Pulling my finger out on the P bus through Cowick

I’ve been contacted by a a resident about a number of issues, including the recent announced consultation of public transport – containing the proposal to slash the evening services on the P route.

Please can you advise me as to what steps you are taking to stop the proposed cutting of the evening service on our P bus service. this is outlined in the following :-

We already have probably the worst and most useless service in the city. It still does not go to our health centre despite many complaints and you as our representatives seem to be unable to do anything about it.<

Now due to DCC wanting to save money it looks like the subsidised part of the service may be withdrawn. How are the older residents at the top of Higher St Thomas going to get home should they go out for the evening.  DCC say that 17,541 journeys will be affected. It should read 17,541 people will be greatly inconvenienced.

He concludes  “it is about time our representatives pulled your collective fingers out and started doing what you were elected for.”

This is what we will be doing about the P bus

Like you I have only just heard of these proposals – I received an e-mail earlier this afternoon. The plans were given the good ahead at a meeting of DCC Cabinet on 14/01/15.

There is the statutory 12 week consultation period on these proposals – and that’s just what they are, proposals. But, please do not take that comment as an admission of resignation or complacency.

I will look to work with my Labour colleague to fight these proposals as best we can. I can’t promise that we will success, but we will give it our best shot.

In the first instance, we will ensure that every one in the ward knows about the plans and encourage them to respond to the consultation.  We can only work for you, if you shout as loud as we do.

Just to remind you, DCC is a shire county run by a Tory administration – and the 7 Labour Cllrs sitting on the Council do their best to challenge each and every cut due to ‘austerity’ – the list is long: libraries, youth services, meals on whees, adult social care, warden services, care homes, etc.

DCC has taken on-board the bribes from Central Government and for several years allowed their (very large) proportion of Council Tax to be frozen – and so increasing pressure on their reducing budgets.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost!

Let me assure you that I am as frustrated as you about these proposals – and let’s remember that at present they are just that, proposals.

I will work with residents and others to try and retain as much of the evening service as we can.

As you are probably aware, Stagecoach is a commercial operation and has to satisfy the wishes of shareholders – and in doing so, completely fail in providing a public transport service.

The reason for the current subsidy is that Stagecoach can’t make a profit from the evening service, and it is only the payment from DCC makes it worth their while.

Let’s get you all out using the P and make it commercially viable at night.

We already have a meeting arranged with DCC Transport Co-ordination Officers later this week to look at other solutions to the P service failing to take Cowick residents to their local GP surgery – and we will certainly raise these new proposals with them.

In the longer term, we have been speaking with Ben Bradshaw MP about the frustrations of Cowick residents over the local service – he has spoken with Labour’s Shadow Transport team who are looking to allow local councils to take much more control over the routes and fares.

[P Bus route] Follow-up to “Better Buses for Cowick” public meeting in June 2013

It’s probably time for an update following the Better Buses for Cowick public meeting held at St Thomas Baptist Church back in June.

One of the problems regarding bus services in Exeter is that they are run as a commercial enterprise by Stagecoach SW. That means  councillors at both Exeter City and Devon County Councillors have little or no say in the routes that Stagecoach SW run.

DCC do subsidise a limited number routes – and  the P route  only runs in the evenings and on Sundays with this financial support from DCC, as Stagecoach say they cannot operate these services at a profit.

There was  overwhelming agreement  with a suggested route  along Buddle Lane and re-routing one of the Exwick buses down Okehampton Street.

I’ve spoken with officers at DCC about the possibility of using subsidy to support the changes of the route you suggest – but financial constraints means that they cannot even look at this possibility at the moment.

Another of the hopes from our public meeting in June at St Thomas Baptist Church on our campaign to try and deliver Better Buses for Cowick  was to have a follow-up meeting with Robert Williams, the recently appointed Commercial Director for Stagecoach SW and the even more recently appointed Managing Director of Stagecoach SW, Mike Watson.

After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing over dates, the meeting finally took place last week.

When alterations were made to the P/E/F1/F2 routes back in 2006, the Stagecoach SW senior managers pointed out  there was no general public outcry at the time of the changes. They also point out that the outcome was little change to passenger numbers on the Cowick route yet there was a significant increase in passenger numbers on the Exwick routes, so they are reluctant to make any changes to the routes at present.

They have agreed to go away and look at the current figures in more depth and we hope to reconvene in a couple of weeks time, although I’m certainly not promising that they will come back with an anymore favourable outcome.

I’m sorry that this still hasn’t been resolved as yet, but I and my Labour colleagues have not let the matter drop

Bus services in Cowick

Speaking to the residents of Cowick on the doorstep, on the streets, at bus stops and on the buses about bus services,  they remember the old C route serving Crossmead/Dunsford Road/Cowick Street so fondly that you would think that it had been withdrawn in the recent past. I’m sure it’s much longer ago that that!

Indeed, an entry on the Stagecoach South West Wikipedia website states:
In December 2006, Stagecoach announced that in 2007 the Exeter City P service will split into 2 different routes, P1 and P2, due to requests from residents in Crossmead complaining that the St Thomas health centre was inaccessible following changes in April 2003

Stagecoach spokesman Mark Whittle said [P Just Perfect As Bus Campaigners Told Service Will Be Back, E&E, 07 Dec 2006]
“Details are still being confirmed but there will be a P1 and P2 and they will run in a loop, which effectively means that there will be a P bus running along Cowick Street every half hour”

In March 2007 it was announced that the new service would not begin until September. [Bus Delivery Hold-Up Dashes Bid To Reroute P Service By Easter E&E 24 Mar 2007]
Many customers were left in the dark about the changes, and the idea of splitting the route was scrapped

What, of course is interesting, is that fact that now immediately by the Crossmead terminus a new development of 100 households has sprung up since 2009 – so increasing the need to have a direct that serves this and enables residents to reach the doctors’ surgery on Cowick Street.

All of the above begs various questions on the history of bus services in Exeter

The routes of C and P services prior to April 2003 when the C service was scrapped?

The route of the P service from April 2003 to March 2007?

When the current route for the P was introduced?

Funding for new or alternative bus routes and services

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):

A (Commercial)

B (Commercial but subsidised on Saturdays)

D (Commercial but subsidisedevenings and Saturdays and throughout University vacations. Exeter University contribute to subsidy)

E (Commercial)

F (Commercial except for Chancellors Way extension which is subsidised)

G (Subsidised)

H (Commercial)

K (Commercial)

M (Subsidised)

P (Commercial but subsidised evenings)

R/S (Commercial but subsidised evenings)

T (Commercial except for Topsham Quay extension which is subsidised)

U (Subsidised)

Park & Rides, Red, Green & Blue (Commercial)

RD&E Hospital Park & Ride (Subsidised by RD&E Hospital)