TAPAS.network | 10 May 2023 | Commentary | Roger French

Can 30 DRT minibuses really hope to successfully replace up to 40 bus routes?

Roger French

Last month saw the controversial withdrawal of many tendered bus routes within the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) area, and their replacement with an extensive Demand Responsive Transit operation. Roger French is sceptical about how well the new system will do the job, and whether DRT is ever a cost-effective alternative. Here he explores the background to the project, and how things may work out for passengers, and the transport authorities. Based on past experience he is not too optimistic.

DEMAND RESPONSIVE Transit systems, providing public transport services by small vehicles running to dynamically determined schedules based on specific customer journey requests, have long been touted as ‘the answer’ to the financial problems of running conventional buses in areas of relatively low demand, for example rural and low-density suburban areas.

They are also seen in some circles as a ‘smart solution’ to getting people out of their cars, providing some of the magic of digitally-driven app travel offers like Uber, with individuals able to call up transport services as they need them.

As yet, however, despite over a decade of such schemes, there are few examples of successful DRT systems substituting for bus networks on any significant scale, and little evidence they tempt new users to public transport – or can be commercially self-supporting, or even cheaper to provider than the bus services they replace.

But enthusiasm for such new mobility approaches seems undimmed, and last month saw the start of what is claimed to be the largest DRT operation to be introduced in the UK, days after the controversial withdrawal of many tendered bus routes within the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) area – although we are asked to believe there is no connection between the two things. Indeed the origin of the DRT project is clouded in some apparent political manoeuverings and a less than transparent approach to how the actual operation has been set up. What is clear, though, is that a very considerable sum of public money is underpinning the scheme without any real expectation of whether DRT is a cost-effective alternative to the bus services it has effectively replaced.

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The WECA- supported WESTLink service uses 15-seater Mercedes mini- buses

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The operation covers an extensive suburban and semi-rural area around Bristol and Bath divided into three main zones with two overlapping areas

First, perhaps it is necessary to sketch out the melting pot of politics surrounding transport in the West of England, an area the boundaries of which may not be commonly understood, but is one of the emerging ‘Mayoral Authorities’ that have become the flavour of our times for combining smaller units of local government, and acting as the key to unlocking central government purse strings for areas of ‘devolved responsibility’ like transport.

Devolution of certain powers to the West of England – meaning for these purposes an area around Bristol and Bath extending into Gloucestershire and Somerset – was announced by the government in then chancellor Philip Hammond’s 2016 budget. The vision was to create a “Western Powerhouse” analogous to the Northern Powerhouse concept, with the carrot of bringing a suggested nearly £1 billion of investment to the region over thirty years.

The original proposal was to cover the same area as the County of Avon which came into formal existence in a previous local government reorganisation on 1 April 1974, but was abolished in 1996. However, in June 2016 North Somerset council rejected the proposal so Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire councils agreed to proceed as WECA without them, though the authority does work closely with North Somerset. The joint area had a population in 2020 of 1,165,600.

The ‘devolution deal’, via the West of England Combined Authority Order 2017, came into force on 9 February 2017, followed by the first mayoral election that May.

The mayor and combined authority are responsible for a consolidated, devolved local transport budget, with a multi-year settlement. They can franchise bus services, subject to triggering the necessary legislation and local consultation.

The authority promotes the West of England Joint Local Transport Plan, which includes the metrobus network for the Bristol area and the MetroWest rail project. The fourth iteration of the plan was published in March 2020. A Key Route Network of local authority roads is meanwhile managed and maintained by the combined authority on behalf of the Mayor. The brand ‘Travelwest’ is applied to a transport information and advice service promoted by the WECA authorities as well as North Somerset.

WECA’s first mayor, under the 2017 election, was Tim Bowles, the Conservative candidate, and a former local councillor. In the second mayoral election that took place in May 2021 Dan Norris, the Labour candidate, and the former MP for Wansdyke was the winner.

Of the three unitary councils that make up the Authority area Bristol City Council has its own directly elected Mayor, Marvin Rees who is also Labour, but the Greens have the highest number of councillors at 25, compared to Labour with 24. Bath and Northeast Somerset Council is LibDem controlled; and South Gloucestershire Council has been run by the Conservatives, though they lost control in this month’s elections. Neighbouring North Somerset, which WECA collaborates, is meanwhile Independent controlled. As you can see it’s a colourful mix of councils with varied political interests across the area leading to interesting dynamics between those involved, not least as elections approach.

The three councils hand over a Transport Levy to the Combined Authority which pays for supported bus services, concessionary fares reimbursement, community transport, bus service information as well as overhead staff costs and the Bristol metrobus BRT project. Total levy for the year ended March 2023 was just under £20 million split roughly 50% from Bristol City Council and 25% from each of Bath and Northeast Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

Problems with the area’s future bus provision began last year with reduced post pandemic passenger numbers continuing, but the impending end of government support, along with inflationary cost increases meaning that part of the levy intended for supported bus services, budgeted for around £3 million, became insufficient. Going forward the funding requirement was forecast to triple to £9.3 million for 2022/23 and beyond (see table next page).

In early 2023, it emerged that about 40 of the 69 subsidised bus routes were expected to be withdrawn due to reductions in the local transport levy. The mayor said he was not yet convinced that using the new bus franchising model introduced by the Bus Services Act 2017, similar to arrangements in London, was suitable for the area, but he would monitor how well franchising works in Manchester when rolled out from 2023.

A funding gap to fill

The unitary authorities were disinclined to hand over more money to the Combined Authority bearing in mind the financial challenges they in turn were each facing to meet their statutory duties, never mind paying for bus routes. Something therefore had to be done to plug the looming funding gap.

Coincidentally – or maybe not – the Combined Authority and neighbouring North Somerset Council were successful last year in securing a significant tranche of funding from the DfT for their jointly submitted Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP). While it was nowhere near the in excess of £1 billion they asked for (authorities were asked to be ambitious!) they did secure the second highest funding award in the country totaling £105.5 million over the three years 2022/23 to 2024/25. Of this £57.5 million is earmarked as revenue funding for fare reductions and service improvements.

Whether or not the impending severe cuts to the existing bus network were known about and reflected in both the BSIP bid and the DfT’s sign off of it, must remain, for the moment, a matter of conjecture.

As well as the BSIP, WECA has also been a beneficiary of the Government’s City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS). Last July it was awarded £540 million for a five-year delivery plan which “aims to deliver transformational change through investments in public and sustainable transport infrastructure”. Reflecting the crucial word “infrastructure”, WECA are planning to use £108 million each year across the five years (2022/23 to 2026/27) for “enhanced sustainable transport corridors” including bus priority measures.

WECA’s transport levy spending

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You will note the significance, in this discussion, of the ‘strings’ that are attached, at least in theory, to the distribution of monies from the Government’s pots like BSIP and CRSTS.

Indeed, one of the conditions the DfT imposed on BSIP awards is that revenue funding cannot be used to prop up existing services that would otherwise be withdrawn for lack of funds. WECA reported this to its members at a meeting in January: BSIP “is not intended to be applied to support bus services that have been historically supported through Local Transport Authority (LTA) revenue budgets,” they were told. “The BSIP funding allocation is aimed primarily at promoting growth in bus use and the expectation from Government is that it will be utilised for fare incentives and new service provision.”

WECA’s existing supported bus services that needed extra funding therefore didn’t qualify – though some kind of brand new network presumably might. Helped by enthusiastic sales pitches from tech companies which have made a specialism in promoting ride sharing apps, and politicians, both national and local, wanting to be regarded to be ‘doing something different’, WECA and its members are amongst a number of authorities are now seeing DRT as the answer to under-funded tendered bus routes.

The offer of DRT as a substitute may be seen as allowing authorities to withdraw unprofitable supported services and their conventionally operated timetables where everyone knows what time buses run, but with insufficient passengers on board, and then, without actually using the word “replacement”, for fear of breaking the BSIP funding rules, introduce a completely new DRT operation with all the promise of “Uber like buses” serving “virtual bus stops” on demand. To some, this is regarded as an “improvement” simply because passengers can use an App or make a telephone booking which they couldn’t before, so there’s funding available for such ‘innovative’ New Mobility schemes.

The harsh reality is, of course, with these systems, that no-one knows what time they might be able to get a bus until they try their luck at booking one. And, in my experience of looking at a considerable number of such schemes over several years, I’ve consistently found DRT buses generally end up running around with one and sometimes two passengers on board, – i.e. less than when it was a conventionally operated service, but at no less cost, – until eventually the service ends up being withdrawn as a financial no hoper.

You can see a taste of the chronology of more than 50 such schemes I have examined on the final page of this article, and the likelihood that they will only last a couple of years before withdrawal.

In this regard it is crucial to note that the BSIP funding supporting the latest batch of such schemes is time limited (two years to March 2025) by when it is expected pump priming funding for the “improvements” will have attracted so many new passengers with motorists abandoning their cars to modal shift to the bus that the new arrangements will be financially self-sustaining.

Whilst this ‘modal switch’ theory may be fine for effective (and ambitious) bus priority measures along with significant frequency enhancements across a corridor with significant potential, it is my belief that it will never make a DRT operation financial self-sustaining. Even those enthusiastic eager-for-profits tech-based companies behind their DRT operating models have had to admit that when pushed. A senior staff member from VIA, who run this one, told me the company never claim DRT will be commercial.

The upshot of all this is the DfT has approved funding of around £6 million to March 2025 from WECA and North Somerset’s BSIP allocation for the new DRT scheme launched on Monday 3rd April, and which, do please note, it is absolutely NOT correct to regard as a replacement for all those tendered bus routes that were withdrawn on Saturday 1st April.

So what is the actual WESTlink plan?

When the DRT plan was reported at a WECA meeting in January, the proposition was to have as many as 12 individual travel zones encircling Bristol city with some overlapping areas falling, confusingly, into two or more zones. Eventually, good sense prevailed and these were reduced to just three – a North Zone, a South Zone – and what’s called a “Future Travel Zone” of which more later. Passengers can use DRT to travel wholly within each zone – the idea being not to compete with conventional bus routes entering into Bristol itself. Indeed some of the BSIP funds are being used to pay First Bus and Stagecoach to enhance frequencies of these radial routes to improve the service offering, as well as fare reductions (which came in last year) when WECA introduced a £2 flat fare in the cities of Bristol and Bath ahead of the DfT’s temporary maximum scheme from January, meaning the BSIP provides the funding rather than the DfT’s own £2 arrangement.

The original idea was that the DRT would enable passengers to connect with the enhanced inter-urban bus routes at planned “Mobility Hubs”, but for now these transfer points appear to be no more than an ordinary bus stop, and maybe a shelter.

The new DRT operation has been given the brand name WESTlink. WECA say it’s been awarded to an operator “with a one-hour service level”, adding in its report to that January meeting “in some cases, this offer will far exceed current supported bus service availability”. That’s as maybe for a once a week shopping journey type bus service, when passengers are hopefully flexible enough to book their bus and then wait an hour for it to arrive. But it’s a completely different matter for those travelling to work or school or a medical appointment, and who previously had the certainty of a fixed timetabled bus service on which they could rely, but now could be waiting for the bus to arrive for up to an hour. It just reaffirms my view these schemes are dreamt up by people who’ve never travelled on a bus in their lives, and yet expect people to give up their cars to use these new services. There is surely rather more hope than anticipation that this will actually happen – and no evidence that I am aware of that it actually has done, anywhere in the world, with a DRT network so far.

When tenders were invited to run this system at the end of last year I understand submissions were disappointingly low, if indeed any were received. In the event the tender was awarded to New York based VIA Technologies Inc, the global company that’s behind the software used by a number of DRT schemes in Britain, alongside a small company based in Southsea called WeDRT.

Aside from Milton Keynes where self-employed own account (gig economy style) taxi/private hire drivers provide the MK Connect DRT service with eight seaters for VIA, which won that tender too, the company hasn’t hitherto run any British DRT schemes directly itself.

WeDRT has also been involved in the West Midlands and University of Warwick DRT and dial-a-ride schemes, but like VIA hasn’t got involved in actually running operations on the road directly itself.

WeDRT are “making DRT services commercially viable for Local Authorities”, says the company, in what is quite a claim.

WeDRT CEO Daniel Mould is also Director of a company called WeMOVE Solutions Ltd which may be one and the same business as WeDRT. WeMOVE used to be known as Coachscanner Ltd which acted as a broker between potential coach clients and small coach and minibus hire companies.

WECA specified accessible 16 seat minibuses to be used for WESTlink, which isn’t really VIA’s or WeDRT/WeMOVE’s bag, as they prefer smaller taxi type eight seat vehicles (nor are ‘O’ licences and service registrations – both needed for WESTlink) so it’s not surprising to see the actual operation has been subcontracted out.

Neither First Bus (reportedly 200 bus drivers short across the West of England at that time) nor Stagecoach, both obvious contenders, were interested, or in a position to help, so the operation was sub-contracted to a company called E-Zec which is “proud to be able to provide non-emergency patient transport services, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to 30+ NHS Trusts, Clinical Commissioning Groups and Health Boards across the UK.” E-Zec adds: “We use our fleet of 550+ fully equipped ambulances and specialist medical vehicles, and the expertise of over 1,400 ambulance care assistants, call handlers, renal mangers and other specialist support colleagues to deliver an exceptional service“.

WESTLink appears to be the first time Redhill based E-Zec has been involved in bus operation, so Directors John Harvey and Craig Smith applied for an O Licence with the Office of the Traffic Commissioner for the West of England, as published in Notices and Proceedings dated 9th March 2023. The application was for 51 vehicles to be based at seven Operating Centres across Bristol, Yate and Nailsea, but also as far away as Swindon and Salisbury.

Interestingly there’s a “New Undertaking”, attached to the Licence issued, that “vehicles with eight passenger seats or less will not be operated under the licence without the prior written agreement of the Traffic Commissioner”. In addition, “limousines and novelty type vehicles are not to be operated under this operator’s licence”, which hopefully will not be a bar to the much desired level of innovation.

About the operator

A check at Companies House shows that E-Zec Medical Transport Services Ltd has been in business for a number of years (first incorporated in 2000) but a couple of years ago its accounts declared that its parent company E-Zec Holdings Ltd was acquired by Leto 2021 Bidco Ltd. In turn, a company called Leto2021 Topco Ltd is the ultimate parent undertaking. The Annual Accounts also state the “ultimate controlling party is considered to be Cairngorm Capital Partners LLP”.

It’s certainly interesting to chart the changing landscape of bus ownership and operation in this country with an increasing involvement from tech companies, fund investors, companies that act as brokers and run call centres, and ‘mobility solution’ type companies of this kind. It is perhaps a valid point to ask if their long term commitment to this type of operation can be guaranteed – and who might be available to take over an operation like WESTLink if that was not to be the case.

WECA specified the WESTlink fleet of up to 30 vehicles must be fully accessible and I learnt from one of the drivers, when I visited the system, that E-Zec has ordered low floor Mercedes Sprinter 16 seater minibuses – the mainstay of most DRT schemes around the country. However, due to the late notice in awarding the tender, and the need for sub-contracting, the timescale has meant it had not been possible to obtain that fleet ready for the launch.

Instead a fleet of 16 seat vehicles has been temporarily rented in, with less than accessibility-friendly step entrances, and some with manually operated side doors as well as tail lifts. This has made for a less than optimum start to this exciting BSIP-funded era, under which WECA aim to make “it easier to access and use public transport, we will get people out of cars and tackle highway congestion”.

A challenge for DRT is to persuade people used to a defined route network and frequencies that it meets their needs, and that all important WECA BSIP objective of “ensuring that people are provided with the right information as and when they need it”. There’s indeed a dedicated WESTlink page on WECA’s Travelwest.info website which I’d been keeping an eye on over the last few weeks. A week ahead of the launch it was still promising information including the “WESTlink zone map” would be “coming soon”. Fortunately the link on that page to the map was activated just before the start of operations later that day but I’m not sure it really helped much to be able to see it.

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The zonal structure of the service (above) has been simplified over the original, highy complicated 12-zone plan (below)

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Instead of the now expected three coloured zones (North, South and “Future Travel” Zones) it showed five coloured zones with no explanation that I could see of what the different colours mean. Fortunately a better map has now been uploaded which at least explains which zone is which and what the overlap arrangements are including linking an Avonmouth zone linked to both the Future Travel Zone and the South Zone despite the latter being separated by the River Avon.

If you zoom in on the detailed map on a computer screen you can see the area covered a little better, but the background colour makes it extremely hard, especially for partially sighted people – I would doubt this passes muster with the Equalities Act.

Given that DRT is the supposed new answer to public transport needs in the WECA area, trying to find information about what services were to be withdrawn in the lead up to the launch was not an easy task. Lists were available online, some of which have appeared in the local media in recent months within reports of the deliberations of WECA meetings. However, ominously these haven’t given a very reassuring picture. One report which listed 36 routes set to disappear noted that WECA initially sent out a press release g saying 27 buses would be axed — before later clarifying that 27 would be saved, and 42 would be axed. A list was then sent out of potential services facing withdrawal, which was “not double-checked for accuracy” and only included 36 services. A confirmed list was then sent out the following day.”

Good for school and work?

Some of the routes due to be withdrawn are continuing beyond April for another three months. These are in Bath & North East Somerset where the Council has provided further short-term funding. Quite a few on the list are once a week shopping journeys or low frequency routes, while some are routes with journeys geared up for school children, giving rise to the rather incredible notion that WECA envisage these kids having to summon up a DRT bus each day to take them to and from school.

Likewise, imagine if you’re a passenger that used a route to get to work at the big Cribbs Causeway out of town retail centre, and you can see the former 90-minute frequency service is now withdrawn. Would you be confident you’ll be able to still get to work, even if you could work out what WESTlink offers, and how to download the App?

Frankly, if I’d been in that situation I’d have seriously thought about buying a car, or changing my job.

App and phone bookings are of course at the core of the DRT concept. The WESTlink App is a standard VIA type App that has a number of shortcomings in my opinion, including only being able to schedule a journey for later the day of booking or the next day (one day ahead is the current limit) after you’ve tried to book a journey for the current time, even if you don’t require that. There’s also no facility to book a journey by an arrival time at your destination (e.g., a hospital for an appointment) only being able to specify the departure time from the origin,

The WESTlink fare is capped at the current £2 national maximum. Hours of operation are 07:00 to 19:00 with no Sunday service although the Future Travel Zone has extended hours (05:30 to 21:30) and operates on Sundays (09:00 to 18:00).

For those who prefer to call, despite the illusion of a Bristol 0117 area code number, the call centre answering the phone line is actually based in Portsmouth, as I found when I gave it a call, so it is questionable whether there is much chance of receiving reassuring local knowledge about the West of England. It seems this location is associated with WeDRT, (or WeMOVE), also being based in the Solent area, and maybe that’s where the call centre for their other West Midlands scheme is also based so overheads can be combined.

Finally, to complete this background to the new DRT scheme, it needs to be recorded that, as well as BSIP and CRSTS funds, WECA was also successful in securing £24.4 million funding for what the DfT call “Future Travel Zones” (FTZ). Authorities were invited to bid for this funding pot back in 2019, with seven applications shortlisted in September that year which were then invited to reapply to what was then known as the “Future Mobility Zones Fund”. (“Mobility” was subsequently renamed “Transport”). WECA, together with the West Midlands, Derby and Nottingham and the Solent area, ended up as the four successful applicants.

In awarding the funding, DfT announced WECA “will test innovative tech to bring together people, operators and authorities. The aim is to introduce booking platforms, giving people access to book one journey across multiple modes of transport through the click of a button. They will also work to trial self-driving cars to transport people between Bristol airport, central Bath and the Northern Arc”. In addition to the £24.4 million, WECA is chipping in £3.65 million of its own money, in the programme due to run from July 2020 to March 2024. I don’t want to be too negative, and sceptical about these things, but I’m not sure we’ll be seeing self-driving cars on the roads between Bath and Bristol Airport any time soon, let alone by next March.

The Future Travel Zone’s relevance to WESTlink is that, along with E-Scooters, and the pretty much still unproven “Mobility As A Service” concept, WECA will also introduce “one-stop trial Mobility Hub sites” to “make it easier for people to switch between modes such as bus, bicycle and e-scooter”, which since that was devised in 2019, now includes DRT. FTZ funds were also apparently to be used for what’s called “Dynamic Demand Responsive Transport” providing “small capacity but highly flexible bus services to help people access jobs, leisure and education,” – presumably what has now materialised as the DRT.

Thus it appears that the oddly shaped yellow coloured zone in the centre of the DRT area map is indeed the FTZ, in which WESTlink DRT buses can now be booked for journeys wholly within it, but not crossing its boundary.

So you will note, three different government funding schemes have been accessed by WECA to underpin the DRT project: BSIP, CRSTS, and FTZ. A big bet of public money is therefore being made on the concept, the prospects for which based on previous experiences do not seem at all encouraging.

So how is it all working out?

After all the anticipation, as you’d probably expect I went over to the Bristol area soon after the launch to try WESTlink out.

I made four lengthy journeys as befits the large geographic area covered by WESTlink. Three of these were in the morning in the north zone and an 18-mile trek across the south zone in the afternoon.

As usual with a DRT start up period there were no problems booking travel for the desired time. I scheduled the first journey (taking the option of a 09:55 – 10:25 window) to coincide with my 09:51 train arrival at Keynsham rail station and the bus was confirmed for 09:55 and waiting for me outside the station when I arrived.

I booked the next three journeys as needed, and was offered a bus in 7 minutes, 19 minutes and 15 minutes. So not bad. Although the fourth booking had a false start giving me an 11 minute pick up, but after a no show and my phoning the call centre when I was told it was “pending”, I rebooked and got a 15 minute message.

The App also gives options for using conventional bus routes where available.

The minibuses were indeed all stepped entrance – one with manually operated doors (which are heavy to open and quite a challenge to close properly) and three (the most modern buses) had driver operated doors. A retractable step comes out as the door opens but on the manually operated door one, it didn’t come out and I got quite a shock when alighting.

The four bus drivers were all superb. All four had seen previous service with First Bus, albeit for short spells. One had also been with HCT’s CTPlus operation in Bristol until its closure last year.

We travelled along some of the narrowest roads I have ever travelled along in a bus and were plagued by a number of roadworks extending one scheduled 21 minute journey, from Keynsham to Yate, to 50 minutes.

I’d been the only passenger on my first three journeys, but for the fourth – a marathon 70 minute ride across much of the south zone from Parson Street station (south west Bristol near Hengrove) across to Freshford – I was surprised to see a passenger already on board as the bus pulled up.

It turned out to be the Local Democracy Reporter for the local news media, doing a WESTlink road test for his reporting on the new venture, and contributing an item about his journey on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme. John’s journey was diverted to pick me up – I’d booked just as his journey was beginning – and my journey then included a small deviation to drop him off. DRT as it’s meant to be I guess.

There were the usual teething issues for a new service – I’ve already mentioned the buses, but for those paying fares on the bus (rather than paying at the time of booking on the App) it was cash only for the moment with contactless still pending. Tickets are issued by a mobile phone like looking machine which also reads concessionary passes, but currently not contactless.

Two of the drivers took a wrong turning, but quickly recovered it when the SatNav alerted them.

All in all it was a great day’s DRT riding and some lovely countryside to pass through.

But where were the former bus passengers? And how are they managing now?

I hope someone is checking that and seeing what they make of it all. Let alone finding any of those who might start to use this exciting new kind of public transport...

FINAL VERDICT:
A Better Solution than buses?

Will the WESTLink DRT be a success? That depends on your definition of ‘success’. It gave me a great day’s travelling around beautiful South Gloucestershire and North East Somerset using my concessionary pass and enjoying my own personal chauffeur, but that’s not really the point of DRT.

The real test will be how well it looks after the previous regular bus users, – including workers and kids going to school – and if people do become familiar and confident with the new arrangements. And if that occurs, what happens with buses becoming busier and not everyone getting their journey needs fulfilled? But the real worry is surely the looming cliff edge when the money behind the project runs out in April 2025. What happens then? Because I’m absolutely convinced WESTlink won’t be financially self-sustaining, despite what WeDRT claim.

Yes, the budget for WECA’s supported bus services was increasing from £3 million a year to around £9 million. But WESTlink has been given £6 million funding over two years from BSIP, which works out at, er, £3 million a year – coincidentally almost precisely what the supported services budget had been.

As Metro Mayor Dan Norris says: “This is a major investment for a key project. We’re ready to learn as we go along. But I’m determined we get on and try something different, because the old solutions to our transport problems are not up to the challenges of the modern world post-pandemic. None of this will be easy, or quick, but this major multi-million-pound funding gives us a unique opportunity to shape our transport future for the better.”

Yes, Dan, it may be a ‘new’ solution but will it really deliver, and at a sustainable price? I don’t think so. It would have been surely worth having a thorough look at the experience of similiar schemes before putting such a big bet on this one.

Roger French was managing director of Brighton & Hove Bus Company until his retirement in 2013. He is the secretary of the 10% Club of bus managers seeking growth in the sector, and now writes his own blog, Bus & Train User (www.busandtrainuser.com)

This article was first published in LTT magazine, LTT868, 10 May 2023.

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