Council. Here we meet Richard Dean, who – following the multi-functional theme – is both mechanic and occasional bus driver for Pride of the Dales.

The 'One Way £1' logo

The ‘One Way £1’ logo is displayed on all participating bus services

Richard fills us in on another strand of DITA’s work – the trial of a ‘One Way £1’ scheme for under 19s. As the name suggests, this scheme allows young people to travel for £1 on their outward journey and £1 on their return journey when travelling within the Dales area. This represents a considerable saving on the usual fares and is designed to make bus travel easier and more affordable for young people. During term-time, the scheme applies on weekday evenings after 5pm and at any time over the weekends. In the school holidays, the scheme is available at all times.

The scheme fits the simple, flat and consistent model for child fares that we know works (see, for example our ‘Moving On’ report) and is very popular with young people themselves – indeed, the local Youth Council were actively involved in developing this initiative. Since launching in October 2012, patronage among young people has grown – one operator is already intending to take forward the scheme commercially after the DITA funding runs out in October this year.

Evaluating success

Next up, a further chance to discuss the work of DITA with Randall, Ann and Helen over a wholesome lunch at The Retreat, a vegetarian café in the village. Conversation turns to the importance of evaluation and DITA’s plans to collect evidence of effectiveness for each strand of the project – evidence that will be vital in securing future funding for the scheme whether as a whole or for individual elements. We noted that the best practice guidance on LSTF monitoring and evaluation, produced for pteg by AECOM, might prove a useful resource as this work progresses.

After lunch, there was time to stock up on souvenir fudge before heading to the National Park Centre just outside the village which also serves as a small bus station. From here it was back on-board a Pride of the Dales bus to Skipton followed by a comfortable ride on the electrified Airedale line back to Leeds.

All in all a fascinating visit to an organisation that is very much led by the communities it serves and as such, delivers initiatives that meet the needs of residents and visitors alike. We would like to thank Randall Ghent for organising the visit and Ann Wild, Helen Flynn and Richard Dean for spending time with us on the day.

Rebecca Fuller

Five things I learnt as a three term member of Network Rail

I was one of the original Network Rail members and have served three terms in total (though I haven’t been a member throughout NR’s existance). My Membership comes to an end on the 23rd November

This is what I have learned

 

railway tracks1. It’s a tough job but a worthwhile one – and not – repeat not – a waste of time.

It’s tough because it is secondary governance – there to give a strategic steer and a nudge, or more than that if things are going badly wrong. It’s tough because the Network Rail job is largely a practical and technical one. It doesn’t determine national rail policy (that would be much easier to have a view on), its main job is to build, maintain and operate kit which could kill people if the wrong decisions are taken. It’s tough to judge how well they are doing in any kind of detail given the technical and practical nature of the vast job that NR does. NR pays consultants to say they are doing a good job, ORR pays consultants to say they aren’t. Who’s right? Getting to the bottom of everything would be a full time job – and NR governance is part time. But the job is worthwhile. Britain’s railways are an amazing thing – and as a Member of Network Rail you get to play a part. A small but an important part. Which is why secondary governance is not a waste of time. ‘What can the Members do that NR will take any notice of?’ people wail! ‘The members are pointless!’ Not so. NR members have a nuclear option – sacking the executive. ‘So what?’ people say, ‘it’s too drastic a deterrent for it ever to be used’.  Well nuclear weapons were not used in the cold war but they certainly influenced behaviour! And NR members have influenced behaviour on safety and the management of the company (the RIDDOR affair) and on the bonus culture. And that’s the job – not running the company – but acting as a trustee of the company.

2. Value the informed mavericks.

In my three terms as an NR member the most effective members have been Bob Rixham (who skilfully used his membership to surface the RIDDOR scandal) and Tony Berkeley. I fear a smaller membership recruited by the Membership Selection Panel (with all its PLC corporate governance theology and square mile elitist flimflam) will lead to a monoculture membership made up of Home Counties FT readers with time on their hands. And if PLC corporate governance is the gold standard that we are all told we can only begin to dream of emulating, how come the banks were allowed to run riot and crash the global economy? No – what the membership needs is not self-regarding, group think. Instead it needs to be balanced, made up of people with different perspectives and life experience. And it needs mavericks.

3. Members shouldn’t waste time naval gazing about the nature of the job, and dreaming about what you would like the job to be.

The governance of Network Rail (and the rest of the railway) only changes when Government wants it to – not the members. If you want to manage Network Rail then get a job with them. The Members are secondary governance. Not shadow managers. They are also individuals who are there to exercise their individual judgement (informed by discussions between themselves and with Network Rail). There is nothing shameful about not having a collective view (see above). And remember there is no perfect governance system – for all NR’s imperfections, overall it’s done a good job since it was created. And its governance is better than if it were a PLC (I call Railtrack to the witness box your honour) or fully nationalised (if it were to be at the beck and call of a desiccated and cynical civil service culture as BR was).

4. No-one seems to be paying much attention to this but NR wants to turn itself into a global player (and perhaps then privatised) off the back of its role in running the UK rail network.

Exciting stuff for its senior staff no doubt. Mixing it with DB and the French in the race for world domination of the public transport sector. But I’m not sure the members have been consulted on this key strategic development. And personally I think NR’s main focus should continue to be consolidating the GB rail network in a more cost effective, accountable and integrated way than the current costly shambles that is the privatised railway. That’s a big enough and exciting enough job in itself and it’s what the taxpayer pays Network Rail to do.

5. Administrative hygiene.

Network Rail needs to get the basics right. Minutes of meetings, papers circulated in advance, questions responded to in a timely fashion. Members are paranoid enough as it is about how seriously they are taken by Network Rail. If NR consistently fails on basic administrative hygiene (which it did throughout my three terms of membership – despite a lot of promises) then Members become more convinced that they are being treated disrespectfully. And people really hate that! I am convinced that half of the endless naval gazing about the Members’ roles that dominates so many NR members meetings would disappear if NR consistently got the basics right in terms of proper administrative support for the members.

Thank you and good night!

Jonathan Bray

Party conferences 2012 – round-up

Nick Clegg being photographed at Lib Dem party conference

After the party conference bubble, a clearer picture of each party’s transport policies emerges

Autumn Party conferences can be a bit of a blur – mini-political Glastonburys for politicians and the travelling roadshow of journalists and lobbyists. A bubble of meetings, speeches and talk. But when you finally get on the train back to the real world you do leave with a clearer impression of where each party is at on the key transport issues.

Liberal Democrats

On transport, the Lib Dem conference is all about Norman Baker – who continues to throw his considerable energies into making the very most of his tenure at Transport. He’s doing this by shaping local transport around his own priorities – but within the context of a coalition Government that is reducing and devolving public spending.

What are Norman’s priorities? I would say:

  • The mainstreaming of spending on active travel.
  • Holding the line on the use of all the bus powers in the Local Transport Act 2008 (including Quality Contracts).
  • Making sure that the more rural areas don’t lose out from any changes.
  • And perhaps, most challenging of all, trying to find a way through the thicket of a fragmented, deregulated / privatised public transport network to get to the prize of a more integrated offer for passengers including smart and simple ticketing.

This degree of activity and intent is not a common feature in junior transport ministers (who usually cautiously read out whatever the officials give them before moving on). In some ways Norman’s approach is also a further example of ‘managed localism’ – via a series of centrally determined funding competitions – but there’s no doubt that it is proving successful on objective one especially, which is the mainstreaming of cycling in particular with local transport policy.

Labour

Meet the new Barbara Castle? If Labour is elected (and all other things remain equal in the shadow cabinet) then Maria Eagle could go right through from opposition to government. Why the Barbara Castle comparison? Well in the 1960s Harold Wilson decided that for once Government was going to make transport a priority and Castle seized the opportunity with one of the biggest packages of progressive transport legislation the country had seen – the 1968 Transport Act – which among other things created the PTEs.

At Labour conference Maria Eagle certainly seems fired up to seize the moment if she has the opportunity. If the Eagle lands at Marsham Street then a not-for-profit InterCity network, a devolved local rail network and a managed transition from bus deregulation to local transport authority control would be her priorities. However there’s a lot that could happen between then and now – and she would need the two Eds on her side too.

Conservatives

If the new Secretary of State was appointed as a ‘steady eddie’ to keep the transport brief tranquil then, not for the first time, this is already proving harder than it looks – with the west coast franchise blowing up in the DfT’s face.

But that aside, what also emerged from the Conservative party conference was:

  • A very firm commitment to HS2 from McLoughlin to further demoralise the anti-campaign and to kill off the niggling stories in the press about whether it’s really going to happen or not
  • The emergence of a ‘mods and rockers’ debate on buses within Conservatives who are interested in buses. Whilst new DfT Stephen Hammond continues to pursue the traditional Eighties-style hard line in favour of bus deregulation, Steve Norris told the pteg fringe that it should be down to local transport authorities to decide. Indeed there’s a fair few Conservative MPs now who are far more interested in outcomes than they are in defending the principle of bus deregulation and recognise that franchising is a perfectly reasonable view to take.
  • Roads are back – kinda. Talk of building new motorways as a gut response to economic problems is becoming semi-respectable again – but there’s far from a groundswell for it and perhaps a trace memory of just how unpopular massive road building programmes can be – particularly among voters in the prosperous, over-heated South East

Time for Whitehall to let go?

This was the question that each of our fringe meetings posed in its title. And the answer at all three was a resounding yes! The will and the impulse is there…but to get the devolution that really matters off the launch pad (bus and rail) before the gravitational pull of the civil service pulls it back to earth. Now that’s the hard bit.

Jonathan Bray