previous update, 26.10.2016
Save your bus services - Support option 24/7
What are we facing?
- Almost ALL Wiltshire evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday bus services set to disappear.
- Withdrawal of many rural bus services.
- Interurban and town bus services to be drastically reduced.
- Not enough capacity for community transport to plug gaps.
- "Nuclear" Option 6 could leave vast swathes of the county without bus services of ANY description.
- Council plans could bring local bus operators to the brink of collapse.
- There IS an alternative. - option 24/7
Wiltshire Council has launched a consultation on the future of the bus services that they currently support. Set against a backdrop of a big reduction in overall funding for council services, they have put forward a number of options aimed at saving money from the supported buses budget, and are asking for your view on these.
Wiltshire Council needs to save at least £2.5 million per annum from its supported buses budget, and Options 1-5 (completely withdrawing funding for evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday bus services, and drastically reducing it for strategic, rural and town bus services) combined would only generate slightly more than this in savings at around £2.8 million per annum.
Therefore, you should not treat the consultation as a choice between the options laid out in the questionnaire, as Wiltshire Council would have to implement Options 1-5 almost in full in order to achieve their £2.5 million savings target. There is no doubt that this would in turn lead to the complete withdrawal of almost ALL evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday bus services, and the withdrawal of many rural services, alongside the drastic reduction of interurban and town buses throughout Wiltshire.
The only alternative that Wiltshire Council have put forward is Option 6, which involves the complete withdrawal of ALL funding for subsidised bus services, whilst attempting to keep as many of the bus services that would disappear as a result running through encouraging community transport providers to plug the gaps.
There is a recent precedent for this, which unfortunately ended in complete failure. As recently as Summer 2015, the Pewsham Estate in Chippenham had a 7 days a week, all day, all evening bus service both into Chippenham town centre and all the way to Bath as well, which ran up to every 30 minutes, whilst also connecting at Chippenham station with rail services too. Then, as part of their policy of pulling out of large parts of Wiltshire and Somerset, First Bus withdrew the entire service to the Pewsham Estate with a minimal amount of notice, and Wiltshire Council did not feel able to provide funding to allow services to continue.
However, amid much fanfare, a local community transport provider announced that they would step in and provide a replacement bus service for Pewsham. However, initial celebrations soon turned to disappointment when residents realised that far from the comprehensive bus service that they were used to, the new buses only ran 3 round trips a day, mornings only, outside of travel to work times. On top of that, passengers were asked to pay £15 up front if in work, and £10 if out of work or retired, despite the latter group being used to travelling for free on their bus passes. Unsurprisingly, the venture did not succeed, and was quickly and quietly withdrawn at the end of its 5 week trial period.
At several pre-consultation meetings, Community Transport providers across the county have told Wiltshire Council in no uncertain terms that they don't have the capacity to provide adequate replacements for normal bus routes on the scale that the council envisage. To completely ignore their views would be wholly irresponsible, and risk repeating the mistakes of Pewsham countywide, leaving huge swathes of Wiltshire - including both urban and rural areas - without bus services of ANY description for the foreseeable future.
Fortunately though, there IS an alternative. Here at the TransWilts Community Interest Company, as part of our research work on devolution for Wiltshire and Swindon, we have put forward a Bus Franchising proposal which will avoid the wide-ranging service cuts that would inevitably follow from adopting the consultation questionnaire options, whilst protecting and laying the foundations for the future improvement of the Wiltshire bus network.
How would Bus Franchising work?
The Westminster Government have designed their devolution plans so that it would be easier for local authorities to introduce Bus Franchising, the existing legislation for which is known as Quality Bus Contracts.
There are currently two ways of running bus services, commercially and by subsidy. Both have flaws. Subsidised services are used when it is not economically viable for a commercial operator to run a local service that Wiltshire Council believe is needed. There is no obligation on a council to subsidise the service and it is absolutely right that these subsidised services are regularly reviewed to ensure value for taxpayer funds - some of these services are run at huge cost.
With commercial services, a bus operator can charge what they like, run when they like and taxpayer funding is limited to paying for those with a concessionary pass. Free market capitalism, yes, but it will not in itself provide all of the bus services that people rely on. There are bus routes that generate millions of pounds of profit and others that don't and never will. It is quite understandable that a company's focus is on those profitable routes and not investment in running less profitable services. If a service starts to fall below the company's profit benchmark then there is intense pressure to stem the losses, and local residents are increasingly being left with significantly reduced or no bus services as a result.
With Quality Bus Contracts, the services are still operated by private commercial bus companies, but the contracts are to run specific services as set out by a Local Transport Board, which could bring together the councils, industry experts, and crucially, residents associations/community groups representing the interests of YOU, the public directly. Under this scheme, the bus companies are still responsible for providing and operating the buses, but they are expected to run services to the specifications laid down by the Local Transport Board, which also sets the fares to be charged and retains the revenue collected. The hugely profitable elements of the network simply subsidise the less profitable and loss-making routes, which, if the scheme were introduced here, would still allow Wiltshire Council to achieve their required budget savings, but WITHOUT the massive service cuts that all the consultation questionnaire options would involve.
Commercial bus operators need not fear Bus Franchising. They would still be able to charge a competitive rate through the tendering process to provide and operate the buses, whilst enjoying the security of guaranteed income from longer-term contracts.The alternative for them is bleak - Currently 5 bus operators have each been awarded subsidised Wiltshire Council contracts worth between £250,000 - £500,000 per annum, a further 3 operators each have contracts worth between £500,000 and £1 million per annum, whilst 1 more has contracts in excess of £1 million per annum. All of these contracts are under threat to some extent if the questionnaire options are taken forward, whilst they would ALL disappear entirely if Option 6 went ahead. Staff cutbacks would inevitably follow, and there would be a very real risk of one or more bus operators collapsing entirely, with passengers also suffering further through Wiltshire Council being unable to afford to replace any bus services needing to be covered as a result.
Most importantly of all though, Bus Franchising would involve YOU and your local community far more, and open the way for simple, affordable bus fares, along with more thought through services that could be more easily linked with other modes such as rail, thus helping to encourage the greater use of public transport overall through the creation of a solid, robust integrated network both fit for purpose now and fit to expand with the arrival of better times ahead.
Senior figures at Wiltshire Council have informed us that Bus Franchising can be included in the devolution proposals, but only if we can demonstrate strong public support for the idea. Therefore, we need your help as follows when you answer the questionnaire:
Question 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20 - select NO (to reject options 1 through 6)
Question 25 - please WRITE IN "Option 24/7 preferred - www.option247.uk" (to support option 24/7)
The form is available online at http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/subsidised-bus-services-consultation.htm ... or if you want to read more before you complete it, please see our FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
- A bus network that involves YOU and your community far more, genuinely working to serve your interests and shaped by your travel needs.
- A bus network that opens the way for simple affordable bus fares.
- A bus network that is better thought through, with less duplication and more journey opportunities.
- A bus network that is more easily linked with other modes such as rail, making your onward journeys easier and helping to encourage the greater use of public transport overall.
- A bus network with reinvigorated operators making a fair, secure income through working together to provide a better overall service for you.
- A bus network that is solid, robust, efficient, and able to deliver the savings that Wiltshire Council require WITHOUT massive service cuts, giving you the security of knowing that your bus service is safe, and available when you need it.
- A bus network that through innovation strives to always be fit for purpose, and fit for future challenges and expansion.
Save your bus services - Support option 24/7