Agenda item

Bus Subsidy Process

To provide an overview of the Bus Subsidy Process.

 

Report to follow

Minutes:

4.1      The Chair invited Tom Main, Integrated Transport Manager, to present this item. Members noted the following points:

 

·       GCC, as the local transport authority, was responsible for using public funds to subsidise parts of the bus network that were not covered by the commercial sector where possible and appropriate. The Council could also part-subsidise a particular route if required to provide more frequent or later services, for example.

·       In the previous financial year, the Council spent £5.2m subsidising bus services, which represented a big increase from pre-pandemic when it would usually average £3.5m per year. This increase however did not represent a major increase in the bus network, it was as a result of the lasting effects of Covid on passenger levels, resulting in loss of revenue and cancellation of commercial services which have had to be supported by GCC.

·       GCC’s subsidy budget covered three distinct types of bus services: timetabled services, Community Transport and Demand Response Transport.

·       There were no specific criteria from the Department for Transport (DfT) on what the Council needed to subsidise and it was up to the individual authority to choose what was best for their area. Councils had a responsibility to promote stability and growth in the network.

·       All contracts were procured through a Dynamic Purchasing System, an online marketplace which ensured as wide a reach as possible, at the best possible price. A calculation of ‘cost per passenger trip’ was used to assess the value for money of a subsidised service.

·       In terms of new subsidy funding, this could be sourced from new housing developments, internal bids to the yearly budget setting process and government funding.

 

Questions

 

4.2      In response to a question, it was advised that during the lifetime of a subsidy contract, be that the full 7 years or less, officers would be constantly monitoring its activity and cost per passenger trip calculations, looking out for any anomalies. The Council also had the option to vary a contract during its term which allowed for slight changes, for example, if a new housing development was built and the bus route could easily add a stop to accommodate these residents. If a new commercial service was launched within the contract period that served the same area, this would also trigger a review process to see if the subsidised route was still needed. Officers were in regular contact with operators as well who were supportive in sharing information to steer variations where they noticed a need.

 

4.3      The Council promoted services where possible through roadside displays, real time bus information and through the joint funding of the travel line journey planner with regional colleagues. Promotion was also a major area of focus for the new Enhanced Partnership to improve cooperation with operators in this area.

 

4.4      Several members raised the issue of transparency in relation to the subsidised services, suggesting that many of the questions residents were asking would be clarified if the Council was more transparent about which routes were subsidised and why. Members welcomed the news that officers were currently working on a webpage to publish this information which would allow more instant access to information for residents.

 

4.5      A member asked for more information about the recovery of passenger numbers since Covid. Officers advised that the current passenger level across the entire bus network was about 80% of the pre-pandemic level, there was a huge amount of detail available on this, but generally speaking the areas of better recovery tended to be urban areas and rural areas were seeing a mixture, there was however a lot of additional context within these generalisations, and the same patterns were being seen countrywide. If a route was very dependent on the use of concessionary passes, its recovery had tended to be slower, as had services such as park and ride.

 

4.6      In the event of cross boarder services being subsidised, an agreement would be made where either, one of the authorities held the contact and the other paid a contribution, or, if there were multiple cross boarder services, one authority would pay for one service, and the other the second service and so forth.

 

4.7      There was a discussion about funding received from Section 106/Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) via housing development from the district councils. Members were reminded that five of the six district authorities now used CIL and the Forest of Dean remained using S106. Stroud and the Cotswolds had set up a formal bidding process to which GCC annually submitted its bids for infrastructure needs in those areas. Cheltenham, Gloucester, and Tewkesbury were in the process of creating some form of governance arrangements to enable a similar process but to date, GCC had not received a penny of CIL funding from these three authorities. It was added that the Government had now made it a requirement on local authorities to produce and publish a yearly Infrastructure Funding Statement to outline what CIL monies they had received and spent. The latest copies for Gloucestershire would be shared with members.

 

ACTION:      Simon Excell

 

4.8      A member asked what impact the national £2 travel fare and introduction of ‘The Robin’ service had had on passenger numbers. It was shared that the £2 fare was a direct funding arrangement between the DfT and operators so the council had no direct involvement but from what was understood, the fare reduction was having a positive impact on passenger numbers and promotion of services. ‘The Robin’ offered an entirely different travel option for residents in rural areas, and therefore had not negatively impacted the passenger number on rural timetabled services. It had also had a positive impact on the urban services as residents were able to feed into more central services after their Robin journey and make these routes more sustainable for the future. Another positive was that it had also not taken away the need for community transport, the ‘dial a ride’ services, as again it was a different offer. The providers of these services were pleased with the way the passengers had split between these two types of demand transport.

 

4.9      It was acknowledged that there was a lot of data available from bus services, not just passenger numbers but real time tracking information, for example, that could help with congestion analysis, and there were national trials looking at technology that could examine road surface to identify defects etc.

 

4.10    There was also ongoing national research into how multi-model ticketing could be introduced across the country, where one ticket could be purchased and used across all different types of transport. No shire or rural area had been able to implement this yet, but it was an aspiration in the future and officers understood the improvement it would bring for resident experience on public transport.

 

4.11    The Chair closed this item by thanking officers for a very helpful session which had helped members understand the subsidy process a lot better, and for the improvements coming forward to enable better transparency for the public.

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