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Options for strengthening bus passenger representation - an analysis of consultation responses

Introduction

1. This report summarises responses to the Options for Strengthening Bus Passenger Representation consultation. The consultation sought views on proposals to establish a formal bus passenger representative body to champion improvements in bus and scheduled coach service provision founded on robust research and analysis; work with passengers, operators, government, local authorities and other key stakeholders to ensure that the passenger's voice is heard when key decisions are made; and make suggestions about the future direction of bus provision.

2. The formal consultation was launched on 4 December 2007 and closed on 17 March 2008. The consultation was published on the DfT website, and the Department received 103 responses. These responses broke down as follows:

  • 17 responses were received from Borough and County Councils and other local government organisations;
  • 9 responses were received from bus user groups;
  • 9 responses were received from members of the industry;
  • 13 responses were received from lobby groups;
  • 4 responses were received from TravelWatch organisations;
  • 33 responses were received from Parish and Town Councils;
  • 1 response was received from Passenger Focus;
  • 1 response was received from a member of the House of Lords;
  • 14 responses were received from members of the public;
  • 1 response was received from a union;
  • 1 response was received from the Traffic Commissioners.

Analysis of the Responses

3. The consultation asked twelve specific questions. In general there was support for the aims and objectives of establishing a formal bus passenger champion. It was emphasised in a number of the responses that two thirds of public transport passenger journeys outside London are made by bus or coach, and it is important that the interests of these passengers are represented.

4. A number of local authorities commented on the relationship between the new body and local government. It was pointed out that the new body needs to reinforce and not undermine the local authority role as the democratically accountable transport authority.

The Preferred Option

5. The consultation paper asked respondents to identify their preferred option. The breakdown of responses to these questions are as below:

  • 14% of respondents stated option 1 - working with existing bus passenger bodies - as their preferred option.
  • 7% of respondents stated option 2 - a new standalone statutory bus passenger champion body - as their preferred option.
  • 6% of respondents stated that they preferred either option 1 or 2, but gave no single preferred option.
  • 26% of respondents stated option 3a - conferring additional powers on Passenger Focus - as their preferred option.
  • 15% of respondents stated option 3b - the creation of a new multi-modal public transport users' committee - as their preferred option.
  • 8% of respondents stated that they preferred either option 3a or 3b, but gave no single preferred option.
  • 18% of respondents agreed with the aims presented in the consultation, but offered no preferred option.
  • 5% disagreed with the aims presented, and offered no preferred option.
  • 1% of respondents offered an entirely different option.

Option 3a - Passenger Focus

6. An analysis of the responses shows that the stakeholders that responded have a clear preference for option 3a. 26% of respondents identified Passenger Focus as a preferred option. Another 8% preferred either option 3a or 3b.

7. An operator cited their reason for this as being that they recognised Passenger Focus as an organisation which will be able to look objectively at the whole passenger transport operation and be well placed to promote greater integration between public transport modes. A number of stakeholders also pointed out the economies of scale available due to the synergies with the rail function that Passenger Focus already carries out.

8. There were some points that stakeholders felt must be considered for Passenger Focus to effectively perform the role of bus passenger representative. An operator pointed out that the demographics of the bus, rail and coach industry are all very different. The customers of one do not have the same needs as a customer of another. Passenger Focus will need to quickly develop competencies and expertise to understand the differences. There was a concern that bus passengers may lose out to the interests of rail passengers.

Option 1 - Existing Bus Passenger Bodies

9. This was not the preferred option, and was discounted by the majority of respondents. Numerous stakeholders stated that they recognise the good work carried out by organisations such as Bus Users UK, but may not have sufficient national strength on which to build. Building on the success of existing bus passenger bodies would do little to promote public transport integration. However, there might be an important role for Bus Users UK under a national multi-modal organisation.

10. There were also concerns from a number of respondents that Bus Users UK is partially funded by the bus industry. It was felt by a number of stakeholders, including local authorities and lobby groups, that Bus Users UK could potentially lack independence, or give the perception that they are not independent. The importance of having an independent body was stressed in many of the consultation responses.

Option 2 - A New Standalone Bus Passenger Champion Body

11. This was the least supported of the 4 proposals, with only 7% of respondents marking it as their preferred option. Those who supported the proposal offered no justification for doing so. Some stakeholders commented that this option would not offer an integrated solution.

Option 3b - The Creation of a New Multimodal Public Transport Users' Committee

12. This was the second most supported of the 4 proposals. Many stakeholders stated that they saw the merits of a multimodal organisation. However, organisations that supported this option offered little justification other than a statement that the body should take an integrated approach.

The Role of the Bus Passenger Representative

13. The importance of a research based approach was stated by a number of stakeholders. In their response a lobby group stated that users of bus services are more likely to be from a marginalised group, and therefore may be less likely to complain about poor services. It will therefore be important for the watchdog to spend more of its resources on undertaking research on bus services than is necessary for rail services.

14. Some stakeholders, for example a local authority group and the senior traffic commissioner, stated that access to real time performance information would strengthen the position of a new body in their function.

15. There was debate on the subject of whether the new body should have a regional presence. There was strong feeling on both sides. A bus user group felt that a national board would be far too remote and that a local grass routes view will be essential for feeding into any nationally based research programme. Others argued that bus services are local in nature, and key decisions are made at both a local and regional level. Therefore the new body should reflect this in order to influence the variety of key players involved.

16. The other side of the argument was that although the bus industry is very local in its nature and its provision is highly diverse, the long term issues affecting the effective provision of service are, to a degree, concentrated at a national and regional level in the hands of a small number of operations, the PTEs, OFT, DfT, the Traffic Commissioners, the Highways Agency and Local Authorities. Building a national level organisation to focus on these stakeholders would bring about a greater benchmarking and consistency to bus and coach operations than has been achieved before. It was generally recognised that Passenger Focus will have to work in partnership with existing regional and local bodies in order to perform effectively.

17. The issue of whether or not the new body should take on a complaints handle role also drew conflicting arguments. In their response an operator stated that the relationship between operator and their customers is fundamental to business, and while there is a role for a body that acts as an appeal against unresolved complaints, they support the view that any new passenger representative body should not take on a complaints handling role - there should be no doubt in the bus users mind that operator is the first port of call. Other stakeholders backed this view by stating that operators, with whom the passenger has a contract, are the proper first port of call and therefore operators should fund complaint handling, as in other industries. The counter argument to this is that a complaints role would ensure consistency and that there are national standards set for passengers in lodging a complaint. The current system is confusing to the customer, and information is required to help the customer direct their complaint properly. ATCO stated that it is important to have one ubiquitously advertised body to which passengers can refer complaints, however complaints should be dealt with locally first.

18. The consultation drew comments on the modes of transport that should be covered by a multimodal committee. A number of local authorities pointed out that there is currently no passenger representation for people that travel by tram and light rail. There was also some limited support for domestic ferries to be included.

19. In the consultation we asked whether respondents felt that the body should cover any items not already mentioned. The following were mentioned as possible roles for the body:

  • The body should play a national role in promoting bus travel as an alternative to the car.
  • The body should set fares.
  • The relationship with the traffic commissioners will have to be defined.
  • The body should promote best practice across the industry.

List of Respondents

  • Abbots Langley Parish Council
  • Andrew Cowell
  • Arriva Plc
  • Asfordy Parish Council
  • Ash Parish Council
  • Association Of Local Bus Undertaking Managers
  • Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers
  • Audley Parish Council
  • Backwell Parish Council
  • Bawdsey Parish Council
  • Berkhamsted Town Council
  • Blackpool Council
  • Bournemouth Transport Action Group
  • Bus Users UK
  • Bus Users UK
  • Campaign for Better Transport
  • Campaign for Better Transport - Ipswich & Suffolk Group
  • Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport UK
  • Christopher Murphy
  • Cirencester Town Council
  • Citizens Advice Bureau
  • Claygate Parish Council
  • Clive Whatling
  • Community Transport Association
  • Confederation of Passenger Transport UK
  • Cornwall County Council
  • Crediton Town Council
  • Derbyshire County Council
  • Devon Heartlands Community Forum
  • Ditton Parish Council
  • Dorset Association of Town and Parish Councils
  • East Suffolk Travellers' Association
  • Exbourne & Jacobstowe Parish Council
  • Farnignham Parish Council
  • First Group
  • Frodsham Forward Transport Group
  • Go-Ahead Group
  • Graham Rogers
  • Great Wyrley Parish Council
  • Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Org
  • Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority
  • Guide Dogs for the Blind Association
  • Halton Borough Council
  • Hartley Parish Council
  • Helped the Aged
  • Hennock Parish Council
  • Hertfordshire Association of Parish and Town Councils
  • House of Lords
  • I.W. Bus Users Group
  • Iver Parish Council
  • Janet Chapman
  • John Sinha
  • Keighley Town Council
  • Leybourne Parish Council
  • Local Government Association
  • London TravelWatch
  • Manston Parish Council
  • Marden Parish Council
  • Medway Council
  • National Association of Local Council
  • National Consumer Council
  • National Express UK Ltd
  • NECTAR
  • Newmarket Town Council
  • Noelle Rumball
  • Norfolk County Council
  • North East Combined Activists Roundtable (NECTAR)
  • North Staffordshire Passenger Transport User Forum
  • Northampton Borough Council
  • Nottingham City Transport Ltd
  • Nottinghamshire County Council
  • Okehampton DevonOxfordshire Association of Local Councils
  • Passenger Focus
  • Paul Harley
  • Petersfield Town Council
  • phil@halberton.org
  • Philip Longdon
  • PTEG
  • Ray Wilkes
  • Socialist, Environmental, Resource, Association
  • South East England Regional Assembly
  • SouthWest Public Transport Users Forum
  • Spalding & Peterborough Transport Forum
  • St Neots Town Council
  • Stagecoach
  • Surrey CC
  • Susan Dye
  • The National Youth Agency
  • Tim Cooper
  • Traffic Commissioners
  • Transport for London
  • Transport Pool Convener
  • TravelWatch Isle of Man
  • TravelWatch Midlands West
  • TravelWatch NorthWest
  • Tring Town Council
  • Unison
  • Upchurch Parish Council
  • Uppingham Town Council
  • Watford Rural Parish Council
  • William Kirby
  • Wootton Bridge Parish Council