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"Missing the Bus" by Eric Stewart: Glasgow meeting of 30 October 2018

Eric Strewartd

Eric Strewart,

© John Fender, 2018

Eric Stewart is a passionate supporter of the bus and drawing on his experience of over 30 years in the bus industry, first with Strathclyde Buses, then First Glasgow and latterly with SPT.

Now with Glasgow City Council, he continues to be an advocate for the bus. In his presentation, he looked at the status of the bus market, the impact of the forthcoming Glasgow Low Emission Zone and smart ticketing.

The Glasgow Low Emission Zone (LEZ) starts on 31 December 2019 and initially will require 20% of buses to meet or better Euro 6 standard. However, this is actually a Traffic Regulation Condition and will be enforced by the Traffic Commissioner rather than the City Council.

The LEZ is being introduced as there have been concerns over the air quality in the city centre and the City Council now has no choice other than to act, resulting in bus operators having to invest in new buses or retrofitting exhaust treatment systems.

He looked at the funding for this pointing out that this would result in a saving to the Health Service, so why could there not be a contribution from these funds to meet costs. Glasgow City Council has a fleet replacement for its own vehicles that will meet Euro 6 standard as a minimum and they are trialling CNG, dual fuel hydrogen, fuel cell, HVO, Bio-methane, and full electric vehicles, showing that the Council is leading by example.

One of First Glasgow's latest Euro 6 standard buses in Glasgow.d

One of First Glasgow's latest Euro 6 standard buses in Glasgow.

© John Fender, 2018

Turning to Smart Ticketing, Eric pointed out that smart ticketing has been in place on the Glasgow Subway since 2013 and is now available of the major bus operators in the west of Scotland as well as on Scotrail. Mobile tickets are widely used and contactless payments are becoming more widespread. Technology is not seen as a barrier, but commercial agreements are and developers of systems are expecting paid via a percentage of revenue of by a subscription. Also, the Scottish Government wants to create a standard but the ITSO standard already exists.

He pointed out that the Zonecard is a genuinely effective scheme, enabling travel on all modes of transport with all operators with one ticket, but that the re-imbursement is often contested by operators, requiring surveys using travel diaries. He thought that the industry needs to embrace the UBER type price proposition and the MaaS type delivery concept, which are both technologically easy but commercially challenging.

Looking at the current status of the bus market, Eric pointed out that recent declines in sales by the four major supermarkets and loss of major retailers made national headlines, as have the announcements of store closures by other major retailers. However, in the west of Scotland, the bus industry has lost over 50 million passengers or a third of the total and not a word has been seen in the press.

Eric is a keen supporter of the bus and has campaigned for better recognition of the bus and its role whilst he was in the industry and is continuing this in his role with Glasgow City Council. Looking at the current state of affairs, he pointed out that there are many consultations undertaken but there appears to be no strategy. He thought that the strategy should come first, followed by the consultation and highlighted this point with some examples.

He pointed out that in Glasgow, more people access the "High Street" by bus than any other mode of transport and that bus users spend some £27.2 million on retail and leisure equivalent to 29% of all city centre expenditure. Outside London, some 77% of jobseekers do not have access to a car. Public funding for bus services generates £3 of benefits for every £1 spent and for city networks, this increases to £5 for every £1 spent.

Bus services in cities reduces CO2 from traffic by up to 75% but traffic congestion increases emissions by up to 4 times. In the west of Scotland, there are approximately 800 variations to services annually and that running times on bus services in Glasgow have increased so that it is often quicker to walk. Since 1996, bus journey times in the main Glasgow bus routes have increased by between 40 and 60%.

So what can be done to address these issues? Eric's view is that frequencies are too low and fairs too high. Going back to the retailer examples, he pointed out that not all retailers are declining and highlighted that Aldi and Lidl are reporting 12% growth and looked at the reasons for this, the main ones being good locations, convenient hours and low prices. According to campaigners, given current fare levels working families are being priced out of public transport. As an example, Eric showed that by reducing fares, revenue could increase but pointed out that the industry argues that the fare levels are required to cover costs, resulting in a spiral of decline as fared increases reduces passenger numbers, leading to fare increases and so on.

There are a number of additional challenges facing bus operators in Glasgow, for example proposals to pedestrianize Argyle street, close George Square to traffic affecting numerous bus services, the introduction of a city-wide 20 mph limit and the creation of more "avenues" with wider pavements and landscaping, reducing road space. Numerous events in the city centre resulting in road closures also do not help.

Eric looked at the Transport Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament and highlighted the provisions relating to Partnership Agreements, including Bus service Improvement Partnerships that would require joint working with bus operators to achieve outcomes such as better, more reliable and affordable bus services. Looking at franchising, Eric pointed out that the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 allows transport authorities to establish Quality Contracts, a form of franchising, but so far, none have been set up. The Transport Bill proposes a more flexible approach that would enable smaller scale options. The Bill also proposes legislation to enable local transport authorities to run bus services directly or to set up "arm's length" companies to run services. The Bill also proposes to make it a requirement for bus operators to provide information on routes, timetables, punctuality and fares for public access.

Turning to passengers, Eric noted that nearly 40% of bus passengers travel using a concession card and although operators provide new buses, the needs of some passengers are not met by them, especially the elderly and infirm who have difficulty in reaching seats beyond the wheelchair spaces. There have been complaints from people who want the old buses back as they are perceived to be more suitable for these people. Analytics can be used to determine the "need to travel", i.e. where people want to go, what times they want to travel at, what services they need to access, e.g. doctors, clinics etc. Services can then be tailored to these needs.

One of the main problems in Glasgow is the car and Eric showed that cars have never been cheaper to own, citing an example of a brand new car costing ©1,000 deposit and payments of ©18 per month on a contract. Car traffic in Scotland has increased by 3% in the last 5 years and car trips are estimated to account for some 2 million tons of CO2 in the West of Scotland alone. Glasgow is car friendly with easy motorway access and 26 off street multi-storey car parks in the city centre with space for 12,000 cars with an additional 2,300 on street parking spaces.

The Glasgow Bus Partnership is being launched on 5 November 2018 and Glasgow City Council, major operators, CPT and SPT are all participating with the aim of having an effective partnership in place by mid-2019, identifying a budget for bus priority measures and providing improved passenger and bus facilities. Targeted journey time improvements are 20% on main corridors and 50% in the city centre and targeted passenger growth of not less than 3% per annum.

There was a question and answer session during which Eric ably responded to many questions before Chairman John Yellowlees gave the vote of thanks and presented Eric with a model open top bus as a souvenir of the evening. The Scottish Region would like to thank Eric for taking the time to give his presentation and SPT for hosting the event at is offices.

Report and photographs by John Fender.

 

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