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Contract backfire

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Rural buses in North-East England will be cut under city leaders’ plans to seize control of fares and routes, a Labour MP warned (15 October 2014).

[“Rural bus services cut under city leaders’ plans to seize control of fares and routes, claims MP”, Matt Westcott, Northern Echo, 15 October 2014]

Kevan Jones broke ranks and sparked a party row by attacking proposals for a ‘quality contract’ across Tyne and Wear, to take back powers from the private bus giants.

The move is strongly backed by other Labour MPs and council leaders – and is viewed as a model by the party at Westminster, which wants to end the deregulation “free-for-all”.

But, intervening in a Commons debate, Mr Jones said the shake-up would backfire in rural parts of his North Durham constituency, where unprofitable routes are propped up.

And he branded the new combined authority’s plans for resolving disputes about which routes should survive, if the cash runs out, as “bureaucratic nonsense”.

Written by beleben

October 17, 2014 at 8:40 am

Mimic Transport for London, and get lower bus fares

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Millions of bus passengers outside London are getting overcharged as local authorities do not have the necessary powers to control fares, the Institute of Public Policy Research has warned in its report “Greasing the Wheels” (Mark Rowney and Will Straw, August 2014).

[“Bus fares soar due to ‘lack of local powers’, Dom Browne, Transport Network, 26 August 2014]

Fares in England outside the capital have increased at least a third more than inflation in the past two decades […] This has hit many of the country’s poorest the hardest as they rely on buses the most.

Outside London fares increased by 35% above inflation between 1995 and 2013, by 34% in Wales and 20% in Scotland, with a lack of local competition also preventing prices being held in check.

In response IPPR has called on the Government to give greater powers and responsibilities to local bodies to shape local bus markets replicating the Transport for London (TfL) model at the city-region and combined authority level.

So, if other areas had TfL-style authorities and subsidies, their citizens could enjoy the lower bus fare increases of the capital.

Unfortunately, the evidence from the Office of National Statistics and Department for Transport suggests that

  • in London, fare increases in recent years have not been much different from other English metropolitan areas;
  • fare increases in shire counties were substantially lower than in metropolitan areas.
Bus fare increases in and outside London

Bus fare increases in and outside London

In other words, areas without passenger transport authorities had the lowest fare increases — the opposite of the impression given by the IPPR.

This does not mean that there is no useful role for municipal involvement in local transport. But it does mean that things are way more complicated than Mr Rowney and Mr Straw would suggest.

Written by beleben

August 27, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Posted in Local government, London

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Borismaster battles

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London’s fleet of 600 Borismaster buses will cost £213 million, reported Bus and Coach.

07 May 2013

Tfl: Borismasters “will save millions”

Transport for London has confirmed the average price of each bus will be £354,500 over the four-year procurement contract and says that “millions of pounds will be saved over the life of the vehicles”. […]

And, making a virtue of the fact that the vehicles are unacceptable for operation anywhere else in the UK, TfL says that it “fully intends that these new buses will operate for their entire working life – of at least 14 years – in the capital – which means that a multi-million pound saving will be delivered over the useful life of the buses, even taking into account the marginally higher initial cost of the buses”.
No mention is made of the added cost of employing conductors, a point picked up be Green Party London assembly member Darren Johnson who says: “The New Bus for London is an expensive vanity project which the next mayor will abandon as an outdated and polluting waste of money. Londoners simply can’t afford the higher fares that will come from paying £37 million a year to bus assistants whose only real job is to stop people falling off the rear platform when it is open. The reason why these buses will spend their entire life in London is because no one else wants them. That is also the reason why TfL have had to buy the buses themselves, at a premium rate, rather than let the operators have all the upfront costs and risks.”

Alongside the 600 Borismasters London will also be taking 600 conventional – and presumably less expensive – hybrids over the next three years. […]

Are the Borismasters good value for money, or not? As things stand, it’s impossible to tell. Certainly, the ‘fact that the vehicles are unacceptable for operation anywhere else’ would apply to lots of other public transport equipment — e.g., the Victoria Line rolling stock. In a free unsubsidised market, bus operators would likely not even buy ‘conventional’ hybrid buses, hence the existence of the Green Bus Fund.

Many of the opponents of having ‘bus assistants whose only real job is to stop people falling off the rear platform when it is open’ are in favour of having rail ticket office clerks sitting in huts twiddling their thumbs for 56 minutes of every hour. So, quite baffling, as usual.

Written by beleben

May 13, 2013 at 11:31 am

Silber lining

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Birmingham's Corporation Street rooted up for Centro's Midland Metro tramway, 2012

On the Chamberlain Files, Paul Dale reported the 8 November defeat of a Birmingham man’s bid to get buses back into the city’s central shopping area.

Campaigner Robin Clarke was seeking a judicial review into the Transport Secretary’s decision to approve a £75 million city centre extension of the Midland Metro tram system, arguing that there were “extreme deficiencies” in public consultation about the impact the scheme would have.

He told the High Court in Birmingham of widespread anger over the re-routing of buses to accommodate the Metro extension from Snow Hill to New Street Station.

Buses can no longer travel along Corporation Street, Upper Bull Street and Stevenson Street. Passengers must use special “interchanges” a five minute walk away at Snow Hill/Colmore Row, Paradise Circus/Broad Street, New Street Gateway, Markets, Moor Street/Carrs Lane and Bull Street/Priory Queensway.

Mr Clarke claimed the new arrangements were introduced by bus companies, the Passenger Transport Authority Centro, and Birmingham City Council without any proper attempt to inform passengers or ask for their opinion.
Centro, the city council and the Department for Transport were involved in an “internal stitch-up” and had used improper procedures, he added. When challenged about what would happen to the buses Centro had used “persistent misinformation”, Mr Clarke claimed.

Mr Justice Silber rejected the application for a judicial review, stating that it had been lodged outside of the three-month time limit, and in any event, none of the arguments put forward by Mr Clarke could be substantiated.

The Department for Transport, Centro and the city council had behaved correctly throughout and there had been “no error in public law”.

No doubt the legal team hired by the Department for Transport and Centro would have pointed out the ‘serious implications’ of granting Mr Clarke’s application. Bus stops have already been broken up, streets dug up, a £9 million viaduct built, and £41 million of new trams ordered from Spain. So the outcome of the legal case is not very surprising. All the same, it’s clear that Centro

  • undertook a bare minimum of ‘consultation’
  • made little attempt to engage the public
  • and provided no information on alternative visions for future travel in the city centre.

The 2011 consultation did not include changes ascribed by Centro to the Midland Metro extension, because they “were approved through the Transport and Works Act Order process” (more than a decade earlier, for a different tram scheme extending to Five Ways, and involving a different set of bus changes).

It’s not even clear where the ‘three-month time limit’ ended. On 2 February 2012, using the freedom of information site Whatdotheyknow, Mr Clarke asked Centro to provide details of consultation carried out on the city centre bus stop closures and Metro extension.

Centro did not respond until 29 February. At that time, it provided copies of the ‘Birmingham City Centre Interchange public engagement consultation (bus stops) and Birmingham City Centre Extension consultation report (Metro).

Text from the main section of the 32-page bus stops report, dated 21 July 2011, is reproduced below. There were five appendices (with some virtually illegible text).

Purpose of Report
1. To provide a briefing on the extent and outcomes of the informal brieifing [sic] and consultation process with regard to the proposed TrafFic Regulation Orders for the Birmingham City Centre Interchange.

2. In order to undertake the highway modifications necessary to put in place the infrastructure for the Birmingham City Centre Interchange (BCCI) project a number of Traffic Regualtion [sic] Orders (TROs) are required. These are summarised in Appendix A.

3. A process of informal Consultation has been undertaken with the public, councillors and key stakeholders in order to understand any issues and to ensure that the design relating to the proposed TROs minimises impact wherever possible whilst delivering the benefits of the scheme.

4. The next stage of the process is a formal 3 week consultation process where any outstanding objections can be raised. Through the extensive informal consultation it is expected that there will be very few of these.

5. The TROs related to the Midland Metro extension whilst linked will not be formally consulted upon as these were approved through the Transport and Works Act Order process.

Public Consultation
6. Exhibitions have taken place at the following prominent locations:
* Birmingham Markets – Saturday 26 March [2011]
* Moor Street Station — Tuesday 29 March
* Snow Hill Station — Thursday 31 March
* Victoria Square — Friday 1 April
* Birmingham Markets — Saturday 2 April
* New Street Station — Tuesday 5 April
* Victoria Square — Wednesday 6 April
* Birmingham Markets — Friday 8 April
* Moor street — Monday 23 May
* Moor Street — Tuesday 24 May

7. The information displayed at the exhibition stand featured the Connected City brand and outlined the aims of the project and affected areas of the city, including the Metro route, the removal of traffic from Corporation Street and the city centre interchange bus works.

8. The exhibitions have been staffed by members of the Centro and BCC teams as well as representatives of the consultants undertaking design and development work.

9. Over 800 people visited the exhibitions to ask questions directly related to the project. In addition large numbers of other visitors asked questions related to other public transport related issues.

10. There were many positive comments about the proposals, especially the Metro route and changes to New Street Station. Positive comments were also received with regard to making Corporation Street into a more pedestrianised environment.

11. The main focus for negative comments was the removal of buses from Corporation Street and disabled access. Removal of buses from Corporation Street is a requirement of the TWA order for the Metro extension and is not included in the BCCI TROs.

12. Liaison with a number of disabled groups about the plans has taken pace as well as with the Birmingham City Council Access Committee. These groups were also invited to the exhibitions of the 23rd and 24th May.

13. 82 comment forms were received as a result of the exhibitions, An analysis of these comments is provided in Appendix B.

14. The comments have been responded to through the development of a set of Frequently Asked Questions and associated responses, These have been posted on the Connected City website. Whilst not all people submitting comments provided contact details, where this was the case they have been sent the latest Frequently Asked Questions/Responses by email. These Frequently Asked Questions and Responses are provided in Appendix C.

15. As a result of the large number of exhibitions and meetings there has been very little specific correspondence. Specific correspondence issued is provided in Appendix E.

16. A report on the proposals for the BCCI was provided to ITA members at their meeting of 7 February 2011.

17. All Birmingham Councillors have been sent the relevant leaflets relating to the TROs and invited to discuss the proposals with the project team.

18. This has been done twice in order to provide a reminder of the content of the scheme.

19. No direct responses have been received to these invitations, however a number of councillors have attended other events including Councillors, Hartley, Rice and Bore.

20. Members of the ITA City Centre Steering Group were invited to a briefing in Centro House. This was attended by Councillors Huxtable and Hunt. A further meeting of the City Centre Steering Group was held on 21 July 2011 attended by Councillors Alden, Evans, Hartley, Hunt, Huxtable, Kane and Ward. This meeting included a presentation on the proposals for the Birmingham City Centre Interchange and associated SAPS. In addition Councillors were offered the opportunity to view the scheme drawings and other material relating to the scheme.

21. To provide a final chance to provide informal comments and issues an invite was provided to councillors to attend drop in briefings in Centro House during July. These were attended by Councillors Bore and Hartley. The queries raised by Councillor Hartley have been responded to by email. A further meeting was held to brief Councillors Lines and Jackson.

Other Stakeholders
22. An extensive programme of briefings and presentations has been set up over the period from January 2011 to date. These are listed in Appendix D.

23. To date all specific queries have been responded to. Centro has committed to providing ongoing briefings for a number of these organisations.

24. Bus operators have received a number of briefings both collectively and on an individual basis. The majority of services impacted by the TROs are operated by National Express and numerous discussions have taken place including with the Group Chief Executive and Managing Director UK Bus. National Express have been provided with a series of presentations of the modelling work undertaken by Birmingham City Council. In addition the improvements to the highway network proposed in order to facilitate better bus reliability and reduced journey times have been discussed at a senior level with National Express staff.

25. As a result of these discussions the focus of debate with National Express has now moved on to the process for minimising any disruption during the construction phase and the method of notifying passengers of future change s to their stops and services, A letter has been sent to National Express setting out the position with regard to the TROs and confirming the likely timescales to completion of the process.

26. Numerous discussions have taken place with retailers and the Business Improvement Districts, comments have tended to focus on the Metro extension rather than the BCCI TROs. Following the agreement of a materials palatte [sic] with BCC officers, Centro will now progress further discussions with the various BIDs and retailer groups with regard to issues such as public realm enhancement.

27. In order to ensure that all retailers and residents within the impacted area were aware of the proposals a leaflet drop was done to all homes and businesses within the Birmingham City Centre Interchange area. Wherever possible the leaflets were delivered by a member of the project team so that questions could be raised and responded to.

Charges to the TRO Proposals
28. As a result of the informal consultation process set out about the following changes have been made to the proposals;

29. Cycling — there has been discussion with cycling groups and officers responsible for cycling throughout the process as a result the cyle [sic] access routes through the city core area have been modified from the original proposals.

30. National Express — the bus routes that enable the BCCI proposlas [sic] to work have bean developed jointly between BCC, Centro and National Express. Through this process National Express has fed in proposals throughout the process with regard to the infrastructure investment and traffic regulation proposals. The BCCI project provides approximately £14 million investment aimed at bus improvements, National Express have on the basis of their operational knowledge proposed a series of refinements to the proposals.

Those now included in the proposals include:
• Holloway Circus — improved capacity through widening the roundabout
• Bus Turning loop at St Martin’s Queensway /Moor Street
• Allowing buses to turn right into Carr’s Lane from Moor Street Queensway
• Allowing buses to turn right from Priory Queensway into Moor Street Queensway
• Two buses outside the Square Peg
• Albert Street available to buses until redevelopment
• Reverse Hill Street and provide a link road to Holliday Street
• Priory Queensway and Old Square stops to be retained

31. A number of other issues have been raised and have been incorporated into the TRO proposals as set out below:

On-Street Facilities
• Revised measurement method for facilities — now includes tapers.
• Corporation Street — New loading bay north of Old Square.
• Stephenson Street — Revised loading bay.
• Waterloo Street — Revised disabled bay.
• Steelhouse Lane — New on-street pay and display.
• Moor Street Queensway — Revised loading bay including limited waiting (drop off).
• Moor Street — Revised taxi rank /new limited waiting area (drop off).
• Bull Street — New loading bay.
• Upper Dean Street — New drop off /pick up facility.

• James Watt Queensway — 20mph speed limit retained.
• Revised extent of bus lanes.
• Revised allowable traffic in bus lanes.
• Stephenson Street /Stephenson Place — revised allowable traffic.
• Corporation Street — Contra-flow cycle lane,
• Bull Street – Contra-flow cycle lane.
• Temple Row — Two way traffic.
• Bartholomew Row — One way.
• Jennens Road — Bus lane revoked.
• The Priory Queensway (east of Old Square) — Allowable traffic modification.

The following are extracts from Appendix E, ‘Correspondence with Regard to TRO Proposals’.

A communication plan which will include the formal consultation process as well as additional information and engagement is currently being developed by Centro and its partners. This is likely to include briefings, exhibitions, websites aid media We will ensure that there are plentiful opportunities far passengers to provide feedback on the developing design work. In fact; we recently began the process with several focus groups in the city centre to help us develop the design for new bus shelters, As well as inviting bus users and nan-users to input their thoughts on the design, we also included representatives from the city centre management, business, resident and disabled groups. Philip Davis from Passenger Focus was invited to this process, although understand that he did not attend. We will continue to include Passenger Focus in all future briefings and look forward to their continued involvement in our projects.

There has been some feedback from parties, though the response to invites to the TRO exhibitions was disappointing. Only 20 people on day 1 and 15 on day 2. Feedback from the retailers for the poor response ranged from apathy through to that they trusted the Retail BID to be there [sic] point of contact to communicate any issues that they had.

There were a lot of positive comments about the proposed improvements to the City Centre, especially the extension to the Metro and the development of New Street Station. Many people believed that the improvements would give Birmingham and particularly the City Centre a much better image. Positive comments were also made regarding the removal of buses from Corporation Street to make it more pedestrian friendly and provide a more pedestrian feel to the city as a whole. Enhanced wayfinding and signage was seen as important to the success of the projects. There was a general feel that it was ‘about time’ that the extension was happening, with many
people having read about previous attempts, The introduction of new rolling stock was seen as a positive, giving the tram a more modern appearance.

Centro’s 2011 consultation did not explain which bus stops would be moved where, what the new bus stops would be like, or how the ‘loop bus’ between interchanges would work (at the time of writing, there appears to be no such service). From Paul Dale’s article for the Birmingham Post dated 11 November 2011, it appears that Centro were still stitching up the routeing of buses with National Express long after their public consultation had finished.

Although the Corporation Street changes have been welcomed by Retail Birmingham chairman Jonathan Cheetham, local press and television coverage would suggest that many traders are not happy. Retail Birmingham is a so-called ‘business improvement district’ that takes in the Mailbox and Bullring (whose large retailers are potential beneficiaries from disruption in Corporation Street).

While there were too many buses using Corporation Street, their total exclusion (and blocking off of stops in other streets) was a mistake. The £129 million extension of Midland Metro to Stephenson Street is low productivity investment which could not improve air quality in the city centre. It could improve hyperlocal air quality in Corporation Street itself, but the hydrocarbons and NOx are just being transferred to the new bus stops, many of which are far more congested than the old ones.

Written by beleben

November 11, 2012 at 3:56 pm

An affordable high

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The integrated transport authorities of Tyne and Wear and West Yorkshire are banging the drum loudest for bus Quality Contracts in Britain’s provincial conurbations. On 22 September 2012, BBC News reported the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority’s view that Quality Contracts would

“simplify” bus fares and make them “more affordable”.

What does ‘making bus services more affordable’ actually mean? Well, apparently, it means 20% of bus users would see the cost of travel increase, as Passenger Transport reported on 3 October.

Bus users in Tyne & Wear could see fares increase if plans by Nexus, the local PTE, for the introduction of Quality Contracts are introduced.

The PTE admitted at a meeting of the Tyne & Wear Integrated Transport Authority last week that 20% of bus users would face higher fares if moves to increase industry regulation were realised.

Nexus adds that the remaining passengers in the region would pay bus fares that are “broadly in line with current levels (within 3% of the current price for a single/day ticket or within 5% for a season ticket)”.

More details of the QC plans were also released at last week’s meeting. Nexus says there would be 22 separate contracts, varying in size and requiring from 10 to 95 vehicles. All of the contracts would be tendered at the same time and run for either five years (three years plus a two year extension) or 10 years (seven years plus a three-year extension). Some services would extend into neighbouring Northumberland and Durham.

Fares would also be restructured with the introduction of a zonal fares arrangement. Bus fares would also be harmonised with those on the Tyne & Wear Metro light rail system which would be integrated into the new network.

What does ‘integrating’ Tyne & Wear Metro into the network mean? It probably means the early 1980s arrangement of re-routeing buses to Metro stations, and away from central Newcastle-upon-Tyne, thereby replacing direct no-change public transport trips with slower indirect ones.

So, hands up. Who wants higher bus fares, and enforced interchange?

Written by beleben

October 5, 2012 at 2:34 pm

West Yorkshire own goal

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In recent years, West Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority has not been very happy with local bus operators, and as a result, it is now seeking to establish a Quality Contract Scheme. In a 2009 video, WYITA deputy chairman Chris Greaves said that First Group (which provides the majority of bus services in the county) had “overcharged and under-delivered”.

Which begs the question: why did the transport authority privatise its bus operation in the first place? Britain’s Transport Act 1985 — which introduced deregulation of provincial mainland bus services — also required passenger transport executives (PTEs) to move their bus operations into newly formed “arm’s length” separate companies. But the Act did not require passenger transport authorities to privatise those companies.

In West Yorkshire, the Transport Executive’s bus operation, re-organised for deregulation in 1986 as ‘Yorkshire Rider’, was sold to its management and employees in October 1988. In 1994, Rider was taken over by Badgerline Holdings, the core of the present-day First Group conglomerate.

Had West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority decided to retain ownership of Rider, it could have mandated a ‘moderate’ dividend policy — meaning low fares. With a low fare policy in place, there would have been little incentive for external operators to enter the West Yorkshire bus market and disrupt the pre-1986 network. And in 2012, West Yorkshire would not be faced with the enormous dog’s breakfast that is the Quality Contract scheme.

Written by beleben

September 18, 2012 at 9:32 am

The problem of second worst

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Andrew Whittles presentation at the Centro 2012 Green Transport conference: 'The West Midlands has the second worst air quality in the UK'

According to the Guardian (28 June)

Twelve UK cities and urban areas may have to ban or fine heavily polluting traffic from their centres within months after the European commission refused to allow Britain more time to reduce dangerous exhaust emissions, according to air quality campaigners.

Newcastle, Liverpool, Tyneside, Sheffield, Bristol, Brighton, Birkenhead, Preston, Swansea, Belfast, south-west England, north-east Scotland and south Wales are all likely to have to introduce “low-emission zones” to curb the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which is linked to heart diseases and respiratory problems.

Nine other cities, including Nottingham, Leicester and Portsmouth, have been given three more years to reduce NO2 pollution. Europe will decide later whether plans for 17 other towns cities and regions, including London, are adequate. Forty of 43 UK zones exceeded NO2 legal limits in 2010.

It’s curious that Birmingham was not included on the list. According to Andrew Whittles of Low Emission Strategies Services Ltd, the West Midlands has the second worst air quality in the United Kingdom. Speaking at Centro’s annual green transport event a few weeks ago, Mr Whittles gave an insight into the problem by referring to NO2 on the Stratford Road corridor, where trucks and buses are vastly more polluting in NOx than cars.

Andrew Whittles presentation on NO2 on the Stratford Road, West Midlands

Andrew Whittles presentation on NO2 on the Stratford Road, West Midlands

While it’s important to bear in mind the difference between average and marginal modal cost of NOx emissions — and that modernisation of the bus parc has contributed to reducing its emissions overall — the fact remains that West Midlands public transport has significant negative impacts on air quality and public health.

Centro’s rudimentary understanding of environmental topics is driven by central government tunnelblick about carbon emissions, and in its 48-page Environmental Strategy 2009 – 2014, NO2 is mentioned just once.

In the West Midlands poor air quality is a problem. The whole of Birmingham and Wolverhampton are designated as Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs), whilst AQMAs are also in place in Coventry, Walsall, Dudley and Sandwell. Typically the pollutants of concern within the Wests strategic planning, hence monitoring is focused on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particles (PM10). Other air pollutants can include sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methane.

Centro aims for 'world-class'Although pollutants are ‘monitored’ by local authorities, Centro does not have any strategic planning process to bring about cleaner future public transport. But it has been awarded £33 million from the government Local Sustainable Transport Fund to develop its Smart Network, Smarter Choices project. This aims to educate people who have the possibility of travelling by car, to make the ‘smart choice’, of using environmentally friendly public transport instead.

A case of fiddling, while Rome burns, as it were. Currently, West Midlands public transport is not particularly environmentally friendly. There is nothing smart about remaining in a state of ignorance, or denial, about air quality. And apart from the ‘nanny state’ element, there are some difficult problems with ‘Smart Network’ itself. Such as:

1) How to persuade a car owner to make a trip to the supermarket by bus, perhaps 1 km away, having to pay the best part of £4 for the privilege?

2) And how to promote the bus mode as green, when its NOx and other emissions are so impactful?

Written by beleben

July 2, 2012 at 10:34 am

Ducking the question

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Are West Yorkshire bus quality contracts workable?Bus strategy in West Yorkshire is one of the items on the agenda for June 29’s annual general meeting of the county’s Integrated Transport Authority (ITA). The Authority intends to recommend that councillors approve the implementation of a quality contract scheme, claiming the idea has public backing.

As in several other areas of Britain, West Yorkshire politicians have been talking about implementing of bus quality contracts for years, without actually following through. The ITA has fallen out with the Association of Bus Operators in West Yorkshire, with chairman James Lewis saying that de-regulation has led to long term planning failure, network instability, and unbalanced rewards for operators.

It would be ‘interesting’ to see a quality contract scheme in operation, because West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive currently does not have the wherewithal to plan and operate a bus network. So there are two significant issues with having quality contracts — cost, and competence. As Bus and Coach noted, the authority is “curiously quiet on the cost of a quality contract scheme”.

It ducks the question on its website saying “depending on how the scheme is implemented, the specification made and how receptive to the scheme bus operators are, there may be no additional public subsidy required to run a quality contract scheme.”
Metro [West Yorkshire PTE] and other English PTEs have tended to look for inspiration to London’s tendered bus network without fully considering either its cost or the very different economic circumstances of London and the south-east compared with the post-industrial conurbations served by the PTEs. Earlier this month the neighbouring South Yorkshire PTE moved away from its earlier pursuit of quality contracts when it announced new partnership plans for bus services in Sheffield.

Written by beleben

June 26, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Malos aires

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Stationary diesel buses in central Birmingham

In January 2011, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority retired its last diesel bus.

In an urban area where diesel buses began operating in 1940, the MTA now has 2,221 buses powered by compressed natural gas, as well as one electric bus and six gasoline-electric hybrids.

Transit officials estimate that the elimination of diesel engines has reduced the release of cancer-causing particulates from the bus fleet by 80% and greenhouse gases by about 300,000 pounds a day in one of the smoggiest areas of the country.

MTA officials say that compressed natural gas buses cost more to buy and maintain than those powered by diesel but that the increased expenses are offset somewhat over the long run by lower fuel costs.

“Not only is this an important step for air quality, it sets the bar for other transportation agencies to follow,” said Joe Lyou, president of the Coalition for Clean Air, a statewide organization based in Los Angeles. “Now when an MTA bus pulls up, you don’t run away anymore from the huge cloud of exhaust.”
Though the MTA has converted its fleet, the agency still contracts with private bus lines that rely on diesel fuel. Of the 187 private buses, 82 have diesel engines, but transit officials say those should be phased out in the next several years.

In Great Britain, road public transport in the big cities is dependent on diesel powered vehicles. Many of the 2,000-plus buses in the West Midlands Urban Area spend a lot of time stationary (or moving very slowly in traffic) with engines on, and the consequence is very bad local air quality.

Eighteen diesel/battery hybrid buses are to be introduced to NXWM service in early 2012, and as part of the council’s ‘Vision for Movement‘, the most polluting buses would be effectively excluded from Birmingham city centre. But these measures in themselves are not going to make a difference overall.

Centro's car and bus comparison diagramIn its ‘Transforming Bus Travel‘ document, Centro included a diagram purporting to show that a single decker bus is ‘equivalent to 78 cars’.

The reality is that the average bus carries about 9 passengers, so emissions per passenger kilometre are not something to be especially proud of. So long as high frequency bus services (e.g., Birmingham – Kings Heath – Maypole) remain operated by diesel buses, there is going to be bad air.

What’s needed is fewer silly diagrams, and more rational thinking. There is a strong case for converting most of Birmingham’s trunk bus routes to trolleybus operation, but this would require the support and involvement of the local authority. Whether the civic leadership has the necessary perspicuity, remains to be seen.

Written by beleben

December 24, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Nat Expecting a fair increase

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Urban diametric and radial bus routes Most bus fares in Greater Birmingham are going up next month, announced National Express West Midlands (NXWM), operator of most services.

Um, quelle surprise. Virtually every January, NXWM fares go up. In fact, in some years, there’s been two increases. And there was a stealth increase when the company replaced the stage-based ticketing system, inherited from the municipal operators, with just standard and ‘short hop’ fares.

Anyway, here’s the price-hikin’ press release:

National Express West Midlands is changing its fare structure in line with inflation from 2 Jan 2012 and trialing a new £1 city hop ticket.

The new trial city hop fare will allow people to get around Birmingham city centre using the bus for a pound. The ticket will be available for Single trips wholly within the middle city ring road in Birmingham, including the places shown on the diagram to the right.

The new fares reflect rising business costs and will support further reinvestment into the West Midlands bus network during 2012, building on the arrival of almost 100 new vehicles including green hybrids in 2011.

The change to existing tickets will mean single tickets increase by 10p, Daysaver by 20p and cards by 50p a week.

Fare increases have been kept to a minimum and West Midland bus prices remain amongst the most competitive of any major UK city. Monthly Direct debit is the cheapest method of travelling and provides unlimited bus travel for the equivalent of £1.60 per day.

Peter Coates, Managing Director for National Express Bus UK, said:
“We realise these are tough times and have kept the increase to a minimum with the average increase in line with inflation. The price rise will allow us to continue our significant investment into the region’s bus network and meet rising business costs.”

“Fares in the West Midlands are among the most competitive of any major UK city and our focus in 2012 is improving the quality of journey for all our customers. This year we have introduced almost 100 new vehicles to the network and have plans to sustain this investment in 2012.”

“We operate an exact fare policy for speed and security so it’s important that customers are made aware of the change well in advance. Information will be displayed on buses and on our website.”
New bus fares from 2 January, 2011

West Midlands Cash Fares Current New
Birmingham City Hop – NEW n/a £1.00
Adult Short Hop £1.60 £1.70
Adult Single £1.80 £1.90
Adult Daysaver £3.60 £3.80
Family Daysaver £7.80 £8.00
West Midlands Travelcards
Regional – 1 Week £14.50 £15.00
Regional Direct Debit (Monthly) £46.00 £48.00
Regional 4 Week £52.00 £54.00
Black Country – 1 Week £13.00 £13.50
Black Country Direct
Debit (Monthly)
£40.00 £42.00
Black Country – 4 Week £45.50 £47.50

The city hop fare won’t “allow people to get around Birmingham city centre using the bus for a pound”, because the bus routeing and network planning doesn’t anticipate or facilitate such journeys. Effectively all bus services entering central Birmingham are radial (city-to-suburb); direct cross-city travel without a change of bus is not on the menu. And in any event, a single bus ticket is not transferable onto another NXWM bus.

If anything, the situation regards travel across the city centre corona is likely to get worse, with the ‘Connected City’ reorganisation of buses (to make way for Midland Metro to run along Corporation Street), seemingly drawn up on the back of a fag packet.

It’s interesting to compare the NXWM fares with those of Paris. For example, a single ticket bought on the RATP bus costs €1.90, but a t+ ticket bought off-bus beforehand costs €1.70, or €12.50 for ten. What’s more, the t+ ticket is valid for inter-bus transfers within the city, for 90 minutes between the first and last validation. (At the time of writing £1 = €1.20 or thereabouts.)

Written by beleben

December 20, 2011 at 7:07 pm