#DontMissTheBus | Alternative Solutions?

With my co-councillor Heather Morris, I have been working on a proactive campaign to preserve evening and Sunday services on the P route for the past 11 weeks – speaking to residents on the doorstep, and on buses; engaging people via Social Media (twitter, Facebook, street life, etc); delivering over 1000 leaflets highlighting the consultation period and threats to the service with the aim of encouraging them to take part and respond to the review process.

We’ve done our best to reach as many of Cowick’s residents as possible.

But we’ve not been able to stretch our limited resources to mount a similar campaign to the other end of route of the P bus. I’ve recently replied to a resident from here, who contacted me via e-mail with a series of thought and alternative solutions.

Here are my thoughts

1) Reducing the frequency of popular buses 
Reducing the frequency of popular buses such as the A, F1, F2 and E from every 10 minutes to every 15 minutes in off-peak times (from 9.30am – 3pm). Many buses in Exeter run every 10 minutes and by reducing this to every 15 minutes could distribute this cut fairly rather than cutting services such as the evening P bus which leaves passengers with no other means of transport home. If this was done county-wide, imagine the possible savings.

Whilst this might seem attractive, bus drivers are are on shift pattern. A large number are needed for the morning  and early-evening rush-hour peaks, and that’s why some of the services retain the frequency during off-peak times

There is also the problem of mixing commercial and subsidised services.

A commercial bus operator such as Stagecoach SW. runs bus routes for profit, which is passed I to shareholders – the daytime P service is one such commercial route

However, the P service is not profitable during the evening and on Sundays, so without the approx £25k from DCC, Stagecoach would not run the service.

As it stands, there is no requirement for Stagecoach to use any of the profits it makes during the daytime to subsidise the loss-making evening/Sunday service.

That’s ludicrous I know, but that is the downside of privatising the buses.

2) Run a least 2 late buses
At the very least having two late buses (11pm and midnight) to allow people to return from work/socialising in the evening. Stopping the service completely at 9pm doesn’t make sense when many places are open till midnight.

I’ve  already had that thought!  A similar argument about shift patterns for drivers stands – it would be too expensive for drivers to just come on for 2 hours or so.

3) Fare Increases
A small fare increase county-wide

It might work for the evening services, but there is a strong possibility that it might put off even more passengers

I’ve already heard from passengers that on many routes the fares are too expensive.

And putting up fare during the daytime just means more profit for Stagecoach

4) Reducing the number of double decker buses that run in off-peak times
Reducing the number of double decker buses that run in off-peak times, such as the ones to Crediton, Tiverton and Broadclyst. Many of these buses are not running anywhere near capacity.

Not really viable. Stagecoach and other bus operators already have these vehicle and any spares are used to cover maintenance and repairs. And also, like drivers when would you do the swap?

5) National Bus Pass scheem
Having a means tested free bus pass for passengers over 60. This seems mean, but with retirement age only ever increasing and many of wealthiest in the country being over 50, why does everyone over 60 get such a pass?

This is really outside of DCC’s control – any major changes would need to go through Parliament.

What DCC are consulting on are variations to statutory start and end times – figures given as part of the consultation suggest that the cost for the am variation is £5k. I’m assuming a similar figure for the pm variation.

I’m in favour of a universal system for National Bus Pass – any form of means testing costs money to rub the administration, but. I would not be averse to a small nominal charge for the  NBP a- say £5 or £10.

And a case could be made for a small charge of say £1 for any journey outside the County?

But I have to reiterate this would involve changing legislation.

6)  Why a new bus station in Exeter
Finally, need I mention that the £70 million development plan including a new bus station in Exeter is somewhat ludicrous if bus services are going to be cut? I am sure that every bus user in Exeter would far rather have buses than a new bus station, and I’d like to think you’d share this view.

The proposed cuts are to subsidised services and do not affect most for Exeter and the wider county.

Indeed, most. Uses serving the city use the High Street, and the Bus Station services county and national services.

There will still be a need for a bus station, and one much improved for the current facility will only enhance the travelling experience

Many people, myself included, use these bus services as an integral part of our week to enable us to work, socialise, and spend money in the local economy. My particular route is the P service, and from my discussions with fellow passengers, many people are concerned about the impacts of the cuts, particularly on their commute to evening employment in the centre.

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.

#exDUMPT buses | Some thoughts on the early comments made about DCC’s public transport review

I’ve been reading through the comments section on the Public Transport Review on supported bus services in Devon.

For those without access to a car, or chose not to own one, or who cannot drive, or cannot afford a car, a bus service is key to a decent quality of life: with fewer buses, or none at all, journeys may not be made at all. And this is borne out in the comments being made. I fear for social isolation – and not only in rural areas, it can and will happen in urban and suburban settings.

The report from the IPPR thinktank, Greasing the Wheels: Supporting and Improving Britain’s Rail and Bus Services, highlights that the poorest make more than three times as many trips a year by bus as the richest.

But while car ownership is nearly universal among wealthier people, only 30% of households in the poorest income decile own a vehicle. Poorer groups therefore rely on bus services or have to take taxis.

The report shows that the poorest fifth of households take more taxi journeys per year than any other income group – largely due to the unavailability, unreliability and high fares of their local buses.

One reponse to DCC’s  consultationmade reference to
The poor bus services provided by Exeter City Council & Devon County Council

It is worth noting that NO bus servicesin Exeter are provided by either ECC and DCC.

What top-tier local authorities (in this case Devon County Council) CAN do is subsidise bus routes that they deem are socially necessary (meaning that means it meets a public transport need) but not commercially viable.

Apart for the D-U-M-P-T services, each and every route in Exeter is operated by Stagecoach SW on a commercial basis.

D-U-M-P-T routes (whether whole service, part routes, or evening/Sunday services) under threat of withdrawal are deemed by Stagecoach to be unprofitable To ensure they do run, DCC support these services by paying Stagecoach a subsidy.

The trouble stems nearly 30 years ago, local bus services in Britain were deregulated by the Conservatives under the Transport Act 1985 and implemented from 26 October 1986.

Now nearly 30 years on, it is clear that under this legislation, the system of commercial routes and supported services is clearly failing the non-core services and the communities that depend on them. Surely the aim is for the profitable routes to cross-subsidise the uncommercial services?

Many respondents have made reference to the National Bus Pass which entitles the pass holder to free off-peak travel on local buses anywhere in England.

There have been different suggestions:
– Charge for the actual pass;
– Charge a nominal amount (50p? £1?) for each jounrney; or
– Limit the range to journeys within Devon.

To each and every one of thess the answer is the same (HT Richard Hill of DCC who patiently explains):
– Devon County Council administers the National Bus Pass according to 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.”

Promoting #PassengerPower on #CowickPBus

28 January 2015 | For immediate release

Promoting passenger power on the P bus

Evening and Sunday services on the P bus through Cowick are under threat, after Devon County Council announced a public consultation of the future of subsidized bus routes throughout the County.

The proposal is to withdraw the late evening buses Monday to Saturday meaning that the final service to Crossmead from the High Street would depart at 2012, and the final journey back to the city centre would depart Cowick at 2028.

Cllr Paul Bull has long campaigned on issues surrounding the P bus, including the route the service takes.

“I’ve already highlighted that it seems strange that the only bus route through the main part of the ward goes nowhere near the GP surgery that looks after the health of the residents of Cowick.

“And now I have grave concerns about these proposals – they will increase social isolation of an elderly and ageing population, that also suffers from bad or very bad health, and where 1 in 4 households doesn’t own a car.

“Even DCC’s own Equaltiy Impact Assessment warns: ‘…some communities are likely to have their last bus or public transport service withdrawn, and be left isolated for anyone who does not have access to a car.’

“Along with my City and County Co-Councillors, I will be working to ensure as many passengers know about these proposals and find ways to respond.

“The problem is that Devon has taken a digital-by-default approach. I don’t think that’s appropriate for a ward were residents either doesn’t have access to the internet or reluctant to use IT engage with such consultations.

“We will be looking to run surgeries of the P bus to talk with passengers about these proposals and find ways to pass them back to Devon County Council.

This consultation closes on Monday 20 April 2015 and any accepted proposals will be implemented during the second half of 2015.

Notes for Editors:
[1] Devon County Council – Public Transport Review

[2] Key facts about Cowick from 2011 Census

[3] DCC – Equality Impact Assessment of Public and community transport budget reductions

[4]  From the consultation webpage for those who want paper copies of the consultation:
If you need more information, a different format or have a question:
Phone 0345 155 1015
Email publictransportreview-mailbox@devon.gov.uk
Text 80011 (start your message with the word Devon)
Textphone 0345 155 1020
Write to Transport Coordination Service, Devon County Council, County Hall, Exeter EX2 4QW

Announcing #PassengerPower for the #CowickPBus

27 January 2015 | For immediate release

We have been asked by the Express & Echo for some quotes to accompany an article on the proposal to withdraw evening and Sunday services on the P sroute.

Heather Morris, city councillor for Cowick, said:

“The Cowick Deserves a Better Bus Service campaign will be continuing and mounting, and Councillor Paul Bull has already said that he will be travelling on the P bus during the evenings to talk to residents about the review.

“We will be doing everything we can to ensure that residents in Cowick are aware of the proposal and encourage everyone to respond.

“Within hours of the announcement of the consultation we were contacted by a resident asking what his Council Tax for given that the street lights are switched off in Cowick at 12:30am, the roads are covered in potholes and Cowick’s current bus service fails to serve the needs of the community.

“It’s about time that the county council accepted that we live in a university city with a vibrant night time economy.”

Cllr Paul Bull

“Already the bus route that serves the Cowick community doesn’t allow residents to get to the GP surgery that serves that community:

“Speaking to residents at bus stops and on the buses, they tell us that the bus often doesn’t turn up when it should”

“And now this!”

“Isn’t it time that Stagecoach and DCC started to work with residents and communities to give them a real public transport system

“Cowick has the second highest population overt over 65s out of the 18 wards in the city – and the third highest of those that are in bad- or very-bad health”

“On top of that, 1 in 4 households – that’s 480 families – don’t own a car”

“Losing the evening bus service is a worrying trend and one that will make many elderly people, already isolated social, housebound in the evening”

“I am sure that many bright ideas might come forward during the 12 week consultation period – perhaps the hourly evening service starts earlier than it now does? Is there any chance of keeping the final last bus?”

“This is just the start – the team of Cllrs in Cowick will be speaking to you, and other agencies, to see what can be done”

“But most of all, use your voice in the consultation period. The more people that respond, the harder it will be for Devon County Council to be able to make a case to cut this essential link to the city centre.”

“We will need to motivate some Passenger Power – it’s going to be a case of use or lose it”

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.

COWICK NEWSLETTER [Winter 2015] | #CowickBuses – The P Bus

We’ve been a bit quiet on the matter of the P bus of late.

All 3 Labour Councillors have met with senior management of Stagecoach SW.

At those meetings, we were told that the current routes from Exwick were seeing 2m a year whereas the P serive carried “only” half a million. So, Stagecoach managers think it doesn’t make commercial sense to alter an of the routes.

Commenting on this view , Paul Bull said: “Of course, we are disappointed with this view. We will continue to monitor the situation and press the case on behalf of our residents.”

The case of the P bus has been raised with local MP, Ben Bradshaw and he has responded:
“Labour is committed to giving communities the stronger legal powers they need to take control of their local bus networks. We want to have real powers devolved so that communities can protect socially important routes and use resources in the best interests of local people. Anything less will fail to do justice to what the bus can offer every one of us.”

But the route the P service takes isn’t the only concern we hear on the doorstep.

We keep hearing about problems over reliability.

“Train services have to publish details of their reliability and I will be asking Stagecoach SW if they have any plans to do likewise over the bus services in Exeter”