EConcessionary Passes - a reminder from DHBUG
Most people will already be aware of the national scheme to provide concessionary bus travel for seniors, but what you may not know is that similar help can be available for disabled persons and their carers.
Possible categories of disablement include the following: Visually Impaired / Hearing Impaired / Speech Impaired / Unable to walk / Loss of use of both arms / Learning impairment that has resulted in an arrested state of development before adulthood / Unable to drive for reasons of medical fitness.
A ‘companion pass’ may be issued to those who would not be able to regularly make a journey without requiring assistance from a travelling companion to get on or off the bus, or to find information about the journey (such as a route number or when their stop is). Companion travel may be restricted or disallowed beyond the borders of the administrative county of Essex.
Medical references may be required. Before starting the process of making an application it is recommended that you consult the expert advisers at Essex County Council - their contact number is 0345 200 0388 (charged as a local call from most landlines).
ECatch the Bus Week 2018
Catch the Bus Week was celebrated in Southminster and Westminster! DHBUG visited the 'Harbour' group on 5 July to offer advice and answer questions - thank you for the warm welcome and lively response. Some very important points were raised, for which we are most grateful.
Over in the other place, Prime Minister's Questions for 4 July focused on British bus operations: the Government position is that local authorities have the responsibility for such matters and questions should be raised with them and not with Government.
EEvening and Sunday bus services
Early in 2018 Essex County Council (ECC) officers made some recommendations in relation to the future of Evening and Sunday Bus Services in receipt of financial support from the Council. Some 58 contracts were set to fall due for review on reaching a common expiry date at the end of July 2018.
The officers have sought a temporary extension of existing agreements with the seven existing providers. This would open up an eight month ‘breathing space’ (until the start of the 2019/20 financial year) for detailed study of the recently published ‘Essex Organisation Strategy’ (EOS). The EOS identifies four key objectives in relation to life and work in Essex during the period 2017-2021. Accordingly, there will be a need to develop a revised Passenger Transport Strategy in response to the latest EOS proposals.
If providers are unwilling to extend their existing contracts, a short procurement exercise would be conducted using the Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS), with the Executive Director, Infrastructure and Environment, empowered to award replacement contracts within the available 2018/19 budget of £1,274,000 for all evening and Sunday services. However, there would be no spare headway - in the event of any adverse contractual outcomes, the resultant financial pressures would just have to be contained elsewhere.
This is the situation as understood by DHBUG, described in good faith and without prejudice. We understand there is continuing debate concerning the timing of bus contracts - should they be linked to the financial year, or the school year? Further information will be posted here as it becomes available.
Around 85 per cent of the Essex bus network, by passenger miles travelled, is provided commercially. On these services, operators determine their own bus routes, set their own fares, maintain their own buses and run their services as their commercial interests dictate. The remaining 15 per cent of the network - over 3 million passenger journeys a year, involving more than 200 services - is supported by Essex County Council to the tune of £8.5m net per annum. £1.9m of this spend is allocated to Evening and Sunday services, supporting around 800,000 passenger journeys a year.
EProposal to revive the Fambridge Ferry1
There is a 560 year history of a river ferry regularly running between the villages of North & South Fambridge. Fambridge Yacht Haven is keen to re-instate this crossing: all permissions are in place but funding is a real challenge. At present the project is on hold. If you know of any angels who might help with funding, please contact the Yacht Haven on 01621 740370 or email email@example.com
Recent events continue to emphasise the need to improve communications regarding the likely impact of roadworks upon traffic, especially bus services.
DHBUG cannot see why some sort of notification cannot be put on the buses and at bus stops. If Essex Highways can put a notice by the roadside for drivers, they can surely place information at bus stops, too.
If such information were passed to DHBUG we could at least e-mail our local members with the closure details and ask them to pass on the news. Better use could also be made of local radio (traffic & travel bulletins).
The Chair of DHBUG has written to operators and to representatives of the Council with a request that these matters be considered as a matter of urgency. We'll let you know the outcome in due course. In the meantime, please continue to report any problems you may experience, so that we can keep tabs on what's going on. Thank you for your support and encouragement!
E'RIDE' has come to an end1
RIDE was a project by Essex County Council and FutureGov. Its aim was to explore - alongside local suppliers - new ways to help people get out and about in a more flexible and affordable way.
To view an ECC briefing (pdf file) on this project, click HERE
The RIDE project came to an end on 31 October 2018. Important experience has been gained and we will doubtless hear more in due course..
EBack-story to changes: D1, D2, DaRT4, DaRT4R, DaRT5 ~ CLICK HERE
EMaking Connections ~ some observations by a DHBUG member1
Public transport users seem to prefer ‘through’ journeys wherever possible. There is a palpable mis-trust of itineraries involving connections, even within a single modality. Operators’ hands are largely tied by a range of external constraints such as infrastructure (single track branch lines), compliance (bus drivers’ working time availability), and impossible demands (the sheer impossibility of securing coherent interactions at each and every node within a disparate network).
For a variety of reasons, it is arguable that bus times should be dependent upon rail times, although rail times can vary not only at short notice but also in the longer term: for example, an extended programme of engineering works means that Sunday services on the Crouch Valley Line are regularly provided by substitute bus services that do violence to bus/rail connections at Southminster.
A railway journey usually begins well before and at some distance away from the railhead. Inclusive travel operators fill this gap with ‘teasers’ designed to whet their customers’ appetites and generate add-on sales such as pre-purchase of optional upgrades and other ‘extras’. But for ordinary rail and bus travellers, the peripheral period may be filled with various anxieties that will not be relieved until they settle into their seat and begin to pull away from their boarding point.
Public transport users want to feel “looked
after” at every stage of the travel process. The 'product' they purchase is not
simply a conveyance from A to B; it is a multi-faceted experience, one that
demands a much larger envelope than many in the business seem able to grasp. Of
particular concern is the level of support given to customers whose journey has
more than one leg – too many bus stations & railway junctions currently offer
primitive or non-existent toilet facilities, and spartan waiting rooms that are
restricted in their times of opening. Supervisory staff seem to melt away into
the darkness, leading to a heightened sense of vulnerability. Consistently
helpful and relevant communications are needed at all times, to assure and to
inform, especially in the event of disruption or delay. Customers prefer to hear
a real-time announcement from an identifiable individual rather than being
subjected to a standardised apology or instruction read from a script, or a
recording broadcast at the push of a button.
ESome of our recent activitiess
1) DHBUG has traditionally enjoyed an extremely positive relationship with First Essex Buses. In recent months this seems to have become rather less productive. Has that got anything to do with re-structuring (and centralisation) of the company? We're working on it...
2) We have looked more than once at evening 31B /X departures from Chelmsford. There is a long gap between the 1910 (operated commercially) and the 2215 (funded by ECC). When (2010? 2110?) should we bid for, and to whom? Anecdotal evidence suggests that the 1910 has shed most of its passengers before reaching Burnham. It has been suggested that the 2215 is not quite late enough for those wishing to go to the theatre or some other evening event in Chelmsford.
3) We continue to investigate the possibility of some Sunday journeys to serve Burnham, but this is tricky without specific and demonstrable proof of un-met demand, i.e. time of day, origin and destination, purpose of journey and regularity of intended use (every Sunday or just now and again?). Maybe some money could be found from the tourism budget? NB these would undoubtedly have to be journeys funded by Essex County Council and not commercial operations. ECC strategy appears to start with the rail network as a ‘given’ and provides a basic bus network to complement (but not duplicate) this. Travellers must therefore be prepared to use both rail and bus to complete their journey – but there is resistance on account of poor connection facilities, the lack of free travel by train, and a lack of ‘rover’ ticket inter-availability (NB the original ECC ‘Sunday Saver’ included branch line rail travel). A well-designed diagram (not a map!) could help promote awareness of public transport.
4) We continue to receive reports of drivers ignoring or refusing certain stops, especially those that are unmarked, rarely used, or ‘grace and favour’. Recently we have tackled some issues in Southminster following the construction of new houses - if you continue to experience difficulties, do let us know!
5) We continue to query the ambiguous nature of certain "hail and ride" stretches on main roads, and we want to see some greater acknowledgement of the need for timetables to provide clarity. We intend to make a formal request for a “new” stop by way of a test case, and wonder where this should be - possibly “the Cut” (westbound lay-by adjacent to 87 Maldon Road in Burnham) as previously used by D5 service.
6) At Riverview Park we have seen a bus stop and shelter become unusable on account of private development. This raises the broader issue of how we protect access to bus stops located beyond the public highway (private estates, schools and hospitals, out-of-town shopping developments, etc.,).
7) First Bus has given guidance to its drivers concerning the handling of any conflict between wheelchair users and those with baby buggies. This follows the recent case that reached the Supreme Court. Should a non-wheelchair user fail to vacate a wheelchair space without good reason, the driver is expected to take further action as appropriate, including rephrasing the request as a requirement. Yet the Court confirmed that drivers have no power to require anyone to get off the bus in order to make space for a wheelchair user. The issue is clearly complex and its ultimate resolution may depend upon a new generation of buses designed to take buggies, shopping trolleys, and wheelchairs, with intelligent system management to ensure minimal delay in supplying a relief vehicle in the event of capacity problems.
8) We continue to seek a solution to the lack of timetabled services passing through Upper Althorne. This is a tough nut to crack: the previous route (Dairy Farm Road) is deemed (by First) to be unsafe for bus use, and there is reluctance to divert journeys away from Southminster where there is significant and growing bus use. Could more be done to dovetail DRT (Demand Responsive Transport) with timetabled journeys? We sense that users are reluctant to undertake ‘mixed’ journeys (more than one bus, more than one operator) and DRT therefore remains a closed network.
9) Allan Brignall (Althorne Transport Rep, and one of our committee members) has included public transport information in the Althorne Village News which is delivered to all residents. His specially produced local timetables have been well received and are helping to promote awareness of DHBUG. Click here to view.
10) We have received reports of bus drivers failing to respect the rules concerning zebra crossings. We are pursuing these complaints but must emphasise that we need details such as date & time, location & direction of travel of bus. Even an approximation is better than nothing - we cannot expect to make any progress with highly generalised reports!
EIssues sitting on the back burner but not forgottenn
a) More ‘Around Town Routes’ (such as D4 through Burnham’s Maple Way estate) are needed to reduce distance from nearest bus stops – what should DHBUG be doing to pursue this? If people cannot find a bus within a short distance of their home then there is a greatly increased likelihood that they will use private rather than public transport.
b) Parking at Bus Stops - more enforcement needed – but by whom? This is persistent drag upon punctuality. We need a legally protected bay of sufficient length (i.e. more than a single bus-length, to allow for manoeuvring into and out of the bay and facilitate alignment with any built-up section of footway). [This is also an issue at Chelmsford Bus Station, where unattended vehicles frequently block bays and force customers to step into the roadway to board their vehicle – health and safety issue – but we are assured that First have this under active review and improvements are on the way.]
c) Identification and cure of regular ‘hiccoughs’ and ‘glitches’ in bus services, especially those arising from ‘pinch points’ on the highways network (inconsiderate parking, inappropriate signage, conflicting priorities, etc.,) – where do we start? Maldon High Street?
d) We continue to seek the involvement of younger people (students and young workers) to encourage more of them to use the bus and to share their technological savvy with the older generations. However, progress is slow – we need a young people’s champion!
EOther emerging issuess
i) One of your committee members hopes to deliver a prototype of “the intelligent bus stop” of the future – a demonstration will hopefully be available before too long.
ii) We are uneasy about the apparent lack of robustness in the audit chain for (1) ECC supported services, (2) use of concessionary passes, and (3) posting of roadside timetables. We wonder what evidence of assured delivery is visible to the ECC officer who authorises these invoices for payment. We also feel there is insufficient data to support the ECC £5 per journey limit of subsidy, since the figure is plucked from the air and treats all journeys are being equal in value both to the user and to the community, regardless of length, purpose or time of day.
iii) Has there been an increase in Anti-Social Behaviour? Some members feel this is so, but at present they appear to be in the minority. On the railway there is an equivalent to the 101 number for the police: BTP respond to texts to 61016. First assure us that their new vehicle location and communication system is fully fit for purpose in case of passenger disruption.
(iv) We continue to receive positive feedback on shuttle services between Chelmer Valley ‘Park and Ride’ and Broomfield Hospital. These are now operated directly by ECC - yet not all potential users seem aware of the service. Are our members championing this?
(v) The X10 Stansted airport service from Basildon & Wickford has also attracted favourable comment from our members. In tandem with train from Wickford, this offers a viable evening return route to Burnham and Southminster from Chelmsford. Traffic levels are building but the service still needs more use if it is to survive. Remember that bus concessionary passes are valid for use on the X10 and the X30 airport links.
EUpdates on a further range of topicss
ECC has begun to simplify its consultations, which may explain why the focus appears to be on services in the locality where each respondent lives, as opposed to areas they might visit for work, leisure, or family reasons. Typically some 75% of responses come from the over-55s, but we're told that ECC officers do their best to take note of such information as they have concerning the needs and opinions of younger people.
DEMAND RESPONSIVE SERVICES such as D5 and DaRT99
Click here to examine a briefing on this subject from DHBUG committee.
EXTRA BUS STOPS & SERVICES FOR NEW HOUSING DEVELOPMENTS
Essex County Council (Highways) says it will press for shelters, raised kerbs and telematic displays wherever there are lots of new homes, the cost to be met by the developer. Is this the best use of resources, given that some of these new sites may not generate a huge amount of bus use (particularly if there is no significant increase in available services within comfortable walking distance)? Detailed terms are set by District Councils and local policies vary from authority to authority. An officer of the County Council has suggested that arrangements work best when developers talk directly to operators and a fully commercial bus service is provided from the outset. Your committee would welcome your thoughts on this matter.
NEW AND IMPROVED ROUTES
Some years back, an Essex bus consultation invited suggestions for new and improved routes. Looking at our own area, the Dengie Hundred, we have extracted and summarised the suggetsions: click here to read. But please remember that support for bus services is discretionary and may therefore be sacrificed to enable County to meet its statutory obligations. Essex (like other authorities) is facing further cuts in support from central government and will also see costs rise (e.g. in social care) as a result of the 'living wage' requirement. But take heart - some counties have now pulled the plug on all forms of support for bus services - we are so fortunate that Essex sees an important rôle for public transport, and you can be assured that DHBUG will continue to offer maximum encouragement at every level.
GETTING AROUND IN ESSEX
This important report containing future bus subsidy recommendations became official Essex County Council policy in the autumn of 2015. Click here for details. Or read on to view the latest news...
The Head of Commissioning, Connected Essex Infrastructure (Passenger Transport), reported to the February 2017 meeting of the Place Services and Economic Growth Scrutiny Committee. A briefing paper was been published in advance of the meeting – here are its key points:-
Much has changed since the launch of ‘Getting Around in Essex'.
Three key objectives have been held in focus:-
· to support growth in the network by improving services;
· to maximise the economic and social benefits of services; and, for ECC, to deliver good value for money and cost effectiveness for taxpayers.
The Report of June 2015 indentified eight significant themes:-
1. Working in partnership;
2. Customer quality commitment;
3. Better, well-used services;
4. Support for valuable, but not commercial, services;
5. Good customer information;
6. Tailored solutions;
8. Focused local planning.
Here are some of the areas where progress is being reported:-
· Joint ticketing and planning for possible additional services in the Colchester area, funded through Section 106 agreements or run commercially;
· The roll-out of real time bus information across the county (a technically complex project requiring significant commitment from all the partners involved);
· A new bus quality standard, with gold, silver and bronze awards;
· Continuing support for valuable, but not commercial services - NB (a) the Essex network is largely (around 85%) commercial, (b) ECC gives significantly more support to the local bus network than most other councils, (c) sudden withdrawals of commercial services continue to disrupt ECC financial balances;
· Work has begun to secure a new voluntary agreement whereby operators would promise 90 days’ notice of significant changes including service withdrawals, thus providing more space for ECC to explore other possibilities such as alternative commercial providers or community transport (NB the statutory requirement is to REVIEW non-commercial services and not necessarily to SUPPORT any service deemed non-commercial);
· Three new Demand Responsive Transport services have been launched;
· A Total Transport project (joint with Suffolk County Council and FutureGov) currently seeks to provide tailored solutions for people wanting to travel in remote rural areas.
In addition, a new ECC vision for ‘transport integration’ has begun to emerge, incorporating the wider public and private sector. A Vision Statement has been developed within an outline Business Case designed to communicate the value of a transformed future state to the programme’s stakeholders: The aim is for ECC to have “a holistic, efficient, streamlined and integrated passenger transport system which supports communities to access a range of both public and private services at a reduced cost to the taxpayer”.
The Programme Objectives were:
to secure by March 2018 a transport delivery model which
· is aligned to Essex Residents’ needs;
· is sustainable over the longer term;
· is informed by a single view of transport supply and demand;
· clearly articulates ECC’s requirement of the market;
· enables improved utilisation of available vehicle capacity.
Have these objectives been realised? "Broadly, yes" says ECC, "in that we have thoroughly reviewed the supported transport network, made significant financial savings without having to make commensurate services reductions and built up better working relationships with bus operators". DHBUG understands that a "strategy refresh" is currently under way. Hopefully we will have more to report in due course.
SSend us your news and comments...z
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