EEvening and Sunday bus services
Essex County Council (ECC) officers have (February 2018) made some recommendations in relation to the future of Evening and Sunday Bus Services in receipt of financial support from the Council. These are currently provided through a total of 58 contracts, each of which will fall due for review on reaching a common expiry date at the end of July 2018.
The officers are looking for 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 is a need to develop a revised Passenger Transport Strategy in response to the latest EOS proposals. If a major re-write is called for, a public consultation would doubtless be necessary. This could take account of any significant changes proposed in relation to support for evening and Sunday services, allowing time for these to be agreed by Council members well ahead of the deadline for placing fresh contracts.
In the short term, not all current providers might agree to extend their existing contracts at the request of ECC. In this eventuality, a short procurement exercise would be conducted using the Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS). The Executive Director, Infrastructure and Environment, would be 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.
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 and it is now time to discover what its potential users would like. The proposal is to operate a regular service using a purpose built, wheel-chair friendly all-weather ferry capable of carrying 12 persons and bicycles between a newly installed pontoon at South Fambridge and the existing pontoon at North Fambridge. Please take a couple of minutes to respond to their short survey at https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/TPQGSTK - there is no need to say who you are or where you live. For more information, visit www.yachthavens.com/fambridge, call 01621 740370 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Recent events 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 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' comes to the Dengie ~ do give it a whirl!1
RIDE is a project by Essex County Council and FutureGov. Its aim is to explore - alongside local suppliers - new ways to help people get out and about in a more flexible and affordable way.
This is new local service, currently being trialled in the Dengie and certain adjacent locations. As yet, the details look fairly fluid, and the online booking system has been re-vamped on more than one occasion. The area of service has no clear boundaries: initially described as "Maldon and the Dengie", it has now stretched into South Woodham Ferrers, which is of course a part of the City of Chelmsford. Currently on promotion across the Dengie is a service from local villages to Broomfield Hospital - in other words, the existing Dart99.
But let's not be too critical - the important thing is to give it go and see how things turn out for you. Those involved with the scheme say they're looking forward to hearing from as many people as possible as to how this service can help them. If you have journeys that take you elsewhere, there is now provision for you to advise the organisers appropriately.
Against such a broad sweep of opportunities, it might appear super-critical to balk at the use of "train station" rather than the traditional English expression "railway station". So please ignore every infelicity and book yourself in for treat. The organisers aim to respond within 24 hours to confirm your booking and you'll pay the driver upon pickup. Later you will be asked to complete a short online feedback survey to help improve the service. To find out more, or to make a booking, visit website https://bookyourride.co.uk/ - or use social media:
To view an ECC briefing (pdf file) on this project, click HERE
For more background, scroll down to section headed with a yellow banner 'Updates on a further range of topics'.
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 continues to enjoy an extremely positive relationship with First Essex Buses. In response to feedback from a member we proposed an additional journey on 31X from Burnham to Chelmsford during the morning commuter period. This has been agreed by First and we are delighted to report that the extra journey departs Burnham on Crouch at 0630 and arrives Chelmsford at 0753. As a result, the current 0700 departure from Maldon Milton Road will depart at 0650 and will run 10 minutes earlier throughout. There are no changes to any other times. First say they "hope that this change will prove to be popular with residents". We hope so, too!
2) We have also looked 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 as well as Southminster & villages, 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 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’. First are reluctant to introduce "hail and ride" on main roads - they suggest we take up these issues with ECC Highways and seek formal recognition where we feel a stop not being recognised. 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.
5) 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.,).
6) First Bus has given guidance to their 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.
7) We continue to seek a solution to the lack of timetabled services passing through Upper Althorne. This is a tough nut to crack: the old 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 and DRT remains a closed network.
8) 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.
9) We have considered the Bus Service Bill, currently before Parliament. This will give elected mayors the power to regulate and to franchise local services, and make data about routes, fares and times available across the country to help app developers give passengers better information about how to make the most of local bus services. Local Transport Authorities will acquire additional powers to require greater co-operation from bus operators in matters such as inter-availability of tickets, co-ordination of connecting services, vehicle standards and so on. We don’t foresee much trickle-down to rural areas but (as always) we are ready to be proved wrong.
EIssues sitting on the back burner but not forgottenn
a) More ‘Around Town Routes’ (such as D4 through Burnham’s Maple Leaf 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 in due course.
ii) We are uneasy about an 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 performance 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 newly introduced 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.
EUpdates on a further range of topicss
'TOTAL TRANSPORT' ~ aka 'PICK UP' ~ aka 'RIDE'
Essex County Council has begun to look at new ways of providing "total transport". This would take us beyond conventional timetabled services and DRT Demand Responsive Transport, into a third world of "overlay networks" that seek to maximise availability, visibility, and bookability of journeys that might otherwise remain hidden from potential users.
In 2016 the design company FutureGov spent a lot of time travelling around the Dengie area and talking to passengers, residents, businesses and potential suppliers. They have developed a digital platform that enables operators to find passengers and passengers to find operators. This they call 'Pick Up'.
After a brief pause due to lack of dedicated funding, the project is back on the move. A 9-month scheme has been allocated a drawdown of £207,000 from the ECC Transformation Reserve, which is in essence a fund to underwrite projects that can deliver long term savings but require injection of cash by way of financial pump-priming.
ECC says it remains committed to supporting rural transport solutions, but needs to explore new solutions to help communities not serviced by commercial bus services, moving away from the traditional contract model with a shift in focus towards reducing subsidies, increasing accessibility and advertising surplus capacity from suppliers. The Essex-supported local bus budget, currently set at £8.5M, is said to be under significant pressure, a situation that is likely to continue in future financial years. Local bus services remain inaccessible to some users and represent a large discretionary spend which in the current financial climate is becoming increasingly unsustainable.
The hope is that “by creating a better experience for users supported through a digital platform, ECC can grow the number of passengers and suppliers delivering transport solutions and reduce subsidies in the future”.
Click here to read what one of our committee members has to say about this concept (pdf document) - and see the latest news at the top of this page!
We gather that 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.
BUS LINK: CHELMER VALLEY P&R ~ BROOMFIELD HOSPITAL
You can park a car (free of charge) at the
Chelmer Valley Park & Ride and then use a bus shuttle to and from
Broomfield Hospital. Although usage is not yet fully on target,
the facility is set to continue for at least the next few months,
courtesy of Essex County Council's in-house "Community Link" minibus
fleet. The vehicles are fully accessible with specifically trained staff and
specialist equipment for any users who may require assistance boarding and
alighting the vehicle. The service forms part of the ordinary £3 Chelmsford P+R
ticket, with discounted fares for under 16s. Concessionary pass holders qualify
for free travel at the usual times. More information can be found by clicking here.
Park and Ride is located beside the A130, to the east of Essex Regiment Way, clearly signposted and accessed from the Pratts Farm Roundabout. DHBUG would be interested to hear whether any Broomfield Hospital visitors from the Dengie are glad of the opportunity to park at Sandon and then ride right through to Chelmer Valley in order to board the shuttle, or whether they prefer to ride from Sandon into the City Centre and then change onto a local bus (departing approx every 10 minutes) to complete their journey.
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) say they 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
The 2015 Essex bus consultation invited suggestions for new and improved routes, which were then listed in the final report. Looking at our own area, the Dengie Hundred, we have extracted and summarised these: click here to read. But please remember that support for bus services is discretionary expenditure 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 has been 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) in the past year there have been around 20 commercial service withdrawals;
· 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 are:
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.
SSend us your news and comments...z
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