20 Jan 2011

Public transport in Gloucestershire

Train fares are set to go up by 25% over the next four years - that's £1,300 more for some season tickets. This is bad for business, bad for our roads, bad for the environment and bad for passengers. In response, the Campaign for Better Transport has just launched the Fair Fares Now campaign. See campaign website and sign up here.

However today the government's local transport White Paper launched today pledges £560m to be invested in tackling climate change by cutting carbon emissions.

This would be good news if the Coalition government hadn't previously reduced other sustainable transport funds by more than £560m. This is still a cut however you look at it - while it could be helpful in a few places it is not going to bring the significant changes we need.

The money offered of course is small-fry compared to Trident at £70bn or Crossrail and HS2 at £15bn each. Its the cost of widening about 20 miles of motorway. The government is still spending far more on road building than it is on this scheme. Its an average of about £2m for a typical council and its spread over 4 years, that's about £500K per year - that doesn't go very far these days.

What should we be going?

More funds for walking and cycling schemes, including Safe Routes to School. More funds for local bus services. Instead the government is reducing its grant to councils who in turn are having to cut their subsidies to local bus services, in some case by over £1m. That will mean fewer bus services in rural areas, and in the evenings and weekends. More priority for walking, cycling and public transport by providing, for example, more pedestrian crossings, cycle lanes and bus lanes....we could go on....

What's happening in Gloucestershire?

Well I note that Stroud District Council has put aside £10,000 for community transport. However the significant cuts to bus services will not be made much easier by this tiny sum - but it is nevertheless a welcome this move. As I noted at the recent Scrutiny meeting people living in rural areas have living costs up to 20% higher than those living in urban areas, according to a report by the Commission for Rural Communities - see here.

In the Forest of Dean I have heard providers are considering bus routes that at the end turn into 'demand responsive transport'. I have seen in Scotland a great scheme - general details here. This could be a positive way forward....

The Bus service review consultation is due to close at the end of this month - see here. They are planning to cut £2m from the budget ie half funding. It is a real challenge - on average GCC subsidise each passenger on the least used services by £14 for a return journey. In comparison on average we subsidise each passenger on the most used services by less than £2 for a return journey. In Stroud I think the Chalford service is one of the more subsidised routes....there is no question we need a review of the bus subsidy system - see the Local Government Association's comments here and see here the comments I made back in 2008 re the cuts to the 37 bus at that time.

Bus companies are making far more money compared to their capital investments than in any other sector including water, electricity and gas. The bus subsidy system needs reform. As I have said before privatisation was a big mistake. We are the laughing stock of Europe: wasting huge amounts of money and getting very little back by way of quality services. Things have to change - we should be investing in such services and increasing bus services to reduce car use, CO2 and reliance on imported oil.... yet bus service user numbers are falling: latest figures from the Department for Transport show passenger journeys in England decreased by 1.8% between 2008-09 and 2009-10.

As I have noted before in Denmark the system is based on strict quality control and bus operators get rewarded if they provide things like new vehicles, punctuality, reliability, high quality interchange, ticketing offers, cleanliness and security. If they fail they get fined. We must link subsidy to outcomes so that operators get it if they do good and not otherwise - but all that is part of a wider picture. Locally we need to protect what remains of our services - the more you cut the less people use a service - the only way is to expand and improve - London achieved remarkable changes with such investment in the past - it is possible!

Concessionary fares

The concessionary fares consultation has just finished - see here. One of the worst aspects of the proposed changes is that the new scheme will no longer provide bus passes for people to use before 9.30am and after 11pm weekdays. This will hit many people hard - I know of day service users who will now not be able to get in for the whole day now - and I was talking today with a group of people with learning difficulties who work as volunteers and in low paid work but now will have to pay to get the buses. This is surely the complete opposite of the Big Society - we are actually making it harder for people to participate.

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