When small is mighty

There’s nothing like a big transport project to get hearts racing. Miles of track laid, tranches of trams ordered, lightening speeds to be achieved. And in recent times there’s been more than a few that promise to revolutionise our city regions. The Metrolink expansion continues to transform Greater Manchester, Birmingham New Street will soon look shiny and new, while HS2 and HS3 seem just around the corner.

While these schemes will be vital in securing economic growth and the rebalancing of the economy, it would be tempting to assume that much smaller-scale projects have little part to play. In fact, smaller schemes can deliver economic benefits comparable to the larger ones – at an average of £3.50 in benefits for every £1 of public investment.

And small schemes are intrinsic to improving our transport infrastructure, as a new report by pteg finds. That’s because they tend to share common characteristics.

Small schemes make the best use of local knowledge. A great example of this is Traffic Light Priority Scheme in West Yorkshire. This nifty project identified junction signals that could be re-timed in order to speed-up busses, leading to journey time savings of 15%.

Small schemes are responsive – easy to implement and can tackle swiftly changing situations. In South Yorkshire the JobConnectors programme created enhanced bus links to new employment sites. In an area of low car ownership this not only reduced staff turnover and improved recruitment but also lead to jump in bus patronage of 62%.

Small schemes are also easily targeted. This means they can grab quick wins and fix the most bothersome bottlenecks. In Greater Manchester the ‘Local Link’ initiatives allow you to book a ‘go anywhere’ bus service, which fills the gaps in local transport provision. This means people can reach work more easily, and in one area commuting by bus almost doubled.

With so many big projects in the pipeline let’s not forget about the value of small schemes – those almost imperceptible changes that make our cities tick and allow us to go about our daily lives.

Thomas Haines-Doran

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

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