Tuesday, January 30, 2007

All change for buses

Down to London yesterday for a conference examing the potential impact of the Government's White Paper Putting Passengers First.

Leading figures from the bus industry, local authorities and the Traffic Commissioners were amongst the speakers, after a key-note speech from the Transport Minister Douglas Alexander MP.

I have to say that my opinion shifted somewhat after listening to the debate during the day. Previously I have been a staunch proponent of regulation of the industry - anyone with a passing knowledge of what we have been through here in Darlington will understand why. The slow haemorraging of bus services, particularly in the rural area and the West End, can only continue the slow decline of passenger numbers in the town. In London, the trend is in the opposite direction, where of course services are franchised.

There are other factors which help explain London's success, however, including significant amounts of subsidy paid via the GLA. There are success stories outside London where local councils and the bus operators have worked together without a regulatory framework - Manchester, York and Cambridge are examples. Perhaps wholesale regulation would introduce pointless red tape when better partnership working might be more successful. On balance, I'm prepared to see if the proposals in the White Paper can do the trick.


IAN HOLME said...

The only way to get people out of their cars and onto busses is to ensure that the bus runs where you want, when you want reliably and economically.

From Hurworth, we have three different operators at various times of the week. You cannot use the same tickets (weekly for instance) for all operators.

The last bus now runs at 11pm, hardly late enought to cater for the late night weekend crowd (or was this the intention i wonder)

The biggest problem is the unreliability of the service, many times i have been left waiting long after the timetable says, and on a number of occassions the bus has not materialised at all.

To be fair, the weekly ticket for my daughter to attend the sixthform is quite reasonable, however, for a couple to get to town and back as a one-off trip costs in excess of £7, even without the children in tow.

Finally, whilst it does not bother me, I know a number of people, especially older generations, who are very uncomfortable waiting for their bus outside the somewhat "livley" Naggs Head pub.

miketually said...

Within Darlington at the moment, my problem with the buses isn't so much the routes or the buses themselves or the frequency of buses, it's the fact that they get stuck in all the car traffic.

My journey times to work (Springfield to West end):
* bike: 20 mins
* walk: 35 minutes
* bus: 45 minutes

Speaking of public transport... Is there anything that the council can do to make travelling into the town by train more attractive for those living in Aycliffe and Bishop Auckland?

ian holme said...

perhaps if the busses ran on time, where you want, when you want AND economically, there would be less people travelling by car.

Unfortunaly, those with their own agenda, will only look at ways of penalising car use, rather than encouraging bus use where appropriate.


Mike Barker said...

I add a party political point here, only because Nick is always keen to have a go at us: Cambridge and York, as mentioned in his blog, are Liberal Democrat Councils with a genuine (as opposed to lip-serving) commitment to easing the congestion in their cities by discouraging car use and increasing travel by bicycle and public transport.
For all Nick's boasting about various successes he has had under his watch, I do feel Darlington Council lacks the political will to join all these things up into a coherent, sustainable, transport policy.
Ok, we've got cycle lanes: but most of them just peter out, leaving the cyclist to ride on the pavement or dice with the cars and lorries on busy roads.
The bus companies seem able to do what they want. They remove services, such as radial routes linking estates with supermarkets; they continue to operate oversized gas-guzzlers, even on the edges of the Pedestrian Heart; they clog the streets with noxious fumes rather than use their own bus station. The Council has given the bus companies their own lanes on the road to speed their journey and save their fuel bills, but I see no evidence that the local bus companies feel obliged to offer a decent, sustainable service in return.
Whatever the result in May, the whole transport issue will have to be revisited. God help us if the Conservatives win, though!

miketually said...

Well, there are three bus routes that run past my house and to the town centre. It's a 30 second walk from my house to the route and a 5 minute walk from the town centre to work.

There's a bus on each route every 8 minutes during the rush hour and I generally have to wait only a couple of minutes for one of the buses to turn up if I get the bus to work.

So, the bus goes where I want it. The bus goes when I want it. It's only a fiver a week for a pass.

The problem is, it takes 35 minutes to get into town, because the streets are choked with cars.

How can we speed up the buses? Is there anywhere else we can fit in bus lanes? Could traffic lights react to buses, letting them through when they approach?

miketually said...

I actually wrote about some possible solutions earlier today - Bike Darlington: The City That Never Walks.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes we can really compare Cambridge and York, these tourist destinations with Darlington can't we. Your having a laugh mate.

Even God won't be able to help us if the Lib demons get a sniff.

miketually said...

Anon, I don't really see why we can't compare Cambridge and York with Darlington when it comes to transport issues.

Darlington Councillor said...

Firstly, this had the makings of a great spontaneous thread which was probably spoiled by my "comment moderation" setting. I'm turning this off as an experiment. (Which I'll probably regret by Saturday).

Secondly, I hugely enjoyed Miketually's polemic on the Bike Darlington site, and I'll put a post up linking to it. In the context of our particular situation here in Darlington, I feel we are taking the town forward in an exciting way, Mike (we are after all the only twon with the ambition and ability to become both a Sustainable Travel Town and a Cycling Demonstration Town in the country). Has progress been made? Yes. Can we do far, far more - yes of course. That's why it's crucial that dedicated, passionate people like you and Richard Grassick help articulate a vision that seems alien to some people here in Darlington, but is in fact mainstream thinking in both Europe and the States.

Onto Mike B. I knew in my water that when I mentioned York and Cambridge that you would play the party political card. I don't know much about Cambridge, but in passing I think it's fair to say that many of the bravest political decisions taken in York regarding transport were when Labour Cllr. Dave Merrett was the responsible lead member (a bit of a hero of mine).

Next - I don't boast about the Council's transport achievements, but I think as Portfolio Holder that I am entitled to celebrate them. After all, we are the only Council in the North East whose performance over the period of the first 5-year Local Transport Plan was assessed as being "excellent".

So what are the barriers to growing bus passenger numbers? Ian's right - they include reliability, cost and comfort. For me, reliability means ensuring that buses can cut through congestion to meet the timetable, and we have made some progress in creating bus lanes which nake a big difference. Cost is beyond the control of local councils (and is a problem all over the country) but we have given Arriva grants to upgrade the service they offer on two routes to include low floor, newer buses with better signing. There is still of course some way to go.

Ironically, the sub-text that Mike B offers in his critique is precisely the vision of the Government in Putting Passengers First. If that is taken forward through legislation, local authorities will find it easier to deal with bus emissions, for example, or to strike statutory deals which address issues such as fares and frequency.

Certainly, in Darlington we haven't sought to penalise car use, Ian - after all, it accounts for about 50% of car trips as a driver or passenger and so is vital to our economy. Too often, however, the other 50% of journies made by bus, foot and bike are forgotten. And given the increasing car ownership and resulting congestion and emissions, we owe it to the next generation to ensure that car usage not only does not grow as a share of modal use, but declines as better bus, cycling and walking options emerge.

Yes Mike M, there are methods by which bus journies can be speeded up in the congested urban area at peak time. Linking traffic signals on North Road will help, as will the introduction of real-time information for bus passengers. And whilst those waiting for buses 3 years ago often had to do so in the rain without bus timetables, now every stop in the Borough has an up-to-date bus timetable, with more modern bus shelters installed.

Finally anonymous, whilst we may have a different profile to Cambridge and York there is no reason why we can't aspire to their 21st century transport systems. I liked the "Lib demons" bit, though I find it slightly difficult to associate with the likes of Mike Barker and Alan McNab (short of either of them sprouting horns). I guess it will have to be "FibDems" for the time being.

townliar said...

Mrs Liar will not stand outside the Nags Head because of the overspill of fighting she and others wait across tubwell row untill the bus approaches, Hardly ideal whos idea was it anyway, obviously someone who likes bar-room brawling!

miketually said...

I have to agree that some moves forward have been made. The new Arriva buses, for example, are fantastic and my wife regularly uses them with our kids.

(There's an issue at the moment, I believe, where only one pushchair or wheelchair is allowed per bus because of an accident and/or ongoing claim. This needs sorting, otherwise people with pushchairs could end up with long waits for an empty bus.)

I know of some 'stops' in the Springfield area which do not have shelters, because it's a "hail and ride" area. The nearest shelter to us is a ten minute walk away. It's not really an issue for us, but I know the people who live in Rockwell House or some of my elderly neighbours would appreciate a shelter; I'm not sure if or how one could be fitted, however.

miketually said...

"I hugely enjoyed Miketually's polemic on the Bike Darlington site"

For anyone else who needs to look it up like I did: what is a polemic? :)

And for anyone who missed the link earlier: Mike's polemic on Bike Darlington

The "Car Is King" way of thinking we need to reverse is nicely embodied in a conversation my wife had, which I also blogged.

ian holme said...

Obviously Nicks and Mikes views concur on many of such matters, so just how far do you go?

work; do you suggest that everyone should live within a cycling/bus ride from work?

schools; do you suggest all families live within walking distance of their chosen schools?
my children do, do yours?

(if so, you cannot reconcile thie with labour party policy of educacational choice for all parents)

As a "down to earth socialist" (your words) no doubt your own kids cycle or walk to a local state school, would you wish to confirm this?

You may consider yourselves on the moral high ground on these matters, but back in the real world I believe you are both out of step with what really concerns our communities at present.

miketually said...

Anyone who works in Darlington and lives in Darlington does live within a walk/bike/bus from work; the town's only 4 miles wide at it's widest point and even Hurworth's only 4 miles or so from the Town Centre.

How many people drive between work and home within Darlington? How many people drive because they don't think there's an alternative? Should we not be doing everything we can to encourage these alternatives?

Choice in education's a whole other matter. Do I think every kid should have a brilliant school within walking distance of their homes? Absolutely.

As for other issues, I think that car use and the way it's lead us to live our lives contribute in a large part to a lot of the problems about which we are concerned. I won't go into all that here though.

ian holme said...

Mike said"How many people drive between work and home within Darlington?"
the point is, this is not a town-centric issue. How many people live and work within even 4 miles of each other? I dont know, do you?
Many many people work well away from their home, are you suggesting you dictate where we live in relation to out workplace?

"Choice in education's a whole other matter. Do I think every kid should have a brilliant school within walking distance of their homes? Absolutely."

but that is my point, in the REAL WORLD this is NOT the case, so when it comes to choice you have to be more realistic or be prepared to enforce dictatorial rule on where our kids get educated.

Sorry Mike/Nick, i do not wish to cycle 15 miles to work.
i will not pay £7.20 for my wife and i to go shopping by bus in the town.
I am fortunate that i have two excellant schools on my doorstep (but no thanks to dbc for trying to close one of them!)

I AM tired of this "green mafia" who seem to pervade much of the poitical agenda at present, together with hypocrital politicians who spout on about green travel whilst transporting their own kids to private schools outside the Borough.

miketually said...

I'm suggesting that people need to be encouraged to make more sustainable choices about their living and working arrangements by encouraging sustainable travel and discouraging dependency upon the car.

Perhaps less choice in education would be beneficial? The schools on my doorstep are somewhat variable in their reputation and quality. Should my kids not have a right to access the best education?

You and your wife could cycle to town for free :)

ian holme said...

"Should my kids not have a right to access the best education?"

YES! will they therefore be cycling to Hurworth every morning if that was your prefered school?

"You and your wife could cycle to town for free"
Like many, my wife is unable to cycle due to a lifelong medical condition.
ME? I CHOOSE not to!, this is after all still a notionally a free country.

Darlington Councillor said...

I don't take the "moral high ground" on my personal transport choices Ian, and neither do I or the Council suggest for a moment that people must use a bike or the bus instead of a car. Believe me, there's no "Green Mafia" in the Council!

The Local Motion project is founded on the basis that certain journies made by car could easily be made by another mode like cycling or the bus (the greatest potential is from cycling). What is stopping those choices being made is sometimes a lack of awareness that the potential exists to use a different form of transport, or residents have a skewed idea about the relative time it takes to make a journey using different modes.

At the same time, with the number of cars on the road increasing everywhere, and people much more aware of the envirnmental damage being caused, the Council has a duty to explore every option to keep us moving. Sometimes that involves taking steps which actively benefit vehicles on the road (the Eastern Transport Corridor falls into this category, as does work nto improve junctions). Through our Local Transport Plan we are also promoting physical measures to make it easier to get from A to B using other modes, and this is where dedicated bus and cycle lanes come in, for example.

As for Ian's point about the proximity of people's homes to their jobs, that's a moot point. There has been some excellent work undertaken by the Government since 1997 on transport, but this area of planning policy seems to have slipped through the net. 40 years ago, people tended to work close to where they lived. Now with mobility only limited by the congestion commuters are prepared to endure, people can live and work 100 miles apart. We can see the effect on our transport infrastructure every rush-hour. I don't have any easy solutions, but it has to be the focus of Government attention in the future.

Finally Ian, I don't believe I'm a hypocrite regarding my children's education - I spelled out on the Liar in a posting before Christmas the following:

"I'm thoroughly sick of Chris Close and others making false claims about my children. They both attend an independent school at the wish of my late father (I went to a private school too). My DBC expenses have never paid a penny piece towards their fees - his bequest now supports them there. This is of course a difficult situation for a Labour Party member and representative, but is essentially a family matter."

I won't be saying any more on this matter.

miketually said...

I think the "100 mile commute" is one of the major causes of stress and illness in the country. My dad drove from Darlington to Wallsend and back every day for 20-odd years. When his job was relocatd to Darlington, he felt like he was only working part-time. A colleague was made physically ill by taking on a long commute by car.

Ian actually states one of my core beliefs in his recent post on the Town Liar forum: "the country needs to slow up".

This is a free country, so you are free to choose to drive your car. You may in future have to pay considerably more to do this, because this country is free so long as your actions do not damage others or society. The government must legislate and tax against those actions which are detrimental to society.

And, yes, I'd love it if my kids were able to cycle to Hurworth school if that's where they wish to go. We have 7 years to make it safe for my eldest to do that.

Chris Close said...


if you have anything to say to me, why do you not say it to my face or at least have the cojones to let me know you are saying it.

Otherwise you just come across as a gutless parasite.

Of course we are paying for your kids education by the wrongful payments of huge allowances to 'Cabint members' who suck up to John Williams and have no real independent views.

Also why are the public paying for fat cat Councillors who leave with pensions?

Why have none of you investigated why Officer recommended letting Wimpeys off with £2+million over the South Park Section 106 matter?

Answer that one??

And if you want to argue with me then have the decency to do so one to one and not by a back door method oni your 'blog'