« tweet-analysis for transit agencies, and more on positive feedback | Main | ever wanted to be that sexy voice on the train? »

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83454714d69e20168eb798085970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference dissent of the week: uk bus policy and "profitability":

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

David M

Jarrett - I'm with you on this one. I lived in England before Privatisation and I've visited since. Before privitisaiton the bus network was logical, with routes feeding into stations and major lines. Now, it's a mess. Even worse is that there is very little regulation. Bus operators only need to give a couple weeks notice of a service change. If the trip is not profitable, it's dropped, leaving the local authority to then let a contract to run the service subsidised. And the fare structure - seriously, I don't think anybody knows how that works. Fare are different on different operators, different if subsidised or not. It has to be the worst way to provide a public transportation system. There is a reason why London was never deregulated (there are over 8,000 buses carrying over around 6 million people a day in London).

I agree the North American model works well. BC Transit, where I live, works on this model. The local authority controls the bus schedules and service levels, routings and bus stops. BC Transit provides planning support, the buses and manages contracts. An operator provides the drivers and bus servicing under contract. This model provides coordinated transit service to well over 70 municipalities in British Columbia (many that could not do so without this model). Funding is also shared.

Jonathan

Hey Jared,

'a private operator tends to be happy with a much lower level of service than a public transport authority or local government or local population want, and would pay for.'

This can't be right. Private operators aren't charities - unless they've made a stupid mistake (which shouldn't be discounted) if people were willing to pay more for more service, then there would be more service.

You might argue that, if 100 people are willing to pay Y to take a bus trip in 1 hour, it can be served by 1-100 seater bus or 2-50 seater buses. The company will get Yx100 either way, and 1-100 seater is cheaper, so they will do that - even though Yx100 is enough to afford the 2-50 seater buses.

It is important to understand that if this happens it is a feature of lack of competition. If the situation were competitive, a different company could come in with the 2-50 seater option and still make money.

This is exactly the kind of situation the UK privatisation was designed to address. It didn't fully work because of various 'barriers to entry' - basically, it's very expensive to start a bus company, and the existing companies were so rich they could operate at a loss for months until they shut your new company down. So knowing that, you couldn't get backing to even start.

Uh, except in Oxford. It worked in Oxford.

JMH

JMH

John Smith

I’m afraid that you’re all missing the point entirely – I shall put this down to your being thousands of miles away from the ‘action’!

I live here in North East England.

Your points about ‘local democracy’ are interesting but flawed. Here’s an example. Near me, there’s a tiny hamlet, consisting of two rows of traditional ‘English’ Victorian terraced houses, with a population of less than 100 people, surrounded by green fields. It was served by a bus passing through once every two hours to and from the city and about six people a day travelled to/from the hamlet. But then the local politicians got involved; the bus was diverted away from the hamlet to provide a two-hourly link to an airport, and the hamlet got a bus an hour that didn’t go into the city, but meandered round other housing areas before finally ending up at an out-of-town shopping centre. Eventually, the transport planners realised the error of their ways – the two-hourly bus was diverted back to the hamlet (nobody had used it to go to the airport). But the local politicians wouldn’t allow the hourly bus to the out-of-town shopping centre to be taken off, as it was two months ahead of local elections! And so we have the ridiculous situation that the hamlet now has an hourly bus and a two-hourly bus, for no more than six people a day! And this is being provided at local tax payers’ expense!

In UK experience, once local politicians get involved in transport decisions, public money gets wasted. (Just look at the ‘New Bus For London’ project!). The North East Bus Operators’ Association document I referred to in my earlier post spelled this out quite clearly. Since ‘deregulation’ in 1986, the amount of tax payers’ money needed to support bus services in Tyne and Wear has fallen dramatically, yet the level of service provision has stayed relatively constant and bus fares remain amongst the cheapest in the UK. In the town where I live (just outside Tyne and Wear), we have more buses than ever before, at higher frequencies (five buses an hour to the city from 0600 to 2300). And my town is relatively ‘rural’ – it’s half way between the city and another rural town – with acres of green fields in between. And these bus services are provided at no cost to local tax payers. The quality of the buses has also improved – they are modern, air-conditioned (unusual for the UK!), comfortable, environmentally friendly vehicles, all bought and paid for by the reasonable fares the operators charge.

I’m afraid that you’ve misinterpreted the ‘Oxford’ example that you quoted. The situation there is that the bus operators and the local authority have used the more relaxed rules in the Transport Act 2000 and 2008 to introduce what’s known as a ‘Quality Bus Partnership’ or ‘Voluntary Partnership Agreement.’ This is precisely what NEBOA is proposing for Tyne and Wear, and it’s being actively considered by Nexus and the ITA. There is no example anywhere in the UK of a ‘Quality Contract Scheme’ – all the schemes that have been introduced to date are either VPAs or a ‘Quality Bus Scheme’ or a ‘Qualifying Agreement’ under the Local Transport Act 2008 – all of which fall far short of a Quality Contract.

It is a common myth that bus operators in the UK are driven merely by their financial interests. All businesses need to make ‘normal profits’ to remain in business; but all modern companies are driven by the need to achieve growth. It is almost impossible to achieve growth in the bus industry and to reduce services – bus operators working towards ‘a much lower level of service’, as you put it, would eventually go out of business. The truth is, bus companies are driven by the needs of their customers – to travel from A to B as efficiently as possible at the best possible price. Bus operators have the ultimate accountability – to their fare paying passengers – who can in many cases choose the alternatives of walking, cycling or buying a car. This is the reality. Privatisation of the bus industry has served the country well, and continues to do so.

The ‘frequent network’ in Tyne and Wear (and, as I’ve demonstrated above, well beyond), is not ‘at stake,’ as you put it. Anyone looking at the level of services provided today and the level of service provided thirty years ago would be pleasantly surprised at how it’s developed positively, largely in response to new travel needs and changing travel patterns.

The desire to achieve ‘zero-subsidy’ bus operation in the UK is actually being driven by local government directly, and national government indirectly. Local authorities have had their budgets squeezed by national government as the country comes to terms with its debt situation (which the present Coalition government largely inherited from its predecessor). At the same time, local authorities want to achieve control (through VPAs or Quality Contracts) without putting any public money into the operation!

I agree that local public transport has an important role to play in local planning and land use strategies, but I’m afraid that it’s decades of failure to plan properly for public transport in the UK that has contributed to a gentle decline in bus ridership and a gentle rise in car ownership. Most UK cities suffer from a lack of bus priority schemes and a preponderance of ‘urban sprawl’ rather than city redevelopment.

Should you ever visit the UK, be sure to drop by the North East – you’ll be amazed at what the UK Privatisation Model is able to offer!

Jay Hoekstra

Looks like the explanation of customers in first paragraph is somehow backwards.

Zoltán

John Smith:

"bus companies are driven by the needs of their customers – to travel from A to B as efficiently as possible at the best possible price. Bus operators have the ultimate accountability – to their fare paying passengers – who can in many cases choose the alternatives of walking, cycling or buying a car."

The problem with this is the needs of "their customers" - rather than the mobility needs of the public at large. The responsibility felt by a private operator begins and ends with those minded to take their particular bus, and able to pay whatever fare they determine maximises profit.

Anyone making a trip involving multiple modes or multiple bus operators has no operator that cares about making the trip easy, direct or cheap, or making the network easy to understand or well publicised. In fact, in some cases it's in an operator's interests to keep customers on their buses all the way, yielding 100% of the fare paid, even when they might, for example, do better by changing onto the metro - which an operator can prevent by penalising that interchange with a higher or separate fare.

All the duties of publicising the network as a whole fall upon the PTE, who can't present a coherent network and fares structure, because such a thing doesn't exist. If the PTE had control of the network, a simple network that could be presented on one simple map that displayed the layout of a few simple fare zones. But instead getting information is woefully difficult.

This has caused me to give up on trying to get places in Tyne and Wear, and in this way the travel horizons of individuals (the number of places they feel they can travel to, seek work in, etc.) is severely restricted by the difficulty in providing information on routes and fares.

Indeed, the Newcastle-based transport sociologist Lynn Dobbs, writing in a 2004 paper on "the importance of private transport in allowing women to access employment" in the North East noted that of the participants in her study "only 35.2% feel that the links between different transport providers make it easy to travel", and cites a number of instances where a lack of timetable integration makes journeys essentially impractical, with the result that under 15% of participants felt they could travel as much or as far as they would like using PT.

Not only does such lack of integration potentially reduce ridership, but it causes serious and completely unnecessary social exclusion of those without cars. I'm not certain this is worth the somewhat better allocative efficiency that deregulation can sometimes result in.

Zoltán

"In UK experience, once local politicians get involved in transport decisions, public money gets wasted"

Fortunately, this isn't too much of an issue for T&W. The people that work in Nexus aren't politicians, and if you find yourself working in their office, you find that they constantly talk about ridership; of the network as a whole, and particularly the Metro, since they have control over it. Good ridership and mode share is what Nexus is obsessed with, and that's for the whole network, not just a single operator's buses.

In terms of political involvement in PT at large, it's true that this can reduce the allocative efficiency that's generally found in deregulated networks (that is, vehicles being allocated to routes where ridership merits). However, good PT is a public good, achieving both social and economic goals. If one accepts that, the involvement of the public rather than just businesses in how PT works can be seen as desirable.

Zoltán

"it’s decades of failure to plan properly for public transport in the UK that has contributed to a gentle decline in bus ridership and a gentle rise in car ownership"

This has certainly been a problem for longer than deregulation has been in place, but how the hell you deal with that decline when you can't so much as decide one fare is good for both the bus and the metro, or make a bus map or timetable without the service suddenly changing as little as two weeks later, is a difficult question.

Pete Brown

It looks like my guest post has stimulated some debate. When one talks about the successes of UK bus deregulation, Tyne & Wear is not an area that springs to my mind, although Go North East has seen some impressive growth over the last few years, but that is only one bus network (of three serving the area), and not the principle urban network operator.

The places where bus services have improved the most since deregulation are in the main in the Midlands and the south. Examples include arms length municipals (Nottingham, Reading), and private sector (Brighton, Oxford).

None of these areas have PTEs, and they tend to have single dominant operators (only Oxford had continual competition throughout the deregulated period). I think the key to these areas’ success is the good relationship between the Local Transport Authorities (LTAs) and the operators, and the way the operators identify with their communities.

If you arrive at Nottingham railway station and walk outside you will see Nottingham City Transport buses predominate, in Reading, Reading Transport buses dominate, in Brighton its Brighton & Hove Buses, and Oxford has the Oxford Bus Company. These operators all proudly proclaim their place in their community. This helps foster positive relations with the LTAs (and voters) who are more inclined to provide bus priorities and Park & Ride facilities etc.

Nottingham:
http://www.optare.com/images/hi_res/nottsomnidekka.jpg

Reading:
http://www.buszone.co.uk/227-219_190911.jpg

Brighton & Hove:
http://history.buses.co.uk/history/fleethist/iotbus.htm

Oxford Bus Company:
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f7/Oxford_Bus_Company_845.JPG

You will not find calls for greater regulation in these areas as there’s no need.
Only Oxford established a statutory Quality Partnership in order to reduce bus movements in the city centre due to a reduction in space available to them - it was a special case.

I predict that Nexus and the bus operators of Tyne & Wear will eventually agree some sort of Quality Partnership to secure a single co-ordinated network on the Oxford model. Considering that Go North East is in the same ownership as the Brighton and Oxford companies it should be well placed to adopt a partnership approach.

John Smith

Pete said:

'Only Oxford established a statutory Quality Partnership...'

Are you absolutely sure it's an SQP? From what I've seen, it's a VPA or QBP, not an SQP - there is a difference!

The proposed QCS for Tyne and Wear is probably the most ambitious so far - much more so than the much-quoted Oxford example. So should the VPA route be favoured for Tyne and Wear, I would expect it to be unique to the area, rather than based on Oxford's, whilst attempting to draw upon UK industry best practice...

Can I try to put to bed a few myths?, Firstly, that there's a 'lack of integration' in Tyne and Wear. We already have a multimodal, multi-operator ticketing scheme. It's called Network One. We even have bus-to-Metro single tickets called Transfares - both of these have been around for more than thirty years. In Zoltan's words - 'these are one fare that's good for both bus and Metro.' More buses serve more Metro stations today than was ever achieved during the 1980s integrated scheme before deregulation. Oh, and if you're really keen on bus travel, you can travel all day on buses between the Scottish border, the seaside resort of Scarborough in North Yorkshire and Carlisle on the Cumbrian west coast on a single ticket called the North East Explorer.

Another myth: Zoltan said: "... or make a bus map or timetable without the service suddenly changing as little as two weeks later..." In Tyne and Wear, all the bus operators have fixed service change dates agreed with Nexus. Service changes happen no more than twice a year in each District - a 'major' change once a year and 'minor' changes six months later. The next change date for most areas is 27 May and these are largely 'minor' changes. These areas won't see another change for six months. This is what's called 'network stability' - it already exists!

The truth is, Nexus already has a statutory obligation to provide transport information and it is Nexus that fails miserably at it. Route Maps are a case in point - they haven't produced some area maps for nearly two years! On the other hand, the much-maligned bus operators have been pioneers in the use of modern technology such as Facebook, Twitter and email to provide fast, accurate passenger information.

Zoltan said:

"The people that work in Nexus aren't politicians, and if you find yourself working in their office, you find that they constantly talk about ridership; of the network as a whole, and particularly the Metro, since they have control over it."

Of course they are concerned about Metro ridership - it costs £60 million a year to run and only collects £40 million in fares. Some cynics have suggested that their recent interest in bus operations is that they mistakenly see them as a 'cash cow' that will produce huge profits that will enable them to plug Metro's financial 'black hole.'

Please don't let's pretend that everything would simply be fine and dandy if Nexus ran everything and we turned the clock back to 1979 - it won't!

What we need is a group of professionals willing to look at innovative, radical schemes that solve real transport problems - such as traffic congestion. Tonight, a large part of west Newcastle was brought to a complete standstill by the singling of a busy junction with traffic cones - and no sign of any work being done! My bus home took 90 minutes to do what should have taken just ten. The delays incurred must have run into hundreds of thousands of passenger minutes - and all because the local authority can't plan roadworks to miss the evening peak.

Until we sort out highways responsibility in the UK, we'll never sort out public transport!

Christopher Parker

Did privatization result in less service and lower ridership? Or the opposite?

This is the bottom line. Jarratt, you imply less service because of privatization. John Smith asserts the opposite. Some numbers would be nice.

And then it's worth asking, is it the *right* service. If it is, ridership should have risen. Has it?

My gut impression is that British privatization has accomplished more service and higher ridership -- but let's have real data. There's too much mushy bias otherwise.

David M

Christopher, I have to diasgree. The examples being given above are not the norm in the UK. You have to look at Manchester as an example. Since privatisation, ridership has dropped and car use has increased significantly. While there is a PTE, there are still 50 bus operators, each with their own fare structure and they can change schedules with just two weeks notice. I've had bad experiences in Manchester.

A full bus signed to the destination, just stopped, dumped everybody off and went out of service, with no information provided. Apparently, this kind of thing happens a lot and there is no accountability.

If public transport is a social service, which I beleive it is, and a means of shaping a city, you can never convince me full privatisation is the right thing to do. By doing this, the City loses any control it has over how to shape the city using its transport network. The private companies keep all of the profits from the profitable routes, leaving the taxpayer to subsidise the non-profitable but socially necessary routes, without being able to cross-subsidise using revenue from the profitable routes.

David M

And here is a study of deregulation with numbers and nice graphs. Generally, bus ridership was declining anyway in the UK. It has continued to decline outside London, while London had increased.

[url]http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CFsQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.alanhowesworld.com%2FFiles%2FOverview%2520of%2520Bus%2520Industry%2520Performance.pdf&ei=192xT_KhKaKZiQLj69mnBA&usg=AFQjCNFS4e9ka3b1oVdUc84QQNNOeD0-9g[/url]

Nathanael

In transportation, total privatization (UK bus style) is consistently a disaster; transportation networks, for better or worse, benefit from centralized planning.

The US model works OK.

But it's obvious that the private companies in the UK don't want a model which works for people; they want a model which gives them the best chance of becoming a private monopoly, because every businessman wants monopoly profits. Yuck. Just say no to them.

John Smith

So, you've asked for real data...

Go North East has published some figures here:

http://www.sayyesnow.co.uk/campaign-notes/did-you-know/

The article also quotes some Department for Transport figures.

But I quote from Go North East:
Ridership on Go North East buses is increasing! As things stand right now, over the last three years we’ve seen the number of journeys taken on our buses increase from 70 million to almost 73 million. That’s about a million a year on average!

Now I suspect Go North East is using figures from its last three full years, because anecdotally I've heard that the recession has finally caught up with UK bus operators in the last nine months or so.

'Total privatisation' isn't always a 'consistently a disaster', Nathanael. The UK's railways might be in a mess, but they're carrying more people than at any time since the Second World War!

David M, public transport isn't a 'social service.' It's a result of a derived demand. In 'olden days', people were born, lived and died within walking distance of their village. The need for public transportation would never have arisen in the first place if people could live right next door to where they work, grow their own food or walk to a local store. It only needs to be considered a 'public service' when these conditions aren't met - in other words, it arises purely as a result of a failure of the planning system. It is completely illogical for people to add two hours or more to their working day simply commuting. Travel is a privilege of 21st century living, not a right.

Julian

As for John Smith's points, he's cited that Tyne & Wear have achieved a bunch of good outcomes including multimodal ticketing, decent feeder services and stable services. My question for him is this easier or harder as a result of deregulation.

I would argue these sorts of measures are far harder under deregulation. Which is precisely why it hasn't happened much across most of the UK. I also don't see why the question should be "what was being done before" or "full deregulation". There are many options in between, but having a coordinating central body to try to sync timetables, and cross subsidise routes to create a full network are necessary conditions for truly successful public transport networks.

John Smith

'Integration' has been one of the 'holy grails' of UK transport since the railways were nationalised in 1948, along with about half the UK bus industry. the closest we came to it was notices in bus timetables listing 'Interavailability of bus and train return tickets.' Even after the creation of the National Bus Company in 1968 we didn't achieve true bus/rail interavailability. The fact that it was achieved in Tyne and Wear in the late seventies, and largely continues today, is a credit to everyone involved. It had about six or seven years under 'regulation', and more than 25 years since privatisation - in other words, it can be achieved under both regimes, but has survived longer under deregulation than it existed under regulation.

Having a 'coordinating central body to try to sync timetables', Julian, would have been illegal under UK Competition Act rules until fairly recently. And surely the fact that we've had multimodal ticketing and more buses serving Metro stations than ever before under the nasty, capitalist privatised system, and growing bus ridership, speaks for itself!

EN57

Alarm bells ringing on John Smith's (overly) enthusiastic endorsement of the status quo at Tyne and Wear. Also I’m not sure about John Smith’s assertions that most people have alternative transport options available, implying that nearly all passengers are choice riders – and hence happy with the transit product offerings. There may be other factors driving patronage growth. Being a long way from the 'action' it is hard to tell…

On the basis of the bus company websites alone, choosing the right ticket appears to be quite a demanding and bewildering task. You can never be sure that you've got the best deal. There's a risk that not using Go North East's Key Card can cost you an additional 43 to 117 pounds per month - but this card is not valid on the Metro or other buses. Would a Network One student season ticket be better? There are different types of child fares on the Nexus website. I’ve got no idea how the locals work all this out and make sure they’re not being caught out paying too much for fares. Maybe everyone paying a little bit of extra tax would be better all round. Have the locals been given the opportunity to properly consider the trade-offs between regulated and deregulated systems?

John Smith

EN57: Don't underestimate the ability of Joe Public to sniff out a bargain!

This lunchtime I went to my local corner shop for a packet of crisps (I think our colonial cousins call them chips?). I was confronted with an amazing choice - plain, ready salted, salt and vinegar, cheese and onion; potato-based or corn-based; straight-cut or crinkle-cut; individual packs or multipacks. And do you know what? Competition drives the price of the crisps down - there's only a few pence between them; competition drives the choice up - I've only listed a few of the available flavours. Yet I managed to buy exactly the crisps I wanted, at a price I was prepared to pay.

Is anyone suggesting for one minute that our local ASDA/Walmart should only sell one brand of cornflakes? I think not. But lots of people seem to advocate reducing customer choice when it comes to bus fares.

Removing competetion would remove customer choice. We could only have one ticket or range of tickets, and someone else would tell us that it's the best one for us. We wouldn't know, because it would be the only one on offer.

Oh, and by the way, EN57, I'm not advocating the 'status quo', as you put it. I want my local bus services to be better, and I'm happy to pay reasonable fares for them. Alarm bells ring for me when I remember that in every other case of local political interference in bus services, fares went up, provision went down and local taxes went up - the worst of all worlds!

Re your last point: to date, Nexus have not carried out any truly 'public' consultation. They've 'briefed' local councillors, but haven't asked the passengers. I fear that we're going to be presented with a fait accompli...

Now, if someone can show me a clear, concise example of an area-wide scheme as large as the one proposed for us, in a free economy anywhere in the world, that manages to maximise service provision and at the same time minimise the call on public finances, I'd love to hear about it.

Pete Brown

I described the Oxford Quality Partnership as ‘Statutory’ after referring to the guidance to Local Transport Authorities (LTAs) issued by the UK Department for Transport covering Quality Partnership provision in the 2000 and 2008 Transport Act.

“Quality partnership schemes: statutory guidance to English local authorities and metropolitan district councils”

Paragraph 6 states “The 2008 Act expands the terms of the QPS model to allow a LTA to specify requirements as to frequencies, timings or maximum fares as part of the standard of service to be provided under a scheme, in addition to quality standards.”

The Oxford scheme specifies joint working of the routes covered by the Quality Partnership. The passenger waiting at a bus stop will see Oxford Bus and Stagecoach vehicles providing alternate workings on a shared route. It also specifies a common fare system which is marketed as ‘Smartzone’

Paragraph 9 states “A QPS is a statutory scheme with its process, form and content prescribed by the 2000 Act and associated regulations2. Unlike a voluntary partnership agreement, which is entered into jointly by local authorities and bus operators, it is a “scheme” which is "made" by a LTA. It should not be described as an agreement.”

http://www.dft.gov.uk/publications/quality-contracts-schemes-statutory-guidance/

North American readers may be interested in the following written statement to Parliament by the Department for Transport on the UK Competition Commission’s most recent review of the UK local bus market.

In particular paragraph 3.1 “The Competition Commission has made clear in its report that it sees ongoing, sustained head-to-head competition as delivering significant benefits for passengers”. Given this position I believe it is extremely unlikely that deregulated bus operation in Tyne & Wear will be replaced with a fully tendered network managed by Nexus. However if relations between Nexus and the bus operators are ever going to improve then some form of partnership will have to happen. My previous comment quoted examples of deregulation successes and these all happened in areas with amicable relations between operators and LTAs.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmtran/writev/lbs/lbs38.htm

The Competition Commissions case studies make for interesting reading, in particular the one covering Oxford and the background to the current Quality Partnership Scheme there. Plus the study covering Tyneside gives background to the current conflict between Nexus (the PTE) and the bus operators.

http://www.competition-commission.org.uk/our-work/local-bus-services/final-report-and-appendices-glossary

I have also found another interesting article on the pros and cons of Quality Contracts on Bus and Coach.com. As well as covering Tyne and Wear, the recent falling out between Bristol City Council and (virtually) local monopoly bus operator First. Here the Council is angry because First did not operate some services on a recent public holiday. It seems to have forgotten that these were already tendered services under contract to the council which didn’t actually specify public holiday working.

Bristol is angry because it has spent millions of £s of government and local money on upgrading all the main bus corridors as part of the ‘Greater Bristol Bus Network’. It therefore feels First has a moral obligation to cross subsidise these loss making public holiday routes from the profits it makes on the back of public investment in infrastructure.

http://www.busandcoach.com/featurepage.aspx?id=6757&categoryid=2

http://www.bristol.gov.uk/page/greater-bristol-bus-network-gbbn

John Smith

Thanks for the background re the various DfT guidance publications, Pete, with which I am quite familiar. Unless you've read anything anywhere else, I still have seen nothing to confirm that the Oxford scheme is indeed a 'statutory' scheme 'made' by the local authority. It does, however, exhibit all the hallmarks of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement to create a Quality Bus Partnership, which, in the eyes of the DfT, has a much reduced status from a 'scheme' that has been 'made.' Even Oxfordshire County Council describes it as a 'quality bus partnership' on this web page:

http://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/content/quality-bus-partnerships

But I'm willing to be proved wrong.

I agree with you, Pete, that all the evidence suggests that Nexus faces an uphill task in justifying a full-blown QCS, not just because of the Competition Commission's view, but also in the face of the five 'public interest tests' that a QCS has to pass, namely that:

- the proposed scheme will result in an increase in the use of bus services in the area to which the proposed scheme relates;

- the proposed scheme will bring benefits to persons using local services in the area to which the proposed scheme relates, by improving the quality of those services;

- the proposed scheme will contribute to the implementation of the local transport policies of the LTA;

- the proposed scheme will contribute to the implementation of those policies in a way which is economic, efficient and effective; and

- any adverse effects of the proposed scheme on operators will be proportionate to the improvement in the well-being of persons living or working in the area to which the proposed scheme relates.

I bet the local bus operators think they can drive a coach and horses through that!

Still, all credit to Nexus for having the guts to try to make a QCS in the first place!

You've got to admit, though, that for public transport-watchers like us, North East England couldn't be more entertaining!

In Brisbane
In Brisbane

"Eventually, the transport planners realised the error of their ways – the two-hourly bus was diverted back to the hamlet (nobody had used it to go to the airport). But the local politicians wouldn’t allow the hourly bus to the out-of-town shopping centre to be taken off"

Unfortunately a similar situation is being experienced in Brisbane Australia, where Brisbane City Council operates the main bus network. They're inventing their own new services independantly of the main planning Authority, TransLink. The latest one of these is the proposed Maroon CityGlider which adds no new areas of high frequency to the bus network and duplicates high frequency services.

There is a huge reluctance to move away from the direct trip to the CBD model and make use of the shopping centre interchanges further out for a feeder-and-transfer model. This has led to new routes being invented and old ones being left behind, contributing to Brisbane having some of the highest fares in the world and also some of the highest government subsidies in the world. Recently fares had been increasing at 15% per year...

Dave

@John Smith - Comparing a transport ticket with crisps/chips is disingenuous. A more accurate analogy would be a crisp-eating scheme by which crisps cost GBP 2.50 each, but you could buy 30 days worth of "unlimited crisp eating" for GBP 30. As a regular crisp eater, you are obviously better off buying the multi-day pass for crisps... but not if the seller restricts you to your original choice of cheese and onion for the full term of the pass.

Do you see my point? Buying something that requires commitment from the buyer is different from buying something that, if you don't like it, you can afford to throw it away and buy again.

I'm not even going to get into the difference that one can live much more easily by foregoing crisps than one can by foregoing public transport... the alternatives to crisps are much cheaper than the alternatives to public transport. I'm just going to say that I hate riding the bus in any UK city outside of London... and I'm an avid bus rider here in Chicago (where two operators charge one unified fare for all journeys across the metro area).

John Smith

I think, Dave, you've taken my analogy off at a tangent. To go back to food: one of our family's largest financial spends is our weekly food shop. We can't avoid buying food - it's definitely a regular commitment! But no-one is suggesting that we should have just one tightly regulated supermarket, providing only approved healthy foodstuffs, are they? And would anyone vote in a government that did?

So why should a Nanny State want to interfere with my travel arrangements?

Again, I extend my invitation - if you're ever in my neighbourhood, I'll gladly demonstrate how good our current services are (and also point out their weaknesses!).

Kind regards,

JS

Zoltán

John Smith,

Seriously, though, I think Dave's criticism is right, but for different reasons than he gives. Goods at a supermarket are a bad analogy, because one's PT needs are fixed in space (origin, destination) and time (the time now, the hours of work, the time of an appointment, etc.). The apparent choice set given by many different modes and/or operators is hugely limited by the choices having to exist in the space and time that one needs them to exist in.

Consider my arriving in Manchester Victoria, and needing to get to my friend's house in Trafford bar.
I have four choices:
- A tram to Trafford Bar station, A 0.75 mile walk. (£2.00)
- A 0.75 mile walk, A bus from Piccadilly Gardens. (£1.80)
- A tram to Piccadilly Gardens, a bus. (Two fares, together £3.10)
- Competing operators' buses with lover fares, that go nowhere near either Victoria or Trafford Bar.

The tram, Fred's blue bus, Jim's red bus. All lovely choices in theory, but because none of them properly match my origin and destination, they all make shitty choices.

There's the multimodal trip, which is heavily penalised by a lack of free transfers. This is despite the fact that while both trams and buses are running, I'm not really costing anyone any more money by making that trip.

What's more, it involves most of the trip being spent on a slow local stop bus, despite the fact a logical north-south bus route could operate usefully from the tram at Trafford Bar if it wanted to; a trip of a few minutes for me. In this scenario, it would cost the PT system less, because that slow buses require a lot of labour time, the principal operating cost of PT, per mile travelled.

The problem is, Brian (Souter) and his blue, red and orange bus would rather have £1.80 for taking me all the way from central Manchester than have, say (pure conjecture on the figures here), a 50p share of an integrated £2 fare. So Brian won't feed the tram, and I am faced with these shitty choices.

Zoltán

Oops, the "seriously, though", was to follow a flippant comment I decided against.

Anyway, a very telling point from EN57:

"On the basis of the bus company websites alone, choosing the right ticket appears to be quite a demanding and bewildering task"

And it really is. In the cities of Britain, you have to spend a long time working out what combination of tickets work best if you're doing more than taking a one-seat ride on a single operator's bus. Integrated ticketing, where it exists at all, is always at a higher fare than that for taking a single mode and operator.

So, again I come to not really wanting a damn choice. I want someone that knows about PT do work out how much it costs to operate an integrated system, one that lacks the inefficiencies of multiple buses or buses and trains competing, and pay a share of it.

John Smith

Zoltan said: you have to spend a long time working out what combination of tickets work best if you're doing more than taking a one-seat ride on a single operator's bus.. Not up here in Tyne and Wear. If you're making a single trip involving both a bus and Metro, just ask the bus driver for a Transfare or buy one from a Metro ticket machine.

Zoltan said: Integrated ticketing, where it exists at all, is always at a higher fare than that for taking a single mode and operator. Not true up here. An all day, all operators, all modes Tyne and Wear Day Rover costs £6.80. An equivalent Go North East bus-only day ticket is £7.30.

Zoltan, just because you don't appreciate choice, why should everyone else be deprived of it?

My own choice would be to pay fares for the full cost of my travel, rather than slightly less in fares and considerably more in local taxes, which is how it used to be in Tyne and Wear. remember, Zoltan, someone that knows about PT do work out how much it costs to operate an integrated system, as you put it, always comes with an overhead cost!

Quickly reviewing this discussion, and noting correspondents' experiences elsewhere in the world, I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that, despite its inedequacies, we've actually got quite a good system here in the North East. I have difficulty in understanding how a Quality Contract Scheme might deliver even more benefits (without adding to the burden on public finances), whereas a partnership approach (as in parts of Oxford, Sheffield, Manchester, and St Albans) seems to enable 'heads to be banged together' until truly innovative solutions emerge!

Zoltán

John Smith:

Transfares are better than the lack of provision elsewhere, but still are at a fare penalty compared to riding a bus all the way if that's available, which I would strongly argue it shouldn't be.

"An all day, all operators, all modes Tyne and Wear Day Rover costs £6.80. An equivalent Go North East bus-only day ticket is £7.30"

Firstly, you're not comparing like with like - The GNE ticket takes you beyond T&W. Secondly, no urban area of T&W's size should be charging anything like £6.80 for a day's travel on the whole network! In fact, both tickets you point to are too expensive to be useful for most day-to-day round trips within the area, which are still penalised based upon single fares.

"Zoltan, just because you don't appreciate choice, why should everyone else be deprived of it?"

Er... You're not really getting the point here, are you? My point is, choice is constrained by the space and time specificity of transport choices, and can often leave you with a crappy set of choices, rather than one choice on a single integrated network that works well.

I'm yet to meet anyone that's listed "choice" as something they want - they want frequent, reliable service on whatever mode works best, at a reasonable fare. In Leeds, I know the only people who appreciate choice are the 30 riders or so per hour that take the occasional bus service that competes with first buses on one corridor.

"My own choice would be to pay fares for the full cost of my travel, rather than slightly less in fares and considerably more in local taxes"

I would be very happy with part of the cost of PT, which benefits society as a whole by its existence, be partly placed upon those that have enough money to be paying taxes in the first place. Certainly, I'd rather that those of modest means in the parts of inner Leeds I've lived over the past few years didn't have to make long walk trips of 2-3 miles into the centre of Leeds because they can't afford the PT fares.

John Smith

Transfares are better than the lack of provision elsewhere, but still are at a fare penalty compared to riding a bus all the way if that's available, which I would strongly argue it shouldn't be.
Strange as it may seem, Zoltan, I know a few people who have a phobia of using trains. In your scenario, removing so-called 'wasteful' duplication of buses and Metro (of which little exists!) would condemn such people to being deprived of public transport.

you're not comparing like with like - The GNE ticket takes you beyond T&W.
Agreed on both counts - but a GNE two-zone ticket provides far less geographical coverage than a Day Rover. It was the nearest possible equivalent that a reasonable person might choose.

no urban area of T&W's size should be charging anything like £6.80 for a day's travel on the whole network! In fact, both tickets you point to are too expensive to be useful for most day-to-day round trips within the area, which are still penalised based upon single fares.
That's a whole different question about fares, I'm afraid, and not one that seems to being addressed by Nexus' QCS proposal.

I would be very happy with part of the cost of PT, which benefits society as a whole by its existence, be partly placed upon those that have enough money to be paying taxes in the first place.
If I may refer you to my earlier postings, Zoltan, and the evidence quoted therein, that in every other known case of tax payers' part-funding of transport, the burden on tax payers quickly escalates out of all proportion to the level of service being provided. Unless, of course, you or anyone else knows otherwise...

EN57

John Smith - if the onus is on the customer to always be actively searching for the best fares, then there's a good chance that many Tyne and Wear residents will inevitably be paying too much for public transport tickets. As a local user, you probably face this issue yourself.

John, you’ve enthusiastically outlined the benefits of the current system from your own point of view; what’s your understanding of the concerns that are driving the authorities towards a contract scheme?

LX...

Statements like like "90% of bus miles outside of London run without subsidy" are so clearly a fiction that I am constantly surprised how often they slide by without challenge.

Most of the so called commercial services in the UK do in fact receive significant public money both in the form of fuel tax rebates and concessionary fare reimbursements.

Every child, every senior and any other subsidized passenger type boarding a "commercial" bus in the UK is being subsidized from the public purse.

Bus companies receive this public money for services regardless of whether they need it to operate commercially or not. This can result in an over-subsidization of a service.

At least in a competitively tendered model services only receive as much public money as is required to run the the service and no more (provided there is market competition).

John Smith

EN57 said: if the onus is on the customer to always be actively searching for the best fares, then there's a good chance that many Tyne and Wear residents will inevitably be paying too much for public transport tickets. As a local user, you probably face this issue yourself.

You over exaggerate the problem, EN57. 'Searching for the best fares' is simply a case of asking my friendly local bus driver to sell me the best possible ticket for the journey(s) I intend to make. It really couldn't be simpler.

EN57 said: John, you’ve enthusiastically outlined the benefits of the current system from your own point of view; what’s your understanding of the concerns that are driving the authorities towards a contract scheme?

I'm sorry if I've given the impression that I've 'enthusiastically outlined the benefits of the current system'. I've not intended to argue in favour of the 'status quo.' Every business, every system is capable of improvement, however one decides to measure it, and none more so than public transport.

With regard to 'what's driving the authorities towards a contracts system,' well, frankly, I don't know for certain. As Pete Brown pointed out above, the Competition Commission still seems to favour 'head to competition,' even though we know that the way markets in bus operation work means this tends to diminish over time. And the government's recent paper 'Green Light For Buses,' while loudly singing the praises of the 'partnership' approach, dismissed Quality Contracts in a single paragraph.

As I said earlier, Nexus has not carried out any truly 'public' consultation so far. Their own 'News' section of their website has recently swung dramatically from heralding growing patronage two years ago, to warning of gradual decline today.

Passenger Focus, an independent watchdog, gave Tyne and Wear's bus operators a 92% Passenger Satisfaction rating in a recent survey, and an analysis of the level of bus services we have today compared with what we had 30 years ago would appear to the casual observer to indicate network stability (and in some areas, growth). Go North East claimed three consecutive years of ridership growth.

So the evidence suggests that there’s little wrong with the system.

The suspicion has to be, therefore, that it’s all being driven by money.

An examination of the accounts reveals that Metro costs £60 million a year to run yet generates only £40 million in fares. All levels of government in the UK are under intense pressure to reduce costs. Locally, council taxes have been frozen for three years and there’s no sign of any let-up for at least another three years. The ITA has a duty to present a balanced budget – it cannot run on a deficit – so once it’s dipped into its reserves and spent them all, it faces real financial problems.

At the same time, there’s a commonly held belief that bus companies make huge profits, thanks largely to the propensity of one well-known owner and his sister for buying Scottish castles. While you have to admit that this looks pretty suspicious, there’s no denying that First Group (the UK’s largest bus operator until recently) is in financial trouble (they don’t run buses in North East England). A trade journal published figures showing that Arriva’s bus services in North East England made a loss (in the last full year for which figures are available). And Go Ahead Group makes its money from railway franchises and bus operations in the south of England.

But Nexus seems to think that there’s large excess profits being made on Tyne and Wear’s buses, which they might be able to ‘snaffle’ and use to fix their own financial woes. Personally, I think they’re misguided.

But I return to a point I’ve made a couple of times now – that I can’t find a single example of a scheme such as the one Nexus proposes, anywhere in the western world, where service levels have increased, ridership declines have been reversed and (most importantly) the cost to the tax payer has been either held or reduced.

So, what’s the likely outcome of all this?

I guess that in the coming months the politicians will begin to get cold feet. It’s a big risk they’re proposing to take. Under a QCS, they would take all the fares income from the buses, and award contracts for their operation. They need to reassure themselves that the fares income will exceed the cost of the contracts. In other words, the public sector takes on a financial risk which is presently being borne by the private sector. Then, there’s the political risk. What if it goes wrong? What if, just like the way they run Metro, fares don’t cover costs? Without extra public money, they’ll have no option but to start reducing bus services – and this time, local politicians will take the blame, not the nasty capitalist bus companies.

In my experience, a wise politician only backs sure-fire winners!

But the problem is Nexus and the ITA can’t be seen to back down. So I suspect we’re about to enter a period of negotiation. The bus companies will present a reasonable alternative to a QCS in the form of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement. There’ll be some behind-the-scenes to-ing and fro-ing. At some point, both the VPA and the QCS will be analysed; the VPA will be the accepted solution, but the politicians will crow about how they screwed down the bus companies to provide the best possible deal for Tyne and Wear. At the same time, they’ll keep the ‘threat’ of a QCS forever hanging over the bus companies, to deter them from erring in their ways.

And that, my friends, is a reflection of the state of local politics in the UK

Pete Brown

John, I couldn’t find anything more on the status of the Oxford Quality Partnership I’m afraid. Thanks for your detailed local knowledge of the situation in the North East BTW.

LX… challenges the bus industry statement that 90% of bus mileage outside London does not require subsidy. Perhaps the statement should more accurately be 90% of bus mileage outside London is operated ‘commercially‘. He goes on to say “Every child, every senior and any other subsidised passenger type boarding a ‘commercial’ bus in the UK is subsidised from the public purse’. I would challenge that senior citizen free concessionary travel is a subsidy to the bus operators, it is re-imbursement for the losses caused by government social policy. Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) is a partial fuel duty rebate and has been in existence since the 1960s due to rapidly rising fuel prices. Since April 2012 BSOG in England was reduced by 20% as part of the Coalition government’s austerity measures. Similar reductions have been enacted by the Welsh Assembly and Scottish government.

Talking of ‘subsidised passenger types’, rail, in the main used by more affluent (and articulate) users than buses attracts massive public subsidy, yet buses carry several times the number of passengers annually than rail. Diesel fuel used by train operating companies does not attract ANY fuel duty. The airline industry also does not attract fuel duty, yet we do not often hear them described as carrying ‘subsidised passenger types’.

A House of Commons report on UK bus grants and subsidies can be found at:

http://www.google.co.uk/url?q=http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN01522.pdf&sa=U&ei=zui0T9XmHYOx0QWXgd3bDw&ved=0CCAQFjAD&usg=AFQjCNERhdfmd4XSXQpEluF0V3sf0Ow1kw">http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN01522.pdf&sa=U&ei=zui0T9XmHYOx0QWXgd3bDw&ved=0CCAQFjAD&usg=AFQjCNERhdfmd4XSXQpEluF0V3sf0Ow1kw">http://www.google.co.uk/url?q=http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN01522.pdf&sa=U&ei=zui0T9XmHYOx0QWXgd3bDw&ved=0CCAQFjAD&usg=AFQjCNERhdfmd4XSXQpEluF0V3sf0Ow1kw

Pete Brown
Joel Azumah

The American model works? For whom is the question. Our model has dozens of transit agencies that cannot recover even 40% of their costs, while numerous cities make it impossible for private operators to run at all. It's one thing to have basic mobility guaranteed by the government and another thing to essentially control all transit involuntarily. The American model is bankrupting itself and this is why we are beginning to see a huge rollback in transit.

Agencies that are run in a privatized manner (New Jersey Transit) are able to use their money more efficiently by letting the private sector run and handling markets that they can't. Central planners do not do a good job of accounting for every market and an even poorer job of serving every market. The only system proven to work is a hybrid public-private system where the private sector runs unsubsidized and the public sector provides basic mobility.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

the firm

Jarrett is now in ...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...