Each and every time I suggest a new or alternative bus route to Stagecoach SW – often at Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee [HATOC] – the stock answer is that Stagecoach is a commercial operator and they would need funding to run the service in the initial stages.
So I have asked Devon County Council about the tendering process for these new bus services.
I have in mind the new bus routes for areas like the planned development for SW Exeter/Alphington.
Or perhaps a circular route to link the new developmentsof Alphington, Newcourt and Cranbrook, as a alternative to the current radial routes via the city centre?
Even a small circualr route to serve the Marford/Marsh Barton industrial estate once the new Devon metro rail halt is delivered?
And is there any formal mechanism for residents to propose and bid for additional services which they feel that Stagecoach is not currently delivering for them? In particular, I am thinking about the lack of a direct bus service from my ward of Cowick to the doctors’ surgery on Cowick Street.
The simple answer from DCC is that, in the current financial climate, there is unlikely to be sufficient local authority funding available for new services and so their sole significant source of new funding is through Section 106 [s106] planning agreements.
The basis of s106 agreements is the mitigation of the impacts of the development – e.g. funding a highway improvement to cope with increased traffic; putting on a new bus service to discourage traffic and meet new residents’ needs. s106 funding is not a grant for the local authority to use for general improvements and most agreements are quite prescriptive as to how much funding the developer will contribute and to what uses it will be put.
Regarding s106-funded bus services for new developments, DCC generally take the approach of assessing each development to see how the requirements can be met, both in terms of best value in delivering the service and in achieving sustainability at the end of the funding period.
This means a development may be best served by an amendment, enhancement or extension of an existing service rather than taking the added risk of a completely new route. The normal aim is to ensure that any new service would not to have any adverse effects on existing services. With current financial pressures, DCC aim for the best chance of the service being viable at the end of the funding period. What they try to avoid is funding a service for a few years only to take it away when the funding expires.
Improvements to bus services entail a significant cost, with one additional bus now costing over £100,000 per annum to keep on the road. Because of this, the first priority with most new developments will always be a link into the City Centre to cater for the greatest demand.
Whilst circular and cross-town routes may help provide new direct links, experience around the country has shown that they are rarely able to achieve commercial sustainability. In the future the change to Community Infrastructure Levy [CIL] may help give more flexibility with regard to bus services, although it would also need to deliver higher levels of funding if more ambitious schemes are to be considered.
With regard to specific requests, I am told that there are two channels through which to make representations.
First, DCC can approach Stagecoach – or any other bus company – regarding possible commercial opportunities.
Secondly, the County Council can consider subsidising a service.
However, DCC reiterate the difficult funding situation where even some existing services could be vulnerable.
DCC say the link to the Cowick Street Surgery has been raised with them previously, and Stagecoach did consider enhancing Service P to provide the requested link (without detracting from the existing service) but for commercial reasons they did not go ahead.
It was pointed out to me that Incoming country services – the 359, 360 and 510/599 – run up and down Dunsford Hill and via Cowick Street, although these do not serve the areas off the main road.
Although this this reply is not altogether optimistic, but I found information very useful in thinking about what next steps to take
Also, DCC sent me information about the current services around Exeter – outlining which are commercial services, and which rely on subsidy (for part of their route or timetable):
B (Commercial but subsidised on Saturdays)
D (Commercial but subsidisedevenings and Saturdays and throughout University vacations. Exeter University contribute to subsidy)
F (Commercial except for Chancellors Way extension which is subsidised)
P (Commercial but subsidised evenings)
R/S (Commercial but subsidised evenings)
T (Commercial except for Topsham Quay extension which is subsidised)
Park & Rides, Red, Green & Blue (Commercial)
RD&E Hospital Park & Ride (Subsidised by RD&E Hospital)