Bus Reform and other bus related matters [15 mins]
Richard Cope, Passenger Transport Unit Manager
Christian Schmidt, Transport Planning and Policy Officer
The Passenger Transport Unit Manager provided an update:
· Bus Services: Patronage has dramatically dropped due to the pandemic. Prior to Omicron, passenger numbers were recovering reaching 60-70% fare paying on some routes and 45- 50% concessionary fares. There is still a significant gap, so funding is needed to ensure bus operators survive. None have ceased to trade.
Bus Emergency Scheme Phase 2 (BES2) tops up fare revenue loss and concessionary fares are topped up to 2019 levels. The Bus Services Support Grant BSSG. This arrangement ends in July 2022. The Public Service Order (PSO) has a two-year lifespan. Any services after that date will require alternative support until at least March 2023. The funding is available for the next financial year and funds leftover from this year can carry over. However, current services included in a PSO won’t be covered by a new one.
A new mechanism will be required, and Welsh Government and TfW are looking at this to avoid a wholesale withdrawal of services. Welsh Government is looking at regional franchising. Corporate Joint Committees, when established, could deliver services with help from TfW. A regional reference network plan is in progress. Local authority officers are overstretched, and more resource is needed to assist progress.
There are huge driver shortages including school bus drivers which is a considerable issue for workers and schools.
It is hope to return services to 2019 levels when possible.
· Infrastructure Grants: There are plans to upgrade bus shelters, bus information and bus stations. There are plans for a regional allocation of funding for smaller works instead of full WelTAG bids. Looking at a marketing campaign to get “Back to Bus”.
Members asked questions as follows:
· What would a regionally franchised bus service look like compared to present and how would passengers be affected? The regional bus network would be better than present in terms of services; better frequency and area coverage, through ticketing and more integration. The concept is dependent of funding.
· Progress on Abergavenny Bus Station? Quotations are due back today and it is hoped to have the work completed before the end of the financial year.
· Traws Hafren (T7) early morning and evening service to Magor. It was questioned if the service could be more frequent. The T7 runs in the morning and afternoon currently. There is an extra bus in the afternoon to avoid congestion in Bristol. To increase the service, some work would be needed on patronage. It was suggested that this could be considered as part of the Severn Tunnel Access plans (part of the regional bus network). No funds are available at present.
· Problems with contractors handing back licenses? This is a difficulty across all Wales as smaller operators and taxi drivers are no longer working. Wheelchair access taxis are rare. This issue needs to be looked at over the next 4/5 years as the situation is not currently sustainable and recruitment of drivers is very difficult.
· Published timetables: Chepstow bus station has details of main services but not local service information. It was noted that some improvements are in progress to upgrade facilities.
· The Friends of the 65 Bus reminded everyone of the need to take the needs of the passengers into account and questioned if there is there any update on the restoration of Sunday services. The Back to Bus campaign was welcomed but there is a need for up to date timetable information and better bus stations. Timetables on Traveline are often out of date. It was explained that the shortage of drivers has to be addressed to enable the restoration of Sunday services. This aspect is under consideration. The Back to Bus campaign requires careful planning to ensure there are enough services and drivers.
· Monmouth Bus Station: Work to upgrade facilities is out to tender currently. It was agreed that there are significant problems with Traveline information due to the excessive amount of timetable changes due to the pandemic and driver shortages. Updated information will be sent to Traveline.
· Improvements at Abergavenny Bus Station: Progress is welcomed and it was enquired if there are plans for a transport hub to link to the rail station. As work on the bus station progresses, it was confirmed that timetables will be updated. It was explained that a WelTAG 1 study is planned into the creation of an enclosed transport interchange for bus and rail to include active travel options.
· The Passenger Transport Unit Manager will follow up reports that Stagecoach has closed off the disability area at Abergavenny Bus Station.
· It was queried if passengers can use school service no. 43 to Brecon? It was confirmed that passengers can use the service if there is space. This matter will be followed up with Stagecoach.
· A suggestion was made to improve accessibility by providing cycle cages at key bus stops. It was noted that this is under consideration at bus stations and in town centres. More work will be required to identify key bus stops.