HAMPSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
ENVIRONMENT AND TRANSPORTATION ITEM 9c
2 OCTOBER 2008
SCRUTINY: TRANSPORT IN THE COMMUNITY
Responses and follow-up to recommendations for Passenger Transport Group dated July 2008
Recommendation B That progress made on reviewing the bus subsidy mechanism is reported by the HCC Passenger Transport Group to the October 2008 Environment and Transportation Select Committee meeting
This work is ongoing and includes assessing best practice nationwide and testing new systems to examine the effect any new approach would have on the current subsidised network.
Previous Select Committee involvement led to this recommendation following sight of an early version of the bus subsidy mechanism as a result of which, a request for further development was made. It might be useful to set out why such a mechanism was originally developed.
The County Council has a range of tools to promote bus use including Quality Bus Partnerships for the busiest routes, infrastructure and information improvements, area ticket schemes such as Solent Travelcard, and local publicity such as the bus and rail travel guides, txt4times and web-based services.
Current legislation on bus services (Transport Act 1985) expects commercial bus operators to provide whatever services they can commercially. The role of the local authority is to analyse the commercial network provided and let contracts for gaps in the network for services which they consider to be socially necessary.
Gaps which may be filled include those at certain times of day or days of the week as well as places which are left completely without commercial services, like many villages remote from main roads or some residential areas in otherwise well served urban areas.
Some 70% of bus services in Hampshire are provided commercially, that is without subsidy, and the remaining services would not operate as they do without the financial support of the County Council. All the local bus services in Hampshire are provided by commercial operators and services that operate on behalf of Hampshire County Council are awarded by competitive tender in a four year rolling programme.
As travel patterns change, timetables need to respond to this and some services which were previously commercial may no longer remain so, or some subsidised services which were once well used may no longer carry the number of passengers they formerly did which may raise issues of value for money. For this reason, a mechanism is needed to evaluate which services should be supported to achieve the best results within affordable budget levels.
For some years, Hampshire County Council has used a simple benchmark against which to assess supported bus services. This is set at £2.50 per passenger journey with a minimum ridership of 5 passengers per journey in urban areas and 3 passengers per journey in rural areas. Services which do not meet this are considered not to achieve value for money. The need was felt to develop a system which allowed comparisons to made between different services. Consideration was given to developing measures to take account of likely journey purpose, alternative services available, areas of deprivation, infrastructure investment, value for money and level of use. This was intended to assist with directing support to make the best use of resources within the budget available.
The need to identify how the public transport network met current needs was an important part of the Bus Strategy which specifies the need for Passenger Transport Area Reviews. These set out a comprehensive review of public transport services on a district by district basis throughout the county These aim to ensure that:
· Value for money is achieved;
· Subsidy payments are open and transparent;
· Spending is undertaken within the context of LTP2 and bus strategy objectives;
· The optimum balance is achieved between conventional and innovative services;
· The relationship between secured and commercial services achieves the best possible efficiency; and
· Funds are used to address the unmet needs of Hampshire residents.
These aims are directly relevant to the development of a concise and transparent system against which to score supported bus services which in turn led to the early work on Scorechart.
Progress to date
Hampshire County Council has commissioned consultants to evaluate the criteria which are used to assess local bus service subsidies. In discussions with HCC Officers it has been suggested that the final agreed criteria could be used for testing three categories of service:
· Currently supported services
· Potential new services; and
· Currently supported services that face increases in tender prices.
The mechanism should be easy to use, make minimal use of Officers' time and minimise the scope for personal judgement, thereby making the process completely transparent.
The consultants have been asked to evaluate Scorechart which is at the initial stage in the development of the bus subsidy framework, undertake a review of existing policy and experience of methodologies which are currently in use by other Local Authorities. Their approach will be structured as follows:
· A review of the relevant local and national policies, including the Local Transport Plan and the Rural Bus Subsidy Grant
· To review a range of existing scoring mechanisms which are currently used by Local Authorities to assess bus subsidies
· To provide a brief overview of bus route planning software currently in use
· To consider the potential data sources which can be utilised by a scoring mechanism
· To propose next steps
The consultants have identified the following policies and documents as part of their review of local policy:
· Hampshire County Council Corporate Strategy
· Shaping our Future Together - Hampshire Sustainable Community Strategy, 2008 - 2018
· Hampshire Local Area Agreement 2008 - 2011
· Hampshire Local Transport Plan, 2006 - 2011
The consultants propose to evaluate the following authorities as part of the review of existing scoring mechanisms:
· Greater Manchester PTE
· Merseytravel (Merseyside PTE)
· Halton Borough Council
· Peterborough City Council
· Southampton City Council
· Thurrock Council
· Devon County Council
· Lancashire County Council
· Norfolk County Council
· North Yorkshire County Council
· Nottinghamshire County Council
· Oxfordshire County Council
· West Sussex County Council
The consultants have also be asked consider data inputs and will consider:
· IMD Data
· Census Data
· Nomis Data
· Patronage Data
In addition to identifying the national and local policy framework and existing assessment criteria used by a number of authorities elsewhere, the consultants have recommended that the following criteria are evaluated (this is not proposed to be an exhaustive list):
· Cost per Passenger
· Accessibility to Key Services
· Rural / Urban Split
It is apparent from the research already undertaken by the consultants that considerable further work will be required. Current estimates are that an early version of their final report should be available in summer 2009
It is proposed that once the final report is available it will be presented to a future meeting of the Select Committee.