Monday, 17 March 2014

Reregulation / Long distance diversions

A reminder in the Sunderland Echo that the argument over how bus services should be run is still raging in Tyne & Wear. Nexus, the regional transport authority wants to have the same power over bus services as Transport for London. Bus companies are campaigning against the move as they stand to lose income if they can't pick and choose when to run the buses. One wonders when they will be consistent and launch a high profile campaign for the free market to be let loose on Greater London.

Wales's long distance bus network, TrawsCymru could be wasting time by having buses divert needlessly off main roads to serve estates and villages where nobody uses the service, says a report that has been carried out for the Welsh government. Wales Online reports how the government, which subsidises the routes, is considering changing the way the services are run in order to speed up journeys. The problem is, villages that are cut out could be left stranded, but then again a long distance journey is long enough without seemingly needless diversions on the off-chance that someone wants to use the service.


  1. The report on Traws Cymru is very fair and actually makes some sensible proposals.
    Many subsidised bus routes throughout the land make such diversions off main roads to serve housing developments where very few passengers travel and a main road bus stop is within half-a-mile of the estate.
    In almost all instances this is as a result of lobbying from a local politician, who can point to "I've done something" when it comes to election time. The fact that almost no-one uses the stops is neither here or there. Yet another example of how our industry can be handicapped for years by an ill-thought out decision by local politicians.
    Speeding up inter-urban services might just encourage new passengers!

  2. The issue over re-regulation is less over the profit that may be lost - the services will still need to be to run by a private operator so the potential for making money is still there - but over 2 points of principle.

    The first is over the principle of ownership of routes, Nexus are not planning to pay compensation for the routes & goodwill attached as they don't consider that to be an asset but when bus operators are bought & sold there is a financial consideration towards this (the Finglands deal was entirely paying for the routes as no vehicles were involved & the depot is leased). There has also been no statement on what they expect to happen to the vehicles & depots - they appear to be planning on using these during the handover phase without negotiating with the operators first as their timescales simply aren't achievable without it but again no allowance for compensation has been budgeted into their plans. To the commercial operators this appears to be a plan for state sponsored theft of their assets and they will naturally be concerned about this and unwilling to roll over & just let this happen - if this were to be proposed elsewhere in the world our government would be denouncing it as a tin-pot dictatorship.

    The second principle is over who is best placed to look after the bus services in the area, the bus operators believe it is them & the local authority believe it is them. The issue is the local authorities have no examples to point to of appropriate success & efficiency whilst operators (particularly in the North East that have some of the highest passenger satisfaction scores in the country) can point to sustained investment and passenger service. The LAs point to London as their example but it is neither efficient (it spends more money on its bus services than the rest of England combined & when it try to run as cost neutral it was using cast off buses from the rest of the country and passenger numbers actually fell) or appropriate as neither Nexus or Metro are proposing to tender as London do but to franchise whole tranches of the network together as a package (London tried this early on and failed miserably to get it to work and switched back to route tendering very quickly as most of the schemes fell apart). Added to this even TfL have turned round to PTEG and told them that if you can't get the financial support that TfL receive don't bother trying regulation as it won't work. This is one argument that is unlikely to ever be agreed on but in an age of austerity with cuts going on everywhere to local government services it seems strange to be looking to write what is effectively a blank cheque for something where you can't afford to do what you are promising so you are setting yourself up for a fall that you don't need to. If Tyne & Wear can access the sort of money that London receives for its bus services the argument would change and it might be worth seeing if it could work but we now that government control of commercial bus services 'on the cheap' doesn't work as something has to pay for the extra inefficiencies that seem to come with any level of government control of the decision making process.

  3. There are the added issues of what are apparent scaremongering from Nexus in particular (threatening to withdraw concessions and unrelated services like the ferry if they do not get regulation through to give them the funds to keep them going - so bus passengers subsidise the operation of the ferry rather than getting a better service?), poorly structured plans (have you seen the Nexus bus livery, it is very dull grey) whilst the operators have suggested Nexus are misleading elected members over the choice (they don't feel their proposals & plans are being accurately passed on & Nexus plans are being given an overly positive spin and from the outside it would seem to have some water from the public pronouncements from Nexus). Interestingly GNE have a couple of Partnerships running on the ground that Nexus won't join as they expect to get control anyway so it is unclear how much support their is on the ground at the constituent authorities for a Quality Contract regime.

    Whilst commercial bus operators don't have a high profile campaign over deregulation in London (there was and it was decided by the government of the time not to do so), the market has always been structured as it has so the issues over paying for their assets & assumption of private property don't come into it, there is an ongoing comparison of the effectiveness of the money put into networks - Stagecoach in particular are very vocal in comparing the superior success they get in their commercial networks elsewhere in the country to the regulated market in London & the different levels of subsidy. Given that 3 of the big 5 UK bus groups have walked away from London at various times as they couldn't get it to work (one, National Express, did so twice) it is clear that despite what supporters of regulation say operators are fairly consistent in their position towards this type of operation. First, Stagecoach & Go-Ahead have all tried European contracted operations and have walked away unable to make them work for a UK style operator & First, Stagecoach & NatEx have left the London market as not suited to the best path of their business (Stagecoach returned but for half the money it sold the operation for and with a clear statement that this was a standalone operation not vital or integral to the rest of its UK operations). Most of the bus operators in London are in the hands of foreign companies whose models are better suited to these sort of contracted operators (French - RATP & Transdev, German - Arriva, Dutch - Abellio, Singaporean - Metroline, Australian - Tower Transit) only Go-Ahead, whose London operations are too big a part of the group to walk away from, & Stagecoach, who are decidedly non-committal to the concept, represent the UK. This would indicate that the likely result of PTEG franchising is foreign owned operations taking over which PTEG may not find an issue but will require a complete change in how UK local authorities handle their contracting as the more relaxed attitude that UK operators have around tenders & contract terms won't work with these larger & more formal European contractors.

  4. The Trawscymru report is, however, a rather simplistic document lacking in an awul lot of hard fact. No real analysis or statistics. I agree with the general thrust of it, but its basically a "this is what I think should happen" report that contains a lot of generalisations and VERY wooly statements. Contrast that with the reports that were done several years ago by TAS (the recommendations of which were largely ignored by the Welsh Government) for Trawscambria.

    As I say, I agree with much of the current report's sentiment (either invest properly in the network and ensure its quality is constantly monitored) but aren't so impressed with the background work behind it.

    As for what the Welsh Government will DO about it....anyone's guess. I know one thing. A service that operates from Cardiff to Newtown and which has (for those people wanting to travel all the way) a last departure time from the capital at 14.20 (14.20!) doesn't deserve to be called a proper service.

  5. In the late 1920's the operation of express services into London mushroomed to the extent that this was blamed for causing congestion on many of the approach roads into central London. It was stated to be one of the reasons for regulating such operations into the capital and for the Traffic Commissioners refusing many such applications. I believe that at one point it was even being suggested that consideration should be given to refusing all including the emerging Green Line network.

    How much worse would it be if these same roads were now opened up to competition on ordinary bus services?

  6. Stagecoach threaten legal challenge over 'unlawful' Wales cuts

  7. For all it's wooly statements, the TrawsCymru review is very definate on two points. First that TrawsCymru should be a network of medium to long distance services (25miles OR GREATER) between communities and second the absolute limit on journey times of 50% slower than the car.

    However, both these points are contradicted by the list of routes the report details. Firstly, the report appears to be in favor of the T9 service remaining part of TrawsCymru, despite it only being 15miles long and serving only one community (Cardiff). Secondly, the report prioritises implementation of the proposed TC5 service (Aberystwyth - Cardigan - Fishguard - Haverfordwest). We already have a Cardigan - Fishguard - Haverfordwest bus service, the 412. It takes over 90% longer than driving from Cardigan to Haverfordwest the direct route.

    Stop and think Welsh Government, the TC5 as proposed would sink TrawsCymru under a weight of indirectness.

  8. The problem is that in most of the country outside of the major urban areas most buses services are reduced to little more than a skeleton service. Councils tend to try to provide services by diverting routes all over the place to provide a service. It ends up losing them even more passengers and may not even be the most efficient way of providing a services as frequently it ends up costing more

    With out some management of a bus network you end up with this sort of mess


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