Tuesday, 14 February 2017

How to Get the County Council to Spend its Own Money

Service 18 on Balmoral Road
Finally, after almost two years of campaigning and over two months after a meeting at County Hall in which we were promised improvements in "weeks not months" the Bus Users' Group can announce that the new timetable on service 18 in Lancaster will start on 6th March. The new operator will be Stagecoach. (Details of the new route and timetable can be found in the post below)

Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire reduced its previous hourly service to just four journeys a day in June 2015 when an attempt to take the previously-contracted service commercial failed. Lancashire County Council had just adopted a policy of not entering into any new bus service contracts due to its deteriorating financial position and refused to pay for replacing the withdrawn journeys, despite the fact that until recently they had been subsidised.

The Bus Users' Group was then put in touch with Lancaster City Councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox, who made us aware of the existence of £500,000 of developer contributions made available by the developers of the former Moor Hospital site, now known as Standen Gate, in March 2012. The Agreement under which the money was provided required it to be spent on three things:

1.  Improvement of the bus service

2.  Provision of a cycleway

3. Introduction of a 20 mph limit on nearby roads.

Item three had been completed before the Agreement came into force but there had been no sign of the other two requirements, which Tim Hamilton-Cox had been trying to get progressed.

Once the BUG got involved it became apparent that part of the problem was a lack of communication between the City Council (who as housing authority had received the money) and the County Council (whose job as highway authority it was to spend it). 

We have to admit that we made little progress at first. The County Council's public transport officers appeared unsure as to whether funding was actually available, whilst more senior staff appeared to blame the City Council for not releasing the cash.  Last summer, the County Council started work on a scheme to improve the roads at the junction of Quernmore Road, Wyresdale Road and Moor Lane and it appeared that the bulk of the available funding was to be used to pay for this, with the bus service improvement having to wait until the final cost was known and make the best of whatever funding was left over.

Throughout the campaign we had experienced great difficulty in getting a straight answer from anyone who ought to know - and frequently got no answer at all, with letters and emails to County Hall going ignored.

The breakthrough came when Cllr John Fillis, LCC's Cabinet Member for Highways & Transport agreed to speak at our October meeting.  When the matter of service 18 was raised he claimed to be unaware of the problem but did agree to our member - and Green Party County Councillor  - Gina Dowding's request for a separate meeting to discuss it at which Bus User Group representatives would be invited.

The meeting took place in December and involved BUG representatives as well as County Councillors Gina Dowding and Lizzi Collinge, City Councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox and even Cat Smith MP, who made a point of being in County Hall so she could attend.  When it became clear that the senior highway officers present were showing no sense of urgency towards the bus service and were sticking to the line that it would have to wait until all the other works had been completed and paid for we pointed out that the whole purpose of making the money available was that the bus service should be improved at an early stage in the housing development so that new residents could take it into account before their new travel habits became established. We also pointed out that someone had been sitting on the money since 2012 and that the terms of the Agreement required it to be spent - or at least committed - within five years of when it was signed.

To his credit, Councillor Fillis then instructed the officers to make at least £100,000 available and to organise the new service in "weeks not months".   The new contract actually has a value of £115,000 and should be sufficient to operate the new timetable for 19 months or until September 2018. During that time additional developer funding is expected to become available and this will allow the service to be extended. The BUG will be doing all it can to help promote the new service and to increase ridership to a point where the service will be a commercial proposition after funding comes to an end.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Service 18 Improvement Moves a Step Closer

Following Lancashire County Council's promise to the Bus Users' Group that the new, improved timetable on Lancaster service 18 would be introduced "in weeks, not months" there is some progress to report.

Two months (or is it 8 weeks?) after our meeting at County Hall details have emerged of the new timetable to be introduced now that the council has finally agreed to unlock £115,000 of the £500,000 it received from developers of the housing on the former Moor Hospital site back in 2012 to pay for transport improvements made necessary by the development. (The rest of the money has been spent on highway works that did not form part of the development agreement).

Buses will run every 30 minutes from 06.55 (07.25 on Saturdays) until 16.05, with four further journeys at 16.37, 17.10, 1742 and 18.15. These non-standard times being necessary to allow the bus extra time during the afternoon peak traffic period.  

Here is the timetable that bus operators have been asked to tender to operate.
The final timetable may be slightly different, as operators can put forward their own suggestions during the tendering process, but should be at least as good as that above.

The available cash is likely to be enough to keep the service running for up to 19 months, although this will depend on the amount of revenue from passengers. During this time, however, further funding is expected be become available from other housing developments in the area. Hopefully, by the time the funding is exhausted the revenue on the service will have grown sufficiently to make it a commercial proposition for the bus company. The BUG will be doing its best to promote the service during that time.

During the process of trying to get the County Council to take some action the Bus Users' Group suggested a change of route for the service and we are pleased to see that this will be implemented.
The existing service returns from Lancaster Farms Prison via the Freehold area, which means that passengers from Moorlands have no direct service into town and have to make a lengthy circular trip via the Prison. Freehold is already served by Stagecoach service 10 and running the 18 back into town through Moorlands instead will give residents of Balmoral Road and surrounding streets a much quicker journey into the city, which should attract more riders.

Here is a map of the current service 18 route
(Map from LCC)

and here is the new route:

(Map from MapOmeter)

When will it happen?

The tendering process is complete and a contract will be awarded very shortly. Unfortunately there are various formalities to go through with the regulatory authorities before the new timetable can be introduced and the council is not being any more specific than "early Spring 2017" at this stage. The change of timetable may also see a change of operator and BUG understands that if this is the case there may be some improvements to other city services at the same time.  

We will let you know as soon as we find out!

Monday, 23 January 2017

County Council Adopts New Policy on Bus Service Assessment & Priority

Lancashire County Council's funding difficulties have led to a large number of cuts to supported bus services in the current financial year and projections for future years paint a similarly depressing picture. It's no secret that in many areas the council sees the future for public transport consisting of community transport, parish buses and even car sharing schemes. But a revised policy for supported bus services suggests that there may still be a role for the conventional local bus.

The County Council's new "Assessment & Priority Policy for Public Transport Services in Lancashire", adopted in December 2016 sets out a two-part process for bus services that require financial support from the council.

Step 1:  Service Need Assessment Process

The first step is to determine whether there has been a "failure of the market" where no commercial bus operator is running a service or where a commercial service has been withdrawn. This process has five stages  which can be summarised as

i)  Are there any alternative services available to people either to the same destination or to alternative comparable destinations and will provision of a supported service by the council undermine any comparable commercial services by diverting passengers away from them. If none of the above applies then the process moves on to stage ii)

ii) In the absence of the proposed service will the needs of the communities affected still be met. The "needs" in question will differ from area to area and are defined in the council's "needs profile" for each of the 34 "neighbourhood areas" that Lancashire is now divided into.  If these needs are not being met then on to stage iii)

iii) What will be the impact of the loss of a service on existing users?  There are three considerations here:  a) Does the council have a statutory duty to provide transport for any existing users? (This is generally restricted to schoolchildren attending provided schools over the maximum walking distance away); b) Will any users be denied access to key services? (Basically Employment, Medical services and shopping)  and c) Are any users "particularly reliant" on the bus service (i.e. elderly people, young people, people with disabilities or those living in areas of high social-deprivation and low car-ownership).  If this stage is passed, it's on to stage iv)

iv)  This stage asks "Is the service "value for money?"  This is calculated by taking the cost of running the service, deducting all the income from fares, concessionary passes, season tickets etc and then dividing the result by the number of passengers travelling to calculate a "cost-per-passenger-journey.  If this figure works out at £5 or less then the service is considered to have passed the test.

v)  Step five requires a decision to be taken about whether the local circumstances (taking into account the previous four steps) show that a service is required.  If this is the case then we move on to Step 2

Step 2:  Service Provision Priority Process

This stage is required because the County Council recognises that its financial position is such that it is unlikely to be able to fund all the services that make it through Step 1 and it will need to prioritise them. The priorities taken into consideration are:

a) What is the purpose of passengers' journeys? (In declining order of priority these are Employment, Medical/Welfare, Shopping, Education and Leisure). Education may seem a low priority here, but schoolchildren to whom the council has a legal duty to provide transport are taken into account separately).

b) Does the service serve at least one of the 34 Neighbourhood Centres determined by the council.

c) Does the service pass through one of the council's "Air Quality Management Zones" and could thus be seen as contributing to improved air quality. (A curious one, as the bus services concerned likely to be used to relatively small numbers of people, most of whom will not have access to cars so the effects on air quality are likely to be marginal)

d) Priority is to be given to services running at least five days a week. (A priority that appears to discriminate against rural areas where many potential users would be happy to see buses one or two days a week rather than none at all).

e) What alternatives are available. (This appears to duplicate stage i) in the Assessment Process (above).

f) Priority is to be given to services carrying larger numbers of holders of Concessionary Bus Passes on the grounds that they are less likely to have access to alternatives. (This is encouraging and it should stop passholders feeling in any way "guilty" that by using their passes they are undermining their bus service, whereas in practice they will be doing the opposite).

g) Usage.  The more people that use the service and the lower the cost-per-passenger the higher the ;priority. This ensures that the available funding benefits the maximum number of 

And Finally. . . 

Even when a service has passed successfully through all the above it will still have to be evaluated against the alternatives  with a bus service seemingly a bit of a last resort!  The council will consider whether a service can be provided by other means (such as community transport, Parish Bus Schemes, taxis, car clubs or even car sharing schemes.

It will, sensibly, search for alternative funding sources such as District or Parish Council contributions or payments from developers under "section 106" (although if Lancaster's service 18 is anything to go by don't hold your breath!)

It will look to see if the need can be met by diverting an existing service (although one would have thought that this might have been done at the start of the process!) and if more services qualify for funding than is funding is available for they can be placed on a reserve list until such funding becomes available.

The good news is that the council sees a value in maintaining stability in its supported bus network and it has recently announced that it is extending all existing contracts until the end of March 2018. Furthermore, all the Lancaster area services supported by the council are, according to published figures, well within the £5 per passenger journey criterion.

Anyone wishing to read the policy and the criteria in full can do so from Lancashire County Council's website via this link.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Annual Report 2016

Lancaster District Bus Users’ Group

Annual Report 2016

2016 proved to be a very successful year for the Bus Users’ Group.

 The early part of the year was dominated by the County Council’s decision to cancel all its contracts for non-commercial local bus services and to replace them with greatly-reduced funding for “Parish Buses” to be run by local communities on a not-for-profit basis.
Along with other organisations, the Bus Users’ Group responded to the consultation on this with the view that this was not the way forward and that whatever funding was to be available should be used to continue the most important local bus services. We reluctantly accepted that it would not be possible to save all our buses and that evening and Sunday services would have to be withdrawn as the county council made it clear that under no circumstances could these be afforded.
The 89 Lancaster to Knott End service was oneof those
reprieved following represntations by the BUG and others.
In March, the council decided that £2M per annum would be available to continue some contracted bus services. The Group put forward proposed timetables for services 33 Bare Circular; 51 Silverdale-Carnforth; 89 Lancaster – Knott End and an early evening journey on service 81 Lancaster – Kirkby Lonsdale to cater for workers for whom the proposed last bus at 1730 was too early.  The council decided to continue all these routes but admitted to us that the 33 and the 81 would not have been saved had we not campaigned for them.
The campaign to save these services gave the Group some excellent publicity with articles
Our member Duncan Foster's picture
appeared all over the media!
in the Lancaster Guardian and your Chair giving two interviews on BBC Radio Lancashire. Our member, Duncan Foster, gave permission for his name to be given to Nick Lakin at the Guardian for a follow-up article later in the year about how people had been affected by the cuts. Duncan’s – and his home-made Hi-Viz jacket’s – story was then taken up by the BBC Regional TV news and also had a story – with picture – in the Daily Mail. Sadly, despite all this publicity Whittington, Arkholme and Gressingham remain almost busless.

The campaign also helped develop our relationships with local councils and councillors. Your chair attended parish council meetings at Caton, Thurnham (with our member CC Gina Dowding) and Overton (with city councillor Margaret Pattison). The Chair was also invited by Councillor Caroline Jackson to attend a meeting of the City Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee.  In October, County Councillor John Fillis, the county’s cabinet member for Highways & Transport spoke to us and later invited the Chair and Gina Dowding to a meeting in county hall which was also attended by County Councillor Lizzie Collinge and Cat Smith MP.  As our Treasurer will report, we have received grants from two local county councillors and it is particularly pleasing that we have been able to establish contacts with representatives of all three major political parties locally.
We have also continued to develop good relationships with county council public transport officers and, of course, local bus company managers. The MD and Commercial Manager of Stagecoach have attended our meetings and, of course, Matthew Sutton from Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire has joined our Group.
Real Time information was trialled at the bus station
We hope it will return later in 2017
Our contact with the team at the University that operates the electronic information display at the bus station has been very useful this year and has allowed us to suggest a number of improvements. Further work to incorporate “real time” information on the display will be undertaken in 2017 and we hope to be able to make a further contribution to the quality of information provided.

Last, but not least, we have developed a good working relationship with Nick Lakin at the Lancaster Guardian, who now approaches us for news and comments on buses and with reporters at BBC Radio Lancashire and, most recently, Bay Radio
 At the end of the year we had 27 paid-up members with another 34 people on our mailing list who have not joined the Group but who have expressed an interest in what we do. One hundred and fifty people follow our Facebook page and posts there regularly receive over 200 “views”, whilst our blog has had over 110,000 views and we can expect to get between 100 and 200 readers for each post – and sometimes many more. 

We also took a number of other steps to raise our profile during the year. In January we produced a poster for display in buses serving the University asking passengers on busy buses to consider giving up their seat to someone who needed it more than them, following complaints about overcrowding on some University buses.
In March your Chair attended an event organised by Bus Users UK in Preston where national organisers from that body were present.  We were also invited to participate in a Transport Workshop organised by the county council as part of the Transport Masterplan for the District.
We have raised a formal complaint against thecounty council
 over the non-acceptance of bus passes on Dales Bus.
For the second year running we assisted the Dales & Bowland CIC with distribution of the Dales Bus leaflets for the summer service between Morecambe and the Yorkshire Dales and – with a little bit of persuasion – were able to get them on display in the bus station enquiry office for the first time.  Unfortunately, both Lancashire and North Yorkshire county councils decided not to accept concessionary passes on the service in 2016. The Group has challenged the decision and is currently awaiting the outcome of a Formal Complaint to Lancashire that it is acting outside the law in doing so, whilst North Yorkshire is understood to be reviewing its decision for 2017 and we have asked for an input into that review.

We have also designed and had printed our first leaflet telling people about the Group and
2016 saw our new logo for use on publicity and correspondance
encouraging them to join. Designed by our vice-chair, Joy, it is now on display in Lancaster and Morecambe libraries and visitor information centres and it has been successful in recruiting a number of new members.

County Councillor John Fillis
Cabinet Memnber for Highways & Transport

At our October meeting the County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways & Transport, John Fillis, answered a number of questions about his work and future policy. This was a very successful meeting leading, amongst other things, to our Group being the first to learn that Cllr Fillis had been successful in gaining continuation of the funding that will allow all the county’s remaining contract bus services to be continued for a further year.

In the wider world in 2016 Stagecoach announced a fares-freeze with the annual increase that usually takes place in the Spring being cancelled. The company also introduced a cut-price Day Rider ticket for under-19s which gave large savings to the 16 – 19 year olds who previously had to pay full fare.

Cuts to bus services following the ending of Council contracts in April saw the withdrawal of a number of rural services and the loss of evening and Sunday buses on many routes. Stagecoach did elect to continue Sunday buses between Overton, Morecambe and Carnforth on a commercial basis and also extended the Halton service to Warton, via Over Kellet and Carnforth to replace some contracted journeys.      
Due, at least in part, to the work of our group a full service was continued on the 33 to Bare, and a reduced timetable on the 51 to Silverdale and the 89 to Knott End with these services passing to Traveller’s Choice or Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire with new LCC contracts.

The Heysham Link Road opened at the end of October and, although no bus services presently use it, the reduced traffic on the main road between Lancaster and Morecambe has improved reliability for buses on that corridor. Stagecoach has previously indicated that once the impact of the new road is known it will review its services in the district and hopefully be able to introduce some of the improvements we have previously asked for. 

Lancaster's Park & Ride started in December.
As part of the Link Road project, Lancaster’s first Park & Ride service opened before Christmas. Whilst it has got off to a slow start, not helped by the county council’s inability to fund more than a half-hourly service, it appears that LCC is willing to give it a fair chance to develop and to demonstrate the advantages of the bus in bringing people – but not cars – into the city centre.
At the very end of year – December 31st – it ceased to be legal to use a non-accessible bus (with a few minor exceptions) on a local bus service, thus ending the problem of wheelchair-users being unable to use some buses on service 42 to Blackpool. Stagecoach’s last non-accessible buses disappeared some time before this and all local bus services are now “accessible”.

New hope for service 18
Not all our work has been successful however, and it would be wrong to conclude this review without a mention of the fight to improve the service on the 18 to the Moor Hospital site. The Group has been in constant contact with city and county council officers throughout the year to try and establish what – if anything – was happening to the funds the county was known to have available to do this but without much success.
Finally, however, at our October meeting, Cllr Fillis agreed to a request for a meeting to specifically discuss this issue, which subsequently took place in December at County Hall where the Group was represented along with a city councillor (Tim Hamilton-Cox), two county councillors (Gina and Lizzie Collinge), Senior Officers from the Transport Department and even Cat Smith MP!   Following the meeting the county council has sought tenders for an improved service and we hope to learn the outcome of the tendering exercise very shortly.

I would like to end this report by thanking my fellow committee members for their help and hard work during the year and also our members, for continuing to support the work of the Group by attending meetings, contributing to our social media platforms and generally being supportive of what we do.
Thank you.

Jim Davies

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Please come along to our next meeting

The AGM will be followed by a talk from Matthew Sutton (Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire) about running a small bus company in Lancashire.

Everyone is welcome and you will be able to join the Group or pay your annual subscription for 2017 (£5 adult or £2 student or bus pass holder).

Friday, 30 December 2016

Park & Ride: A User's Report

As "Bus Users" we wouldn't expect to make much use of Lancaster's new Park & Ride service. It's aimed at motorists in an attempt to keep cars out of the city centre and, of course, you need a car to be able to use it in the first place. But one of our members has given it a try and here is his report:

"This morning at 8am I drove to the Park & Ride. The car park was empty save for my car and two others, which the bus driver said was a three-car share: two cars are left at the site and the occupants continue their journey in the third without using the bus. I waited in my car for about 20 minutes before a single decker Kirkby Lonsdale bus drew up. 

The bus shelter had a pretty purple silhouette of the Lancaster Skyline on it but little else. There were no toilets , no heating, and no visible CCTV.  The gates were open but had no locks so the main car park 1 seems to be open 24/7. Car park 2 overflow is locked and is clearly not needed at present. There was no Tourist information whatsoever.

There was a price list of fares and a family ticket for two adults and three children was £3 which seemed reasonable. I had to pay £1.50 as it was before the Bus Pass watershed. The car park charge will be £1 but is currently free until February as there are no ticket machines.

I was the only passenger. The driver said he had had 4 people yesterday and 40 on Saturday. The bus was new but did not have LED or audio announcements to indicate the route or stopping points.. The driver was friendly and told me he felt that stopping at George Street for the Hospital  was pointless. 

I asked the driver what tourist attraction he would recommend to a visitor to the city. With typical Lancaster realism he said " The Castle -  but it is shrouded in scaffolding" . Perhaps what he should have said is " The Castle and there are fantastic tours of the dungeons inside" I don't know what training the drivers get in promoting tourism but I am quite happy to take them on tours of Lancaster and the Castle. (Our member is a tourist guide in the city).

Something that rail passengers should note is that  Virgin Trains has hugely increased the daily rate for parking (It's now £12 on Mondays to Fridays and £4 on Saturdays) and it would be much cheaper to use the Park & Ride and get off at China Street for the short walk up Meeting House Lane to the station. But why does the bus not go to the Railway Station any way  and then on to the bus station before going to Caton Road?"

The above is, of course, only one user's view (and not necassarily that of the Bus Users' Group, although we would agree with much of what it says).  Perhaps the County Council and the operator would like to take up our member's offer of a tour of the city's attractions for the driver(s) and perhaps they might consider re-routing via the railway station if there is sufficient free time in the schedule.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Stagecoach Increases prices of Multi-Journey Tickets from 2 January

StagecoachSmart bus card reader

After pledging to freeze fares "throughout 2016" Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancs is wasting no time in raising at least some of them in 2017, with an increase announced for 2nd January.
There is some good news. Ordinary single and return fares, as well as the popular Day Rider and Day Rider Plus tickets remain unchanged at April 2015 levels whilst the bargain "Under 19" Dayriders for the Bay Area and for "Lancashire"  are increased by only  20p and 40p respectively

The "Lancashire" Day Rider, which extends as far east as Blackburn, south to Bolton and Wigan and west to Southport and Liverpool is up by only 30p to £7.70 (the Under 19 version rises to £4.40), whilst the Explorer ticket is unchanged at £10.80

The weekly Megarider tickets rise from £14.50 to £15 (Bay Area) and £20.50 to £21,50 for Bay Area Plus. Increases of between 3.5 and 4.7%

The bad news concerns the company's longer 4-weekly tickets, which offer discounts for 28 days travel and it is these increases that have given rise to complaints. 

These tickets come in two versions: The basic "Megarider", which is a one-off ticket valid for 28 days and a "Megarider Xtra" which is the same ticket, but renewed automatically every 28 days and paid for by direct debit.

In the smaller "Bay Area"(which extends to Overton, Warton, Pine Lakes, The Kellets, Halton, Denny Beck and Galgate, Hampson Lane) the Megarider price rises  by 7.5% from £53 (£13.25 per week) to £56.99 (£14.25 a week), whilst the Megarider Xtra is increased from £52 per month (£12.00 per week) to £56.99 per month (£13.15 a week) a 9.5% hike.

But it is the larger "Bay Area Plus" (extending to Cote Green, Kirkby Lonsdale, Ingleton and Forton) that the sees biggest rises. Here, the Megarider Plus price goes up from £75 to £82.99 an increase of 10.6% whilst passengers paying by direct debit for a "Megarider Plus Xtra" ticket are hit by a swingeing 32% rise from £63 to £82.99 per month.

The Megarider and Megarider Xtra tickets are sold as smartcard products and are bought over the internet, and give huge cost savings to the company in administrative and "sales" costs. Most commercial organisations are keen to move customers on to payment by Direct Debit, where feasible, so as to ensure loyalty and continuity of purchase. It does seem strange therefore that Stagecoach appears to be penalising its regular customers, whilst leaving charges to more casual users unchanged.

Stagecoach defended the increase to the Bus Users' Group by pointing out that the Megarider and Megarider Plus tickets offered large discounts over daily fares and that particularly in the case of the Megarider Plus Xtra (the ticket with the 32% price increase) the level of discount could not be sustained.

The example quoted in the Lancaster Guardian's online report was of a young person travelling from Caton to Lancaster and back each schoolday using a Megarider Plus Xtra ticket. Such a passenger has the following options for five days a week travel:

Five Adult Return Tickets @ £5.70  =  £28.50  (the "base price")

Five Under-19s Lancashire Dayriders @ £4  =  £20  ( 30% discount over base price)
(an adult passenger would get no discount by buying a Bay Plus DayRider at £6.90)

A 7-Day  Megarider Plus @ £20.50  ( 28% discount over base price)

A 28-day Megarider Plus Xtra @ £63 equivalent to £15.75 a week (45% discount over base price)

Stagecoach may therefore have a point that the level of discount offered on the Megarider Plus Xtra is significantly more generous than the alternatives. Even at the new rate of £82.99 ( a regrettable move away from "round pound" pricing) or £19.15 a week the ticket still offers a relatively generous discount of 33% over the cost of five return fares bought daily, although no doubt existimg passengers won't see it that way!