Response to Leicestershire County Council consultation on Passenger Transport Services –Leicestershire County Green Parties
The Green Parties of Leicestershire County welcome the opportunity to respond in detail to the proposed changes to how Leicestershire County Council funds Passenger Transport Services. We believe that good, well-funded public transport benefits us all.
Leicestershire County Council should return to the proposal and consider the wide ranging, long term benefits of public transport and look to find good examples elsewhere in the country as a model (one such being Merseyside since the implementation of the Bus Services Act 2017).
We would strongly suggest that Leicestershire County Council consider seriously the benefits of the Bus Services Act and how it could work across boundaries with other local authorities such as Leicester City Council.
Below we outline in further detail our response and suggestions to this consultation.
- It is positive that Leicestershire County Council is reviewing how public money is spent and agree with its proposal to keep bus fares as low as possible. However, the terms used in the consultation documents are vague and the defined benefits of bus services are reductive. Policies need to be clear in their aims and visions and decisions need to be taken within their wider context. Changes to public transport have far reaching repercussions, particularly social and economic impacts on already disadvantaged groups, such as women, elderly, children, the poor and most vulnerable members of our community. This will become magnified as our population ages. The less public transport we have in the county, the more people become isolated, disenfranchised and cut off from employment and leisure opportunities.
- There is also the obvious but serious impact upon road congestion and air pollution, not to mention road traffic accidents, casualties and deaths. Whilst we welcome the policy PPT1 for the encouragement to use passenger transport systems over private car use, this is rather thinly realised in the strategy. The council could do more to promote the public benefits of bus transport in reducing congestion, air pollution and parking difficulties.
- There is an opportunity to change the relationship between Leicestershire County Council and private contractors (see mention above of Bus Services Act). The two parties could work together to properly integrate bus and train routes, so that buses stop at train stations at times close to departures and connections. This is common practice in other comparable countries and cities and it makes for an efficient and therefore well used public transport system. It is often the poor integration and planning of public transport routes that is the cause of low passenger numbers.
- Leicestershire County Green Parties do not agree that demand responsive transport is an effective replacement for a regular bus service. For many people it removes their independence and it is not a solution to those using bus services daily for things such as work and school. Arriva Click has had some success in other parts of the country, but is privately owned, which has inherent problems (see below).
- At present, private companies have a majority control of a public service, with little scrutiny and no obligation to continue any services deemed to make insufficient profit. This has been shown to fail communities (one example being the recent changes to the number 6 service in Thurmaston/Syston). We believe a public service should be run for the good of the public, not the profit of overseas companies and shareholders.
- Leicestershire County Council should get better information about why private companies deem some routes as no longer commercially viable, including seeing what efforts providers have put into promoting a service, before deciding to cease offering it. In the longer term we would like to see more transparent contracts between the tax payer who is paying for a service, and the companies who have been awarded them, perhaps with view of tenders combining more popular routes with less profitable ones.
- Leicestershire County Council could use this as an opportunity to invest in services and the County’s unique culture and heritage. For instance, bus services could be run to capitalise on the increased tourism, which would in turn cut down on air pollution, road congestion and parking problems. The council may encourage tourist hubs to help subsidise services.
- We would like better promotion of the choose how you move website and have better information about ways of accessing Leicestershire, in other media. At present there is over reliance on internet access, from which some sections of society are disenfranchised.
- Does the scoring and monitoring program include seasonal variation in the use of services?
- Whilst the priorities include access to employment and training opportunities, access to internet services should be included. Some people only have this access via libraries, so consideration should be made of access during opening times. Access to post office services should also be considered a priority, to accommodate older people and those of low income who often rely on both buses and post offices to access cash and benefits/pensions.
- Local community transport initiatives are positive, but there is over reliance on volunteers, particularly to carry out responsible work like transporting vulnerable groups. The Council could make it clearer what schemes have been adopted, how they work and what the expected code of conduct would be. Have the specific views of these groups been actively sought out for this consultation?
- The use of the planning system to support bus services is good practice. We would like to see emphasis on developing brown field sites, in addition to enhancing and promoting existing commercial sites in towns and rural centres. More locally distributed employment hubs could be encouraged, rather than developing new industrial sites, which require additional transport overburden.
We sincerely hope that Leicestershire County Council truly reflect upon the responses garnered from this consultation and use them to inform an improved policy to the one currently drafted. Any future strategy must consider the environmental, economic and social impacts in more depth.
Leicestershire County Green Parties