23 June 2009

Justified and explained?


The decision to remove any bus subsidy is always a difficult one but we cannot justify the cost of running buses with only a handful of passengers

Target Travel X657WYG
Target Travel Clover Leaf 57 ©Robert Burn

Plymouth Citybus 281 N281PDV
Plymothian Transit now on Facebook - feel free to comment there on any posting!

Council Justification:

"Subsidies play an important role in providing access to local services and helping local residents travel around the city. However, we have a responsibility to Council taxpayers to balance cost against demand and ensure that routes with low passenger numbers are only supported where there is a genuine community need and the costs are not excessive.

Services across the Council are having to make significant financial savings because of the economic downturn and we also expect a shortfall in funding for the national concessionary fares scheme of up to £1 million this year, which will further add to the financial pressures on our transport service. This makes it especially important to target our resources where they are most needed.”

Councillor Kevin Wigens, Cabinet Member for Transport

The key changes are as follows:

  • Plymouth Citybus will take on four services on a commercial basis, meaning they will no longer require subsidy support from the Council. These are evening services on the 20, 23/24 and 25 and Sunday daytime services on the 42.
  • Target Travel will increase their presence on the subsidised network, running nine of the 20 services.
  • First will now operate just one subsidised service – the number 4.
  • Service 17, a commercial service withdrawn by First Devon and Cornwall in January, will be reinstated as service 14 as part of the new subsidised network. It will be operated by Target Travel.
  • There will be two more taxibus services, operated through Target Travel

"The decision to remove any bus subsidy is always a difficult one but we cannot justify the cost of running buses with only a handful of passengers. We are confident that by working with local operators to make changes to the network as a whole we are getting much better value for taxpayers’ money.

I have been surprised at how muted opposition has been to some of these changes, but I guess some of this may be due to people focusing on the ongoing debate about the future ownership of Plymouth Citybus. I will be returning to this subject in the week so for now I will focus on the cutbacks that have been detailed on this blog over the past week or so.

The main story I have picked up against these cutbacks comes from Glenholt. Long time readers of this blog will know they have form:

27 December 2005
14 January 2006
05 October 2006

ANGRY residents said they are prepared to picket outside the Council House in protest against their "lifeline" bus service being scrapped.

More than 50 people gathered at Glenholt Park to voice their disgust that the no 57 is being replaced by an "inadequate" Taxibus service with much smaller vehicles.
Glenholt Park Association secretary, said: "This bus service is a lifeline and the taxis are not going to be big enough to replace it. It could come to us getting out the placards again. If it comes to it, we will be outside the Council House."

Elma Baddeley, aged 61, a Glenholt Park resident, said her 20-strong women's group rely on the bus service for regular day trips.

She added: "It's our independence they are taking away. We get the bus everywhere and we are not going to fit in a taxi. Some people have given up their cars because the bus service has been so good." This is Plymouth

At least one of the comments on the story note the link between the free bus passes and the service cutbacks.
As can be seen from the 27 December 2005 posting, this area has been extremely difficult to serve and all previous attempts to improve the service have soon floundered and been cut back. The 57 Clover leaf did seem like a good opportunity but even that has not lasted long.



Over the past week or so I have been spending a lot of time looking at the information put out by the council and the operators which has been an interesting exercise in itself.

Plymouth City Council have a few documents available on their subsidised bus services page:

The full Guide to subsidised services is a useful document which gives the run down on the services paid for by the council.
This is a useful guide but it could be so much better and more useful. It only gives the timetables for the supported routes. I know that is what it is supposed to be, but for the routes with at least partial commercial operation it means you only get half the details. It would be so much more useful if the full timetable could be included with the supported sections clearly highlighted. This is especially the case when two operators share the route, like service 6. If tickets etc are all interchangeable as promised on these supported routes then as far as most passengers are concerned they probably couldn't really care who operates the bus. In which case why have to look to a separate timetable booklet just for the last few journeys of the day?
Apart from that the timetable guide is at least nice and clear and follows the same design as the recent timetable book so hopefully when they reprint that one then some sense will prevail and timetables will be joined up again.
So what about the operators themselves?
First have a straightforward announcement on their site:


Following a recent tendering exercise by Plymouth City Council, the services/ journeys below will be operated by the following Bus Operators from 5th July:
Target Travel (Tel: 01752 242000)
Service 6 Plymouth - Holmwood Avenue Monday to Saturday evening journeys only
Service 18 Plymouth - Elburton
Service 39 / 39A Plymouth to Crownhill
Please note that return tickets, day tickets and season tickets issued by First are valid on the above services.
Plymouth City Bus (Tel: 0 845 077 2223)
Service 13 Plymouth - Saltash Passage - Saturdays only.
The following tendered services have not been awarded by Plymouth City Council and therefore will no longer operate:
Service 4 Plymouth - Keyham - Sunday & Bank Holiday evenings
Service 6 Plymouth - Holmwood Avenue Sunday & Bank Holiday evenings
Service 44B/C Plymouth - Whitleigh
Passengers wanting more information on these tendered services should contact the relevant Bus Operator (telephone numbers as above) or contact Plymouth City Council on 01752 668000.


Unusually for First, new timetables for their remaining route (6) are not yet available.

Citybus have as usual these days put out a notice on all their buses and available on the net explaining in full what is changing and why it is changing.

From 5 July 2009 Plymouth City Council has made some significant changes to subsidised bus
services. As a result PCB has decided to take over four routes commercially, some routes will be removed, and some routes currently operated by PCB will be operated by Target Travel, and in some instances services operated by ourselves and Target Travel will offer a reduced service.

On the changes they have made of their own they have taken care to detail the changes on the individual timetable page, along with a brief explanation of why they have made the changes. Like this explanation on their new 20 timetable:

We are confident that the changes to the service 20 will see increased passenger use. It won’t be enough to cover the loss of funding for the Service 20A hence the changes being made, and the loss of services to Steer Park. Plymouth Citybus does operate Service 21 & 51 to Steer Park

So what about Target Travel and Taxifast?
Well Target have long been very poor indeed on their web site with old timetables which were at least two years out of date. I have just been on their site to see if anything has changed and have been met with a notice to say the web site is being updated! Watch this space!
They are available on the Traveline service but that isnt the easiest service to use and wont give you a full timetable for a whole day. At least I dont think it will.
I am not so sure about Taxifast. All I get is an intro show which seems to take forever to load, and when I skip it, it just sits there. That might be my pc, but there never used to be anything there anyway.


“We get the bus everywhere and we are not going to fit in a taxi”


Angry Glenholt resident sums up the biggest issue with replacing buses with taxis. I actually enjoy catching the 224 Taxibus and get on well with all the regular drivers who are very friendly and offer a good service. I have only had to share a taxis one one or two occasions. This is partly because most of the journey I take is also covered by Citybus who are cheaper and more frequent. I can use my travel pass so the fare is not an issue. There are a few locals who will catch whatever comes first but most will just wait for the Citybus or Target bus so overcrowding is not an issue. On some of these new routes I can see bigger problems. The little old ladies popping down to Derriford Hospital Canteen for lunch (it happens!) might find the taxi is full. The new 226 service provides a new link between Austin Farm and Asda which is a very popular store. Many of them can catch the 47 but it goes the long way round. A quick 5 min ride in a taxi bus seems like a great idea. as long as no more people get the same idea at the same time!

Plymouth is very much a leader when it comes to using Taxibuses to supplement local buses. They have a place and can be a great way to help provide new links that otherwise would not happen. Whether they are so good at replacing normal buses in order to cut costs remains to be seen.
I guess it comes down to what happens if the service gets too popular - will it be increased in frequency or be given larger vehicles?

As always your thoughts are welcome!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

1 comment:

  1. I believe PCB offered a tender for a full daytime service Monday to Saturday which would have restored a direct bus link from Glenholt to the City via Derriford. The Council chose the Taxibus option at a slightly cheaper price BUT without a Saturday service. Wonder if the Glenholt residents could find out more about this? I think they were definitely stitched up.


Have something interesting to say? Please share it here!

(Moderation is currently switched on so please allow a short while before your comment appears on the site. This is only to cut down on spam - not to cut out people who disagree with me!)