Stagecoach calls on Welsh Government to boost buses by promoting partnerships

Posted: 2 July 2013 | Stagecoach | No comments yet

Stagecoach urged the Welsh Government to boost bus use…

Stagecoach today (2 July 2013) urged the Welsh Government to boost bus use by making more use of existing legislation to encourage greater partnership working between bus operators and local authorities.

The company called for a more integrated approach to transport in Wales through the creation of new single regional bodies to take responsibility for both roads and public transport planning and delivery.

Stagecoach backed aspirations for a national transport network in Wales, but cautioned that any system “must be practical and affordable”. It also rejected proposals for a bus contracting system and separate regulatory powers for the Welsh Government as unnecessary.

The details are included in Stagecoach’s response to the Integrated Public Transport in Wales report published in May 2013 by the National Assembly’s Enterprise and Business Committee. The company operates nearly 400 buses in South Wales, employs 900 people and carries 26 million passengers a year.

In its submission, Stagecoach revealed that in the last five years (2008/9 to 2012/13) the company had:

  • Increased service levels (miles operated) by 5.8%
  • Boosted jobs by 5.4%
  • Grown the number of adult fare paying passengers by 5.5%
  • Increased concessionary travel passenger numbers by 7.4%
  • Invested £11m in 100 new buses, with a further £3.4m order for 31 new buses in 2013/14

“Private sector operators are happy to work in partnership with the public sector to improve integration, co-ordination, ticketing and information, within the scope of competition law and on the understanding that services must be commercially and sustainably viable,” Stagecoach said.

“There are already many examples of good quality public transport services in Wales. Stable and professional public sector governance and finance is essential to deliver further improvements.”

It added: “The aspirations for a unified national public transport network with co-ordinated routes, timetables, ticketing and information must be tempered by practicality, affordability and deliverability.”

Stagecoach, which has twice been independently assessed as offering the lowest fares of any major bus operator in the UK, said ticket pricing should continue to be left to bus operators.

In its submission, Stagecoach called for single Regional Planning Authorities, combining the Regional Transport Consortia (RTCs) with District Council planning and highway authorities, governed by Joint Boards of elected members from District Councils.

It said this approach would be “more efficient and effective” and would “provide a strong basis for national and local economic development”.

However, Stagecoach said it was opposed to so-called Quality Contract schemes for legal, financial and practical reasons. They would take up to two years to put in place, divert vital funding away from services to pay for administering a contracting system, and leave taxpayers with the financial risk.

The company said that while London had an “enviable public transport system”, the city was unique in the UK. It had high levels of commuting, but car use was impractical due to limited road and parking space, congestion and cost. London accounted for 40% of all UK transport expenditure and the London bus network public subsidy had mushroomed from £1m in 1999/2000 to £518m in 2011/12.

“It seems highly unlikely that the Welsh Government would be willing to commit such a high level of resource to public transport, even if it had the funds to do so,” Stagecoach said.

The company pointed out that use of local bus services across the UK started falling from the 1950s due to increased car ownership, changing lifestyles, lower density housing and relocation of industry, which increased public transport costs. These factors were further exacerbated in the 1970s by rising fuel and wage costs, leading to a combination of rising fares, declining service levels, increasing subsidies and falling passenger numbers.

Stagecoach said it saw “no good reason” for the Welsh Government to have separate regulatory powers over bus services, which would lead to different regulatory systems as buses crossed over the border into England. Existing Transport Act powers were “already sufficiently wide to achieve any of the Committee’s recommendations”.

Elsewhere in its submission, Stagecoach said:

  • the scope of the committee’s report should have been widened to include cars, roads, parking, and inter-urban coach services, as well the wider picture of national and local economic development and planning.
  • community and demand-responsive transport may be more appropriate than conventional bus services in areas of Wales where there is low demand.
  • there could be considerable benefits in co-ordinating transport provided by the health, education and social care sectors with more mainstream local bus services.
  • public transport should not be viewed in isolation from private transport.

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