Tag Archives: Buses

Suffolk is “Connecting Communities” even less

Rural concessionary bus pass holders are losing travel entitlement due to cheeseparing decisionmaking by our penny-foolish pound-foolish county council.

Harsh words? I will tell more. In recent years, where scheduled bus transport is not supported (and SCC has made a point of not supporting rural scheduled buses over the last decade), demand responsive transport (DRT) is provided instead. Initially bus pass holders had the same rights on DRT bus transport as they would have on the scheduled service. In 2016 this changed (You can read details here): http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2016/06/16/will-your-pass-be-accepted-on-sccs-new-community-transport

I was delighted at the time to discover that Suffolk Coastal bus pass holders together with most other districts would not lose entitlement, though very concerned that Mid-Suffolk bus pass holders would. I was also concerned that this loss of entitlement might spread. I was right!

Hidden in this year’s budget  (Appendix E p5 Table 1.3: Tactical Savings – Cost Reductions) is the following: COST-GHI-4 Passenger Transport: Removal of Concessionary Fares from Connecting Communitiesto ensure consistency of pricing through Suffolk.”

These are weasel words. “Consistency of pricing” could more fairly be achieved by restoring concessionary fares to Mid Suffolk than taking them away from everywhere else. This decision is expected to save £30,000. Less than half of what our fiscally prudent administration wasted on the recent 14pp ResPublica report on Housing. Talk about inappropriate priorities.

Put this together with the budget cut advertised on p7 of the same Appendix E (Table 1.6: Tactical Savings – Service Reductions): SER-GHI-12 Passenger Transport: Net savings achieved through a reduction in funding for sponsored bus services combined with an investment in the Connecting Communities demand-responsive community transport service) you can see the administration are creating a perfect storm for those least able to manage: the elderly and disabled with few other choices All to save another £34,000 – literally both sums added together are not equivalent to the money thrown down the gurgler for that 14pp Respublica report).

So why does this matter? The issue is one of equality. If you are unable to use your bus pass and are entitled to one, you can swap your entitlement for (I think) £100.00 of travel vouchers annually. This is useful if you are eg so disabled you cannot access buses, and therefore cannot make use of them.

However in the situation where a bus pass holder is not offered any local buses, they may be very enthusiastic users. This decision means such people have to choose between the vouchers for very local transport- and a bus pass that can be used on every scheduled bus service going throughout the UK, but not locally.

These two linked budget decisions therefore represent a huge loss specifically to elderly and disabled rural people with few transport choices  – either financially, or in terms of transport freedom.

Only an administration which has no understanding or reliance on a bus pass would have considered or enacted it…

Let’s re-regulate our buses – and put (our) service before (their) profits

Faced with the major collapse of  rural bus ‘services’ in Suffolk, I have long been calling  on both Suffolk County Council and our government to look at re-regulation of rural bus services.  The response of both  institutions has been largely negative, despite clear evidence that ‘competition’ and ‘market forces’ have done absolutely nothing to benefit rural users .

Yet re-regulation  is not impossible.

Last Friday the five Tyne and Wear councils voted to start the consultation necessary to re-regulate their buses . It will be the first region to take the plunge since the silly and ideologically driven  deregulation  of bus services in the 1980s. Re-regulation  will allow the region to aim once again for the efficiency, coverage and price which is standard for bus services  in regulated London by giving bus companies franchises to run  all local services, instead of letting them cherry-pick the ones on which they can make the most money.

Deregulated bus services are in a parlous state.  Tyne and Wear was warned that without change, all local school buses would go; a further 200 bus routes would likely disappear, and concessionary child fares would vanish. However, if the councils take over the bus routes, they could use the current subsidy and profits to grow the service to make it meet the needs of all residents.

Just as we did in the old days.

It’s not rocket science is it?

Hardly surprising that other local authorities are showing interest in doing the same.

The big bus companies may well not be in favour of these schemes – and with good cause. According to the FT “Bus companies earn higher margins outside London.. Stagecoach makes an average of 17 per cent outside London, while the figure for Go-Ahead is 10 per cent.” The FT says  that in contrast, average London operators make between 4 and 5 %.

Buses are Britain’s main form of public transport, and in the old days the concept of bus ‘services’ meant service: popular routes would fund socially necessary but less income-generating services elsewhere. De-regulation was heralded by the Thatcher administration as providing competition, but in fact since the 80s some big bus companies have  used their size to see off other competitors   creating  local monopolies  which do not benefit passengers at all .  In Woodbridge, First Group recently were running identical routes against rival Anglian Buses  at identical times. Anglian Buses no longer run these services, and Woodbridge residents have lost out.

Competition?  Bus companies should be forced to compete with each other to  provide proper services rather than to maximise profits. I once again call upon Suffolk County Council and my local MP, Dr Coffey, to do everything they can to make this possible.

SCC answer to my question on rural buses, July 13

You may remember that I tabled a question on the increasingly poor rural bus services at July’s Full Council and promised to post the answer when I got it.

My question was

  Caroline Page to Cabinet Member for Roads and Transport (Graham Newman)“Public transport is an essential part of supporting the welfare of the county, particularly in rural areas. It is coming under increasing pressure and is failing to meet the needs at the time when Suffolk needs it most. When is Cllr Newman going to pressure national government to alter the ridiculous ethos of so-called ‘competition’ which has caused deregulated buses to provide such a terrible service to the people of the Suffolk countryside, over the past decades?”

Cllr Newman’s  response was: “I’m a strong supporter of public transport services in Suffolk. I wish to see more effective coordination of services. The government clearly set out its position in March 2012, in its full response to the competition commission report; ‘Local Bus Service Market Investigation’.
I believe the focus of our efforts should now be on working with the commercial sector to improve the availability and the affordability of transport, particularly to support young people to continue to learn and take their first steps into employment. I therefore welcome the cooperation of the commercial sector in developing our new ‘Endeavour Card’ for young people, and hope that we can build on this relationship to further improve services without unaffordable financial support, in this county council.

As Cllr Page will know*, we are meeting with Therese Coffey MP, to discuss these very issues, and indeed I have previously discussed them informally with Dr. Coffey.”

Caroline Page:  This last was actually news to me  – though very welcome news, particularly as Dr Coffey has not so far answered the specific points I raised with her in June concerning this subject, although she has replied to my letter.

You can find the answers to the other Lib Dem councillors’ questions here – that is, to two of them. Very unfortunately my colleague John Field’s pertinent concerns on potential carcinogens was lost in transit – although submitted correctly, and acknowledged as such by the Suffolk County Council Monitoring Officer. It disappeared from the Full Council agenda and therefore was neither asked nor answered