#DontMissTheBus | My response to Devon County Council Public Transport Review 2015-2017: Proposed Service Reductions

I believe that sustainable transport, including a comprehensive bus service, can lead to a less car-dependent society. This would mean gains in environmental quality, public health, land use planning and for local economies.

I would like to think that public transport should serve the public.

The Campaign for Better Transport have shown that:
– Every £1 of public investment in buses provides between £3 and £5 of wider benefits
– 64 per cent of jobseekers either have no access to a vehicle or cannot drive
– Young people are amongst the biggest users of bus services, whilst 40% of people over 60 use the bus at least once a week
– Passenger cars produce nearly 60% of all CO2 emissions from road transport in the UK, compared with just 5 %from buses
– If drivers switched just one in twenty five of their car journeys to bus or coach, it would mean one billion fewer car journeys per year
– Bus commuters generate £64 billion in economic output every year

I note that since April 2011, when a reduction in the budget of £1.35 million was implemented, there have been no service reductions for Council supported bus services with efficiencies across the wider Transport Coordination Service providing required savings, and for this Devon County Council must be commended.

However, it must be noted that it is only for the year 2015/16 that DCC have decided to increase Council Tax by 1.99%.

If such a rise had been implemented earlier, the base budget for DCC would have been approx £7m extra to spend year on year.

Although this would do little to meet the £50m budget reduction required by Government spending cuts 2015/6, we may not have been faced with the tough choices to make savings of £1.7m out of your annual pubic transport budget.

With all the above in mind, I wish to OBJECT in general to many of the proposals outlined by the County Council in respect of the network of supported services, and in particular the withdrawal of evening and Sunday services on the P route in Exeter, for the reasons given below:

General

As part of its Local Transport Plan 2011-2026 [LTP3], Devon County Council has stated that it
will help people to travel ‘smarter.’ This means making cycling and walking a realistic choice for a range of journeys, making bus and rail travel convenient and reliable, making car journeys more efficient busing intelligent traffic management and maximising the potential of car clubs, car sharing and encouraging eco-driving

As I understand it, DCC has a very clear hierarchy for transport, mentioned in DCC Local Transport Plan 2006-2011 [LTP2], where Chapter 2 – The Transport Strategy for Devon states:
Promoting Sustainable Modes of Travel (derived from Structure Plan Policy TR5)
In co-ordinating land use and transportation planning and the management of traffic demand all development should make provision for and promote the safe useof the most sustainable and environmentally acceptable modes of travel, having regard to the following hierarchy:
– Walking
– Cycling
– Public Transport
– Private Vehicles

A comprehensive public transport is the mark of a civilised, socially equitable and sustainable society. It is therefore of interest to all, not just bus service users, and not just now but for future generations.

This view seems to be supported by comments on p18 of LTP3:
“Devon & Torbay will work closely with its partners to deliver a genuine alternative and better travel choice to the car. To do this, Devon will undertake a review of the bus network and services. Integration between transport modes and good interchange facilities are crucial to improving public transport and increasing passenger numbers. Devon & Torbay will work with, and encourage, transport service providers to ensure that bus services are regular and reliability is improved through the introduction of new technologies and bus priority measures.”

I would have thought it good practice to have carried out a genuine strategic review of county’s bus network and services before embarking on a consultation process that proposes the reduction and/or withdrawal of services.

The consultation makes it clear that travel by bus is under threat.

Through its design, the consultation document is unlikely to capture views of those other than those who use the buses.

Travelling on buses speaking to passengers, as well as Cowick’s residents on the streets and doorsteps, I have found many who do not have access to on-line facilities and have been unaware of the consultation taking place. I have done my best to promote the consultation and encourage as many as possible to respond in other ways.

It seems that through this consultation DCC is proposing a ‘managed decline’ of bus services against current constant pressure for, and provision of, new roads. This would clearly move away from a low-carbon alternative and towards a mode shift to private cars.

This modal shift is not helped by the fact that strategic transport funding applications are longer carried out by Devon County Council, but by the Local Transport Board (an independent body sitting under the auspices of the Heart of the South West LEP.

For those without access to a car, or who choose not to own one, or cannot drive or afford a car, a bus service is key to a decent quality of life. With fewer buses, or none whatsoever, journeys may not be made at all.

Specific points on County-wide services
1. All the decision-making revolves around finance. The consultation should also be considering social need.
2. There has been NO marketing strategy for the supported services. This would suggest that a bare minimum service is seen as desirable as a policy aim. There should have been such a strategy to raise awareness of, and to promote, available services.
3. Potential bus users are not considered: this is a policy of managed decline and is a sub-set of the point made above about the need for marketing.
4. There are no previous years’ figures to compare, so trends cannot be detected, and analyses and judgments cannot be made.
5. Revenue from on-street parking is theoretically available. I notice from the latest Cabinet papers that from budget of £3,124,000, some £1,246,000 is spent on “transport coordination support” but not a single penny is allocated to bus services.
6. An open and positive dialogue with bus operators could lead to a better grasp of what a strategic bus network might look like, including examining new routes. This dialogue could be open to the public. The current dialogue is a negative one.
7. Bank Holidays are not mentioned at all: clarification is needed from DCC. I imagine that they are included in the same category as Sundays.
8. Much of the consultation focuses on work-related travel but makes the assumption that this is still 9am – 5pm. More flexible and part-time employment means journeys are made outside traditional peaks, so there is a need for off-peak and Sunday/Bank Holiday services to be retained
9. Further and Higher Education courses are now held at irregular times during the day/week. Exeter College attracts students not just from Exeter, but countywide and many rely on the bus for their travel arrangements.
10. An integrated and healthy supported network contributes to the health of commercial services.
11. The thrust of the consultation is that public transport is a safety net with needs met. I would like to think of bus services as “an attractive alternative to the car”.
12. The proposals appear potentially highly damaging to the county’s weekend/evening/tourism economies that are of local and regional importance.
13. The consultation seems to pre-empt any alternative conclusions as it predicts passengers’ and the wider community’s acceptance of DCC’s described outcome of a lower quality service.

Specific points on the P route in Exeter
1. As a ward, Cowick has 5,650 residents in 2,315 households.
– 22.6% are over 65 (2nd out of 18 wards)
– 5.9% are in “bad” or “very bad” health (3rd of 18)
– 21.3% of households have no car/van (12th of 18)
2. The elderly residents already feel socially isolated due to DCC’s policy of part-night street lighting
3. The majority of Cowick’s residents live on route of the P service
4. The P route currently avoids the GP surgery that serves these residents
5. There are NO parallel services.
6. The only evening/Sunday alternative for these residents of Cowick would be the City centre > Exwick routes of E/F1/F2 – all commercial services.
7. These services run along Buddle Lane, leaving many, often elderly, residents with a considerable hill to climb to reach their home.
8. As a ward, Pennsylvania has 5,343 residents in 2,316 households.
– 18.3% are over 65 (6th of 18 wards)
– 3.6% are in “bad” or “very bad” health (12th of 18)
– 18.6% of households have no car/van (15th of 18)
9. The elderly residents already feel socially isolated due to DCC’s policy of part-night street lighting
10. The majority of Pennsylvania’s residents live on route of the P service
11. The P route operates as commercial service during the daytime, and is supported to run evening and Sunday services.
12. The only evening/Sunday alternative for these residents of Pennsylvania would be the City centre > Exwick routes of E/F1/F2 – all commercial services.
13. There are NO parallel services.
14. The nearest bus routes will be the B running along Union Road/Prince Charles Road, E along Prince Charles Road and F1/F2 running along Stoke Hill/Mincinglake Road.
15. Many of the walking routes from these services involve STEEP hills.
16. The P route operates as commercial service during the daytime, yet none of the profits engendered during the daytime are used by Stagecoach to subsidise the loss-making evening and Sunday services, so these are supported by DCC.
17. Currently the P service runs an hourly evening/Sunday service.
18. The service is operated with one bus and one driver
19. The supported service costs DCC £24,119.
20. The supported service has 17,541 passenger trips per year.
21. Thus, cost to DCC per passenger trip is £1.37.
22. This above the DCC baseline of £1.00 per passenger trip and so is under consideration for withdrawal
23. For comparison, the R/S service costs £38,015 for 52 passenger trips per year.
24. Yet, these are circular routes and operate on a 30-minute timetable in the evenings.
25. The service is operated with two buses and two drivers.
26. For much of the route, many parallel services do exist.
27. The relative flat area of Burnthouse Lane is the only part of the route without a parallel service.
28. The parallel evening service would be the F2, a commercial service that runs along Buddle Lane.
29. The current frequency of the evening service is 30-minutes – 2 per hour

The Consultation Period
Over the past 11 weeks of the consultation I have spoken to many passengers on the P bus and many residents on the doorsteps of Cowick. I’ve tried to engage others on-line. Also I’ve delivered over 1000 letters.
In all these contacts I’ve encouraged people to respond to DCC’s consultation. I hope they have; I fear they may not have.
I will try and summarise some of the comments I’ve received below:

1) Social Isolation
I’ve already pointed out above the age demographic of the ward. Many elderly residents have pointed out that they find it difficult to climb Somerset Avenue to Crossmead to catch the bus into the centre. They are extremely worried that withdrawing the evening services will mean they will not go out for social and leisure events as they can’t walk back home from Buddle Lane.
Indeed, one lady asked if I could arrange for the bus to run along Dorset Avenue, as she was already unable to get up the hill to catch the bus at Crossmead.

2) Disabled passengers
The recent diversion of the route of the P bus due to road works has shown what withdrawal of the service would mean for residents with disabilities.

During the time of the re-routing, I spoke with a resident who has his son, a wheelchair user, living with him.

They live on Barley Farm Road, in close proximity to a bus stop from where the son can make his own way home.

During the period of the re-routing, he found he was unable to cope with the steep incline of Barley Farm Road and he had to rely on his father to wheel him up the hill.

To withdraw evening services from the P bus would confine him to his home as well as his wheelchair.

3) Travel Plans
The new-ish development known as Sylvan Heights on the site of old Crossmead Conference Centre was furnished with a framework travel plan, part of the planning consideration as there was much local opposition to the development on the basis of increased traffic and associated parking issues.

That plan, prepared for Taylor Wimpey by Peter Brett Associates, states:
2.4.6 In terms of public transport facilities a number of bus stops are located on Barley Lane in close proximity to this site. The nearest bus stop to this site is on Barley Lane just 29m north of the site access point. A second bus stop is located at the Barley Lane/Croft Chase junction 200m to the north of the site. To the south of the site, a bus shelter is located at the Barley Lane/Dunsford Gardens junction just 130m from the site entrance.

Sylvan Heights residents must prove an important source of passengers for the P service. I believe that has been recognised because, since that travel plan has been drawn up, DCC have added a bus shelter at the stop nearest the site entrance and Stagecoach SW now make this stop the terminus for the route.

I have spoken to residents who have bought a property on the Sylvan Heights on the basis of this easy access to a bus route.

There are residents on the development that rent out rooms to foreign students because these students need a reliable bus service throughout the day and evening.

Since the underlying objective of a travel plan is to reduce car travel, to remove one of the key alternatives at so early a stage in its history could be seen as reckless.

I’ll conclude this section with another quote from the TP:
4.2.4 Finally, it is important to remember that a proportion of households still have no regular access to a car. Public transport, cycling and walking improvements can play a significant role in improving access opportunities to these groups and, hence, in reducing social exclusion

4) Access to bus route
On a similar note, I spoke to many residents who had relocated from rural villages expressly to move close to a reliable bus service when county services were no longer serving their needs.

5) Shift and other workers
Exeter is a 24/7 city, and working hours are no longer 9am to 5pm.

I have spoken to shift workers in 1-car households who rely on the evening services so their working spouse can use the family car at times when they are working evenings.

I have also spoken to nurses working at the RD&E who use the P bus when they finish work at 8pm. Their only other option will be to use their private car, but parking is at a premium at the hospital and other departments at DCC are struggling to tackle problems of hospital staff parking on residential streets in Wonford and Heavitree. With no evening service, these problems will only be exacerbated.

6) Leisure Use
And one resident asked me about public transport options on Tuesday evenings if Exeter City were playing at home.

If the proposals go through, the last bus to Cowick would depart from High Street 30 minutes after kick-off.

Options (as I see them)
1) Withdrawal of evening and Sunday services
Withdrawal of these services will “save” DCC £24, 119 per year but Stagecoach SW will lose 17,541 passenger trips a year.

I will agree that some will look to other, less sustainable, transport options but for many there will be NO other option.

Some of these passenger trips will be return journeys, and losing these evening and Sunday services could mean that the in-bound journeys would be lost as well, as these passenger take less sustainable options to head into the city centre.

It may be that current passengers feel that it is no longer financially viable to purchase some of the Stagecoach SW multi-ticket/multi-ticket options available, leading to loss of income and drop of passenger numbers at other times of day.

I know from experience of other routes through Cowick, that once the bus service has gone it, it’s gone for good.

I don’t want people to wake up one day to find they’ve missed the bus.

2) Retain service
DCC might have to find the required savings from elsewhere, but those 17.541 passenger trips would be saved and form a strong basis to develop the service even more.

And could there be some consideration from Stagecoach SW to some form of cross-subsidy, from the profit-making commercial daytime service to the supported routes in the evening and on Sundays.

Throughout all my conversations with residents and passengers I have been advocating Use It or Lose It. I believe in passenger power and feel with the right dialogue with them, many more can be encouraged to use the bus.

It will be a brave decision to retain the service and require innovative and radical solutions to ensure that the service develops and flourishes.

But it’s a decision that needs to be taken for all our common good.

It’s something I hope that all partners, agencies and other interested parties can work together in achieving this outcome.

An implementation date of the autumn is too soon to see if any of the ideas above work.

3) Re-route another service
My most radical solution.

And of course, the most controversial solution.

And it is a solution that only works for Cowick and the West of Exeter – if it works at all!

Currently the commercial F2 runs a half-hourly service in the evening, as does the E. This means that Buddle Lane is served by 4 buses an hour during the time period the P route sees none.

So I would like to propose that for evenings and Sundays, the F2 is re-routed up Isleworth Road and along Bowhay Lane in both directions. This would add little more than 5 minutes to the journey time.

I would also suggest that an additional bus stop in put in place immediately outside the shops on Bowhay Lane – there is already a cut-in for parking in place here – for the out-bound bus.

In addition, I notice that in times of high-peak, there is often traffic congestion along Buddle Lane that slows down the E/F1/F2.

If this re-routing for evening and Sunday services proves a commercial success, it might be that Stagecoach SW consider this an suitable alternative for the F2 during day time hours as well.

The only threat I can see would be a reduction in the commercial viability of the P service, but that could be addressed by a reduction of frequency from 20 minutes to 30 minutes.

Other routes – T to Topsham
I am well versed in the routes I frequently use, and I know a little about some of the other routes across the city.

I am not so familiar with the T to Topsham, but I note from comments on the on-line consultation page that it is a route that many have thoughts above.

As I understand it, DCC supports the route from Countess Weir to Topsham to the tune of £31,134 yet the consultation documentation makes NO reference to the number of passenger trips lost if the subsidy (and the route) were withdrawn.

Since these facts are not to hand, it is extremely hard to make a meaningful contribution to the consultation, particularly with regard to cost per passenger trip which seems so crucial on all other routes.

However, with the focus of the consultation concentrated on services for work/business, leisure and recreation have taken a back seat.

The destination of the T in Topsham is at the heart of the tourist area on the town, an area not served either by the train or the commercial 57 bus.

Tourism is a key economic driver for Topsham, yet there is no allowance for this in the terms of the consultation.

I am not sure to address this, but my gut feeling is that the T to Topsham must be retained somehow.

National Bus Pass
DCC administers the National Bus Pass according to statutory legislation contained in the Concessionary Travel Act 2007. As such it is not possible – by law – for Devon County Council to request payment for the first issue of a National Bus Pass or to request that the passenger pay a contribution to the bus fare. It would require an act of Parliament to alter the legislation governing the National Bus Pass scheme.

Speaking to passengers and residents, many have told me they would be prepared to pay a nominal sum (around £10) for first issue of the National Bus Pass.

Some have also said that they would be willing to pay a nominal sum (50p or £1) for each and every bus trip, either on all journeys or those outside Devon.

DCC could seek to lobby central Government to such changes to Concessionary Travel Act 2007.

However, I would like to see DCC retain the free travel for NBP holders before the statutory start time when there is no other bus before 11.30am, especially as this measure only costs DCC £5,000 a year.

Similarly, I would like to see the retention of the free travel of after the statutory finish time of 11.00pm. Although no costs are given for this measure, I would imagine it is in the region of the £5,000 a year cost for the altered start time.

Final Thoughts
The posters I’ve seen around and about are encouraging – “join the debate” they proclaim.

Yet the process of consultation is encouraging little or no debate, just a one-way series of comments on a website.

I me this debate seems to be reduced to the level of a popularity contest centred around tough choices

I think that getting the public transport system is much more important than a simple Devon’s Got [Some] Buses comment.

Delving further, there is a document to accompany the public transport review 2015 that has the sub-heading “help shape your local service” and goes on to suggest 3 options.

These are:
– Making savings by changing services;
– Change the way in which services are provided; or
– Increase charges for services rather than entirely taking them away

Yet the only options I’m seeing being proposed by DCC is option 1. And in truth, that option should read “making savings by reducing and/or withdrawing services”.

As I’ve thought about the impact of this on Cowick residents for the past 11 weeks, and whilst writing my response to the consultation, it has become clear that what is actually needed is mature discussion, debate and dialogue to review the strategic requirements of what we, the public, want from a public transport service.

And that is precisely what this way of consultation is NOT going to deliver.

I believe that in her report to DCC Executive on 14 January 2015, Heather Barnes (Strategic Director, Place) is fundamentally wrong in her conclusion:
12 Options/Alternatives
No other reductions in the public transport budget are possible without adding further hardship to Devon residents and visitors. The revised criteria offer the best way to continue to ensure that communities served by bus services continue to be served, if in many cases by a reduced service, as an alternative to withdrawing services altogether from some communities.

The whole discussion revolves about finance and not community needs and the social isolation that will become apparent as and when many of these cuts are implemented in autumn 2015 – these factors are highlighted in the Public Health Impact document.

I continue to maintain this is the time to go back to the drawing board to discuss with bus operators and other partners and agencies to see if a better route map and timetable can be drawn up.

To me, this consultation is not the method to achieve the integration and better use of limited funds.

Conclusion
I would respectfully ask DCC to take the above points into account, and to suspend the proposed cuts until a positive analysis has been carried out into the transport and accessibility needs of residents of Devon in general, and Exeter in particular, and which also includes the needs of those who visit the county for whatever reason.

At the same time, I would ask that DCC enter into meaningful deliberations with bus operators, partner agencies and other stakeholders to discuss a more strategic and integrated public transport network, both for Exeter and Devon.

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