E&E | Passenger pleas save the P bus

Express and Echo

 

Thursday 04 June 2015

Passenger pleas save the P bus
by Anne Byrne

Appeals to save an Exeter evening bus service have been successful. It is recommended that the evening P bus will continue, and there has been a partial reprieve for the T service – which runs between Exeter and Topsham Quay – which was threatened with being withdrawn complete;y.

Devon County Council held a public consultation on bus services in the spring as it sought to shave £1.7m from its budget.

Recommendations going to Devon County Council’s Cabinet next week include keeping the P bus running in the evening,

Screen shot 2015-06-02 at 14.46.52

and in the interim running a curtailed T service in the morning.

The T is recommended to run as a ‘shopping time service’ – 9.30am out, 12.30 back from the city centre pending a possible community transport replacement service being found.

Recommendation to retain evening services on the P bus

I have just seen on the Devon County Council website the recommendations going to DCC Cabinet on 10 June  –  including the one that the evening service will remain for the P bus – is welcome news and testament to the work that I and many others have done to promote Passenger Power in Cowick, and elsewhere.

Throughout the 12 week consultation period of DCC’s Public Transport Review,  I – along with my fellow Labour councillors and volunteers – tried to generate when asking residents to respond to DCC’s public transport review.

passengerpower-logo-624x440We spoke and wrote to many residents as well as delivering by hand hundreds of leaflets in Cowick letting them know about the consultation, and making sure they didn’t miss the bus/

It seems those contributions helped save the service.

At first I had concerns over the exact wording of the recommendation for the P bus – “The evening service in its entirety is proposed for continuation within the recommended revised evening service support criterion”  – thinking this might mean the proposed reduced service on Sundays and Bank Holidays would be implemented.

I certainly asked for the Sunday service on the route of the P to be considered alongside the evening service.

I have had confirmation from transport officers at DCC that the recommendation – if approved – would mean that the P bus would continue to run to the current timetable.

This is good news, but I am still aware that there are still serious flaws with the public transport service for Cowick, and this is certainly not the end of the Cowick Deserves Better Buses campaign

Is there a social need for the #CowickPBus in the evening and on Sunday?

Exeter City Council have analysed the 2011 Census on a ward-by-ward basis across Exeter.

The data for Cowick gives some interesting points to consider when feeding into Devon County Council’s Public Transport Review:
Persons of retirement age                                          = 22.6% 2nd highest ward of 18
Persons stating general health ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ =  5.9% 3rd highest ward of 18
Households with no cars / vans                                = 21.3% 12th highest ward of 18

Just the sort of people who need and use the P bus – the only route that serves the majority of the ward; the one that doesn’t go anywhere the GP surgery that serves the ward; and who would become isolated if DCC withdraws the subsidy for evening and Sunday services.

As part of of it’s Public Sector Equality Duty,  DCC have published an Impact Assessment and a Needs Assessment as part of the consultation.

The Needs Assessment in particular talks about the the value of bus services in Devon and acknowledges
Withdrawing public transport is much more than just a withdrawal of a service – likely to profoundly affecting people’s lives adversely in a way that many other service withdrawals do not, by denying access to many services, jobs and independence

And the same paper quotes from a 2014 survey :
73.7% of all passengers on DCC funded bus services could not travel long-term if a bus service ceased
58% had no alternative way to make the journey if the service was cut.
46% are totally dependent on the bus
and a further 37% are “quite dependent” of which 38% did not think the alternative would be sustainable

And it links to to study by PTEG who represent the strategic transport bodies serving the six largest city regions outside London and declare themselves “the voice of urban transport”.

The Case for the Urban Bus – the economic and social value of bus networks in the metropolitan areas (March 2013) has a section devoted to bus travel for older people:

4.60. Despite the fact that people increasingly enjoy a sociable, healthy and active older age, it is
estimated that overall, around 10% of people aged over 65 in the UK are lonely all or most of
the time. Some 12% of older people feel trapped in their own homes and 17% are in
contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week.

4.61. These problems can be exacerbated if the bus services that older people rely on are cut
back, curtailing their ability to access key local services and to socialise and maintain vital
links with friends and family.

So some strong evidence on the important of a decent bus service in combating social isolation.

Yet none of this seems to feed into DCC’s Public Transport Review which is focussed entirely on costs.

The section on the P service suggests that the withdrawal of evening and Sunday services on the route would mean 17,541 passenger journeys per year would be lost to give an annual saving of £24,119.

Gong back to the 2014 survey which said 58% had no alternative way to make the journey if the service was cut, that 10,000 passengers unable to make a journey – 30 passengers a day facing possible social isolation

So I question if the strict application is the only criteria that needs to be considered?

There are no parallel routes available to Cowick (and Pennsylvania) residents. It’s a long haul up the hill from Buddle Lane for elderly residents. There must be someway of quantifying the social needs of potential passengers as well as the financial implications.

I’m writing this in Hexham (where I’m currently working for a few days)

Northumberland County Council are also carrying out a consultation on future funding of subsidised bus services.

In the past NCC has, like DCC,  used  has used a simple cost per passenger criteria to assess value for money for subsidised bus services.

In there current consultation, NCC is applying a sustainability test by combining  Cost per passenger and Passenger need/benefit

Screen shot 2015-02-22 at 16.38.18

I wonder if this would show that the evening and Sunday services on the P route are sustainable?

Further reading:  Sustrans: Locked Out, Transport Poverty in England (Sept. 2012).
(Transport Poverty and the contribution of public transport to reduce it)

#CowickPBus and Sylvan Heights

Part of the planning conditions placed on the Sylvan Heights development on the site of the old Crossmead Hall site by Devon County Council was the formulation of a Green Travel Plan.

As the Officer’s report to Exeter City Council’s Planning Committee states:
The Travel Plan identifies key objectives and measures to discourage the use of the car and facilitate the use of alternative modes of travel.”

The Framework Travel Plan (see link to this document from ECC planning portal on application 08/1476/03) referred to by the Planning officer is clear that bus provision is an important part of tthose alternative modes of travel:
3.4.4. With four bus stops located within 200m the bus service is a very convenient mode of transport to travel to the site when considering the high frequency of bus services to and from the City Centre and nearby towns.

Many of the residents bought properties on the basis of statements contained with the document. How does this square with DCC’s proposal to cut evening and Sunday services on the P route?

#CowickPBus leaflet

Devon County Council’ response to central Government spending cuts next year is to cut £1.7m from their annual public transport budget.

There are several ways they could propose to do this, including:
– making savings by changing services
– change the way in which services are provided
– increase charges for services rather than entirely taking them away

But DCC seem to be only suggesting the first option – and by “changing services” they really mean “withdrawing services”. And that means cutting evening and Sunday services on the P route

So yesterday, over 1000s households received this leaflet, delivered by a team of volunteers

P Bus Leaflet

Already, residents have been contacting me

Like the person who bought a property in Sylvan Heights based on the good availability of public transport as outlined in the Green Travel Plan.

Or the elderly people in and around Somerset Avenue. I’ve heard from 2 separate residents who find the steep hills a problem.

For them, getting off a bus on Buddle Lane of an evening only to have to walk up the hill to get home would be the equivalent of climbing Everest.

We need to encourage anyone and everyone that could be affected by these changes to respond to the DCC consultation before 20 April 2014

Reliability and punctuality of the #CowickPBus

On the doorstep, I’m often hearing that residents find the P bus unreliable…they wait at the bus stop, but the bus doesn’t turn up. And when they are returning to Cowick, the rest of the routes to West of Exe [A, E. F1 and F2] turn up but the P is often missing.

I took the opportunity to quiz Robert Williams, Commercial Director of Stagecoach South West, about this at last week’s Exeter HATOC meeting, although the exchange wasn’t minuted.

Since the meeting, I’ve been in correspondence with Mr Williams.

He tells me that in 2014 Stagecoach SW  ran 99.7% of our scheduled mileage on the P, which is in line with the rest of their network in Exeter.

During the course of the year there is very little variance from this – 99.5% in November and December when the traffic and weather are worst, 99.9% in the spring and summer when the traffic and weather is best.

He says:
“This demonstrates that even if the buses are delayed, the vast majority still run, and so you can depend on them to get you home if they encounter a delay.”

So if the P route runs most of its scheduled miles, the problem must be punctuality.

There are many pinch-points long the route from Crossmead to Pennsylvania and back again – not least the chaos often encountered at Exe Bridges [more often then not at the yellow box junction leading to Fore Street] and rush-hour congestion elsewhere.

Stagecoach SW are in the process of setting up a Bus Punctuality Improvement Partnership with Devon County Council, part of which will involve sharing data from both sides with the aim of improving punctuality. Once this is up and running, I would like to think we might get some meaningful information on bus punctuality in the city at regular intervals to pass back to residents.

And I’m told that  with the introduction of the Real Time Information system later in the year  Stagecoach SW expect to be able to simultaneously monitor 90% of departures from every location, which will greatly improve our ability to predict journey times and timetables. At present,  Stagecoach rely on manual observations and driver & passenger feedback, which can never give us the accuracy that the system developers promise!

We are currently looking in to your separate email about the 1500-1530 period and will respond shortly. Christina has just gone onto maternity leave, so Simone Smith our acting manager is looking at this in her place.

#DevonPTR15 | Devon County Council Public Transport Review

It’s interesting reading the preamble accompanying Devon County Council’s recently announced Public Transport Review 2015.

The opening paragraph reads:
To help meet the £50 million budget reduction required by Government spending cuts next year, we now face making savings of £1.7m from our annual public transport budget.
which could be amended to read:
To help meet the £50 million budget CUT required by Government spending CUTS next year, we now face making CUTS of £1.7m from our annual public transport budget.”

The document goes on to suggest that there are 3 options:
– making savings by changing services
– change the way in which services are provided
– increase charges for services rather than entirely taking them away

Yet when they say they need your help, they say:
We would like to find out what you think about our proposals to reduce services“.

Indeed, more than that they emphasise this by stating:
It will be the first time that we have proposed making service reductions for four years.”

To me, a better option would be to look at the way in which services are provided.

The current dialogue appears to be a negative one, as what seems to be proposed by  DCC is a ‘managed decline’ in bus services in Exeter and beyond.

An open and positive dialogue with the bus operators could lead to a better grasp of what a strategic bus network might look like, including examining new routes and altering some existing routes.

Since DCC hasn’t provided any options, I’m going to look at some strategic changes to routes and/or services than might enable more of our  vulnerable communities to be provided with some buses in the evening and on Sundays.