pteg visits…Sheffield Community Transport

South Yorkshire Door 2 Door bus service with ramp lowered

SCT run a range of Door 2 Door services for people who find it difficult to use standard public transport

On 16th March 2012, myself and Jonathan Bray, Director of the pteg Support Unit hopped on the Supertram to visit the purpose built HQ of Sheffield Community Transport (SCT), South Yorkshire’s biggest community transport (CT) operator.

Our host for the afternoon was Ian Jenkinson, General Manager, who has been involved since the very earliest days of SCT some 25 years ago. Ian was kind enough to talk us through SCT’s work as well as take us on a tour encompassing the bright and airy office, the (surprisingly clean!) garage and one of the fleet of fully accessible buses.

SCT officially opened for business back in 1988, with a focus on providing group travel to people wanting to get to lunch clubs and other social activities. Over 20 years on, and group travel remains the bedrock of SCT, but the range of services has expanded significantly, encompassing door-to-door buses, shopper services, a community car scheme, tendered bus services and a wheels to work programme. This mixed portfolio, together with a team of loyal volunteers, helps them to provide an affordable and flexible service to the local community.

In addition, SCT are the lead body for CT across the county, meaning that the four main CT operators in South Yorkshire now have a common offer and identity as well as shared scheduling software, helping to make better use of vehicles.

People first

SCT’s provision seems to start with the question ‘what can we do to make life better for people in our community?’ It was great to witness transport services centred around people first and foremost. Being embedded in the community, CT providers are well placed to understand what type of services residents want and what gaps need to be filled.

Take, for example less mobile shoppers in Hillsborough who could walk down the hill to local shops but struggled to manage the steep climb back to their homes, laden with heavy bags. SCT stepped in to provide a bus service that took people to the top of the hill and dropped them off around the residential areas to be found there. The service has been so successful, it is now commercially viable in its own right.

Supporting people into work

Another example is the Wheels 2 Work scheme which offers scooter loans to enable people to access offers of work or training that cannot be reached by public transport. Currently supported by the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF), the scheme has been running countywide for 7 years and now has a bank of 150 scooters. Whilst schemes like this have obvious benefits for people in rural areas, Ian was keen to stress the value of Wheels 2 Work for urban commuters too. The scooters have helped city residents to access early or late shifts at factories, warehouses and at Meadowhall (a shopping centre outside of Sheffield city centre). Scooters are also suitable for workers on call out as this quote from a happy customer illustrates:

‘I get called out at work at a time when public transport is not available. Without having the scooter I wouldn’t have the job I have got now’.

Having helped hundreds of people access work or training opportunities that they would otherwise have struggled to get to, SCT are seeking to expand their services in this area via an LSTF bid. If successful, the project would see them make use of vehicle downtime (outside the core hours of 9 and 4.30pm) to help people access work.

In addition, SCT itself helps people into employment, providing valuable work experience as well as training accreditation for its volunteer drivers, many of whom go on to jobs in the bus industry or driving ambulance services.

Opportunities and challenges

So, what does the future hold? SCT have a good working relationship with South Yorkshire PTE and are keen to work with them to develop and test the market for innovative new bus services. They are certainly not short of ideas.

As well as continuing work filling in bits of the network that would otherwise fall away and identifying and meeting the needs of people most at risk of isolation, SCT are looking with interest at models such as buurtbussen (neighbourhood buses) which cover hundreds of routes in the Netherlands and are staffed entirely by volunteers.

SCT is also having to adapt to growing demand for its services, fuelled by the personalisation agenda in social care. People now have their own personal budgets to spend on their care and, when it comes to transport, they are looking for more flexible, personalised options – just the sort of service that SCT offers. As traditional social service fleets disappear due to falling demand, the costs of providing transport for a client base with complex needs will increasingly fall to community transport providers, posing a real challenge to the sector. In response, SCT are developing a new ‘City Ride Plus’ service, an enhanced version of their ‘City Ride’ door to door service which will be tailored to the needs of this growing passenger group.

I left Sheffield Community Transport feeling totally inspired by their can-do attitude and desire to improve the lives of local communities. It was great to visit an organisation so open to ideas and innovation and so plugged in to what people want from transport services. Many thanks to Ian for hosting us.

Visit Sheffield Community Transport’s website for more information.

Rebecca Fuller

pteg visits…Midland Metro

Over the coming year, members of the pteg Support Unit team will be getting out and about to visit and learn from key transport projects and organisations. First up, Matt Brunt, Assistant Director visits Midland Metro in Birmingham.

Passengers at Wolverhampton Midland Metro tram stop

The current network runs between Wolverhampton and Snow Hill on the edge of Birmingham City Centre

Before today’s trip, I had travelled on Midland Metro once, but for a short trip and in the middle of winter. This time I was accompanied on my journey by the Programme Director, Paul Griffiths, and Mark Ashmore, Metro Health and Safety Manager from Centro.

The current line, running from Snow Hill station on the edge of Birmingham city centre through to Wolverhampton, is unobstrusive and echoes the branch-line feel that the route presumably took over when it first opened in 1999.

Well used and well run, it has recovered from some early teething problems – not least of which the somewhat novel approach to vehicle assembly used by the suppliers of the first fleet, where trams were built in a series of separate Italian factories, resulting in sixteen slightly differently configured vehicles.

Midland Metro tram

The next phase of the system's development will see trams enter the heart of Birmingham city centre

At present, the Midland Metro is perhaps one of the lesser known tram systems in the UK. However, this will change with the implementation of the second phase of its development. A £128m scheme will see the extension of the tramline onto the streets of central Birmingham, penetrating into the heart of the city, as well as a new fleet of trams and an extended depot facility. Final funding approval has now been given and plans are moving towards implementation over the next few years, with the city centre extension and full new tram fleet due in service from 2015.

New Street Station redevelopment - Artist's impression

Trams will serve a transformed New Street Station

The plans for the city centre route are impressive. Dovetailing with the New Street Gateway project (which sees New Street Station undergoing a £600 million transformation) the trams will bring a very different feel to the city centre. The route from the new station entrance will run along Corporation Street (one of the main shopping streets in the city) and then join up with the line at Snow Hill, making a huge impact on the area and bringing the ‘sparks effect’ to the centre of Birmingham. The Snow Hill tram stop itself is being moved to bring the trams ‘up’ to street level and run parallel to the nearby high quality office development.

Looking forward, thoughts are already turning to how the system can link to the proposed High Speed 2 station at Curzon St, and be extended in the other direction towards the civic quarter, conference venues and development at Brindley Place. A flythrough of the route can be seen here: 

It is clear that the expanded Midland Metro will dramatically shift the visibility of the system and the profile it has. Moving ‘on-street’ into the city centre is certainly not without its challenges, but hopefully these developments will see Midland Metro come into its own.

Matt Brunt

Banishing the dirty old bus

PTEs visited West Ham bus garage to find out more about TfL's hybrid bus trials

When we promote buses as a greener alternative to car travel, we are increasingly aware of the ageing, dirty bus lurking in the corner of the room, spluttering out toxic emissions and spewing particulate matter every which way – undermining our arguments at every turn.

We all agree that if we are to maintain the high ground over the car, these buses have to go, and they have to go as quickly as possible. The imperative is hastened by the fact that it’s intrinsically easier to green small light vehicles like cars than it is large heavy vehicles like buses and HGVs and that politicians of every stripe see plug-in cars as a relatively pain free way of going green without alienating the CBI or the voters.

The fact remains, however, that electric cars and the like may make driving kinder to the environment but they don’t require people to make the fundamental lifestyle adjustments that are required if we are serious about tackling climate change (living more locally, for example). They also do nothing to reduce congestion on our roads which costs nearly £11bn annually in our urban areas alone. In these areas the bus wins hands down and, with the phasing out of older models and greater use of new, greener technology, it has the opportunity to firmly cement its environmental credentials.

A hybrid bus ready for inspection

This is an opportunity that bus manufacturers and operators are increasingly taking up – from the high profile Greener Journeys campaign to the 56 hybrid buses taking part in the large scale London trials – but how are PTEs engaging with this agenda?

For starters, PTE areas have achieved considerable success in the two Green Bus Fund bidding rounds. As a result, our areas can expect to receive in excess of £19m from the fund for over 260 buses. A number of the winning bids were submitted by PTEs themselves, with GMPTE securing the largest number of vehicles (66) of all the bidders in the first round – all destined for use on their subsidised services. Indeed, overall Greater Manchester residents can expect to see almost 140 green buses in their midst.

PTEs are not new to the green bus fray and are by no means unprepared. Many have a wealth of experience of trialling innovative technologies, and have learnt the lessons from these, from the now defunct diesel-electric hybrid buses that formed the Quaylink service in Newcastle and Gateshead to Merseytravel’s 15 years trialling alternative fuels and 10 years investigating pure electric buses.

In addition, pteg has commissioned and published a number of studies to help PTEs make the best choices when it comes to greening urban bus fleets. The most recent additions to the evidence base include a report by Atkins which named improvement in bus fleet efficiency as one of seven top-scoring carbon emission reduction measures PTEs could take and a report by TTR into bus idling and emissions. The TTR report looked at the contribution of behavioural, network/infrastructure and technical factors to emissions from idling buses and recommended the best approaches to tackling these. It followed on from another pteg commissioned study from TTR assessing the costs and benefits of different fuels and technologies with the potential to reduce pollution and carbon emissions from our urban bus fleets. All of these reports are available to download from our website at http://www.pteg.net/Publications/Reports/Reports.htm.

PTE staff descended into the inspection pits to take a closer look at hybrid bus technology

More informal good practice sharing between the PTEs on green buses is also underway. Just this month, associate pteg member Transport for London played host to representatives from across the PTEs and beyond who took part in a visit to West Ham bus garage to experience first-hand some of the hybrid buses on trial in the capital.

 Equipped with nifty grey ‘bump hats’ and high vis jackets, we descended enthusiastically down the inspection pits to take a look at the technology beneath these vehicles and were very amused to be able to say that we’d stepped under a bus and lived to tell the tale! Our members were full of questions on the technical details of the vehicles as well as, crucially, the results of this extensive review of most known hybrid bus systems.

As green bus technology filters further into the mainstream, pteg is determined to continue to play a key role in its development and implementation and to banish the image of the dirty old bus for good. The future is bright, shiny and clean and we want to be part of it.

Rebecca Fuller

This article was originally published in Coach and Bus Week.