SCC Bus Advisory Board
Friday, 2nd December, 2022 10.00 am
Venue: Virtual via Microsoft Teams
Welcome and Apologies for Absence
To welcome meeting attendees and receive apologies for absence from Board members.
The Chair read the meeting guidance and etiquette for virtual meetings.
Natasha Bates, Service Manager Commissioning-Highways and Transport, gave an update on membership, noting that Dartline had just been acquired by Go South West; it will still be known as Dartline, but Mark Collins will now be its Board member, with Richard Stephens, Managing Director, acting as the contact for signing the Enhanced Partnership Scheme and Plan and any related agreements.
Apologies were received from Cllr Glen Burrows, Joe Walsh, Joana Jackson, Peter Travis, and Marc Morganhuws.
To review and approve the minutes from the meeting held on 13 October 2022 as an accurate record of the meeting.
The minutes were accepted as an accurate record of the meeting held on 13 October 2022.
Public Question Time
To receive any relevant questions from the public. These must be received by 5:00 pm three clear working days before the meeting.
There were no public questions or statements received.
To receive the proposed variations to the EP Scheme and to ask the Board to formally agree the proposed variations.
Tim Reynolds, Associate-WSP, stated that after the first variations which were approved by this Board at the last meeting, there have been further communications with the DfT, who had approved most of the Board’s variations to the EP, but they had wanted to strengthen the wording in Section 3, while in Section 4 regarding operator commitment and obligation, nothing has changed. In order to allow SCC to draw down the first year’s funding through the BSIP, the DfT had wanted SCC to strengthen their commitment to exploring a range of different facilities and measures that are linked to funding either directly or indirectly. SCC had also been asked to remove some elements of Section 3 where funding had not been granted, in order that the EP scheme be clearly linked to the funding presently available. Those items that had not been granted funding through the BSIP program this time round were put into an annexe, so there are now two additional annexes at the back of the scheme; these outline measures and facilities which SCC would like to commit to in the future if funding can be secured but which are not currently funded and not in the main scheme, thus making it very clear what has been funded and what has not. The DfT had also asked SCC to strengthen a section on community engagement, so a new Section 7 was added which details SCC’s commitment to quite detailed consultation with the public on their views about how the BSIP is performing and the processes used to verify that. After these alterations, the EP had been returned to the DfT once again, and they approved it in its entirety, which is what has now been circulated to Board members. The DfT was now looking for SCC to approve it as soon as possible so that it can be sent back to the DfT, in order for them to begin the process that allows SCC to draw down the Year 1 funding.
The Chair invited comments from the Board. Tony Reese, representing the Somerset Bus Partnership, said with respect to the strengthening of our commitment to listening to customers that he had a list of things that the Partnership has been doing: They now have 100 registered ‘bus champions’ from across the county; they have been requesting timetables and requesting reports on the progress of the Somerset-wide timetable in conjunction with First Bus; and they have been working with parish and town councils to print and distribute timetables as well. Finally, they have just started carrying out a bus stop audit, so if anyone had any comments on that, he would be interested to hear them.
David Redgewell, representing The Campaign for Better Transport, asked if it could be ascertained that all of SCC’s legal agreements were with First Group and First Bus, and not with Buses of Somerset. With respect to the bus shelters, he said that it should be known from an audit point of view who is ... view the full minutes text for item 64.
Update on Evening/Weekend Services Trial
To receive the proposals and to ask Operators on the Board to formally agree the proposals.
John Perrett, Service Manager-Transporting Somerset, stated that they had been working on these proposals for the Taunton area since the last meeting and looking at the commercial bus network where there will likely be sufficient usage. All of these proposed routes are operated by Buses of Somerset.
· #1 Town Service – This is the busiest route in Taunton which goes out to Priorswood services; we want to extend it to the Silk Mills Park and Ride in order to bring the park and ride sites into the network without running this specific park and ride service after 7:30 pm but rather linking it to existing services in town. The #1 will run hourly with the last bus from Taunton to Silk Mills at 10:35 and from Taunton to Priorswood at 11:00 pm. All of the journeys will also serve Musgrove Park Hospital.
· #21 Taunton-Bridgwater – This will be an hourly service with the last bus from Bridgwater at 10:15 and the last bus from Taunton at 11:04 pm, and it will be extended to start and finish at Musgrove Park Hospital.
· #22 Taunton-Wellington – An hourly service with the last bus from Taunton at 11:05 and the last bus from Wellington at 11:31 pm; it will also serve Musgrove Park.
· #28 Taunton-Minehead – This is a much longer route and will not be hourly, but there will be two additional return journeys from Taunton at 10:30 and from Minehead at 10:15 pm. On the last three journeys, there will be a diversion via Cotford St Luke and Norton Fitzwarren in order to serve more heavily populated areas on the outskirts of Taunton.
· #30 Taunton-Chard – There will be three journeys added with the last bus from Chard at 9:11 and the last bus from Taunton at 10:10 pm including a diversion to the Gateway Park and Ride site, in order that people can leave their cars at the Park and Ride during the day and still have the gates open when they come back in the evening.
There is no fixed date yet for the introduction of these services, but it will be sometime in January 2023. Discussions are underway with our property services team regarding the planning permission for extending hours for the Park and Ride. Also, Buses of Somerset are making other changes to their timetables as well, so it is hoped to have all services/changes introduced on the same date.
The Chair thanked John Perrett for this very exciting news, which will create the ability for thousands of people to move between the big population centres in the evening. He invited Board members to comment; David Redgewell asked if, given the shortage of bus drivers in the southwest, there will be enough drivers for these additional routes. John Perrett replied that he had raised this question himself and been assured that there would be. David Redgewell then suggested that the Chair meet with RMT, as it is always useful for the Chair to have a dialogue with ... view the full minutes text for item 65.
Update on £1 Fare Scheme Within Taunton Town Zone
To receive the update.
Natasha Bates, Service Manager-Transport Commissioning, stated that offices had been working with operators on the agreements, and all of the operators in the zone have signed them; ticket machines had also been updated. The £1 fares will come into effect on 5 December, and the Communications Team will put out promotional materials which have been approved by the DfT and a press release has also gone out. Materials have been shared with the operators and will continue to liaise with them about further promotion. Operators who have signed up include Buses of Somerset, Hatch Green Coaches, Dartline, South West Coaches, and the SCC in-house transport team.
The Chair said that this was fantastic news, that we really want to make this work, and there will be support from the Bus It marketing campaign. He stated that this initiative will make a difference in passenger usage and can lead to rolling it out in other parts of the county where additional funding becomes available.
Update on £2 Fare Cap Trial from January 2023
To receive the update.
John Perrett, Service Manager-Transport Commissioning, stated that the details of this trial are still unclear; there has been no direct contact with the DfT, as the DfT has been dealing directly with operators. Participation in the trial is voluntary, including both commercial and tendered services; as he understands it, the scheme is only open to those operators who claim the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) or the old fuel duty rebate. This means that some operators, particularly those who only operate tendered services or those who do little commercial mileage, have not been invited to take part, meaning participation will be patchy. Operators have been asked by the DfT to provide considerable data up front for the DfT to analyse and work out payments, which has made matters difficult, as there is only a fixed amount of funding available from the DfT and the amount to be received by each operator will only be known by 12 December. However, the operators then have to confirm by 16 December if they want to participate, and then the publicity from central government begins the next day on 17 December.
One thing that they have been asked to ensure is that there are no penalties on the £2 fare in relation to concessionary fares and that we don’t make adjustments to payments to operators on concessionary fares; however, this won’t apply to Somerset, because we have been paying fixed rates based on the 2019-20 level of concessionary fares, and that will continue until at least 31 March. In any case, by 16 December there will be confirmation of which operators are participating, and a list will be published week commencing 19 December.
The Chair thanked John Perrett for his update, noting that this was another opportunity to recover patronage after the Covid pandemic, and he invited comments from the Board. Tony Reese asked what SCC and the Somerset Bus Partnership could do to help publicise this, as it will need to be publicised widely once it starts; John Perrett replied that there would be press coverage and communications once the list of operators is known. He said that Ridler’s Coaches in Minehead could be ruled out, because they are a small operator that does not have the capacity to meet the demands of the data requirement from the DfT.
David Redgewell expressed his concern that there is far less information available in the South West than in the Midlands, while in the North, the Secretary of State for Transport had gone to Manchester with the new buses Minister to meet the authorities to discuss this £2 fare issue. He noted that there are two transport boards, the Peninsula and the Western Gateway, and these transport boards could possibly be a vehicle for conversations between the Chair and DfT officials about a regional approach to the matter. He opined that it is not right that the DfT is bringing schemes into the South West without speaking to statutory transport authorities, who are the ones ... view the full minutes text for item 67.
Service Updates from Operators
To receive any updates from Operators.
Adam Hawksworth of Buses of Somerset presented their proposed changes on routes 29, 54, 55, 75 and 77, for which there would be short notice, and requested feedback on them. He noted that there was a network review in June, which revealed concerns over Somerton and the Taunton-Yeovil services. Buses of Somerset had been able to re-work everything in those areas and had tried to address as many concerns as possible, but it was necessary to keep changes to a minimum.
· #29 – There will be one change in the morning where the service does not go up Windmill Hill, but that will be replaced by the #75, and the morning journey that starts at Creech will now start at Glastonbury. Also, the last bus of the day from Strode will run just a few minutes later.
· #54 – This route involves the main change; it is proposed to reinstate the direct Taunton-Yeovil service running every two hours, and also to divert in Yeovil to Stiby Road and Larkhill Road. This will fill the gap left by the #53 being taken out. There will be a 16:40 service which suits college students, then one at 18:40 which is a bit late but will assist with Ilchester and Somerton travellers.
· #55 – This no longer goes to Taunton; it will operate only between Wrantage, Langport and Strode and will run on college days only.
· #75 – There has been one change only, with the morning journey to Windmill Hill running five minutes earlier.
· #77 – Changes have been made to the evening service, moving it from 18:10 to 18:40, and it will have connections to Wells; in the morning the route will start in Street but will connect to the #29 from Glastonbury.
The Chair invited feedback; John Perrett, ,stated that on the whole it’s an improvement on the network, especially the through journeys, and the re-routing in Yeovil also resolves concerns that were expressed when the #53 was withdrawn. He welcomed the changes and hoped they could be made as soon as possible in order to link them to the introduction of the evening services in Taunton.
David Redgewell, representing the Campaign for Better Transport, said that this is the reason they had met in London with Janet Bell, the CEO of First Buses, because people in Yeovil were so angry, and he is very grateful for the work done for the South West with respect to the many concerns expressed by Yeovil residents and NHS workers. There is a need to ensure that First South West and First West of England are joining up fares between Wells, Glastonbury, and Street and making sure that there is good connectivity between those towns with Musgrove Park, Taunton, Bridgwater, and Yeovil. Connectivity from Wells to Bath and Shepton Mallet and across Mendip is also important. It is necessary that Doug Claringbold of First West of England and Simon Goff of Buses of Somerset discuss these matters.
Update from Chair of the Bus Users & Stakeholders Group
To receive the update from the Chair of the BUS Group.
Tony Reese, Vice Chair of the Bus Users and Stakeholders Group, presented the update on behalf of the Group’s Chair, Peter Travis. He offered congratulations to SCC on the £1 fare initiative and said that the £2 fare trial needed to be published as soon as possible. With respect to the threats to buses in April when government subsidies are due to end, this is a great worry; a meeting was held about it, and there were hundreds of people interested. The Group were persuading everyone to write to the new Minister of Transport to extend the bus recovery grant beyond March; it is up to the politicians to try to persuade the DfT. He noted that their group had been running more Bus Awareness Month events than anywhere else in the country. Regarding changes to the #81, given that these go into effect Monday, it will be necessary to be out on Saturday and Sunday with timetables and to let people know. With respect to the audit ownership of bus shelters, there is much doubt over this, and there are problems of vandalism as well. A series of meetings will be held beginning in January regarding interchanges between buses and trains; there is no arrangement with South Western Railway similar to the one that Great Western Railways has, but the responsible person from GWR would be happy to meet at Yeovil Pen Mill to discuss anything that can be done. The Chair confirmed that he would respond in writing to Peter Travis regarding these matters, and Andrew Ardley added that as Regional Development Manager for South Western Railway he would be happy to help in any way possible regarding the interchanges. He said that they didn’t have the same personnel resources as GWR, but he has started working on station travel plans and would like to assist with developing bus links to rail stations. He noted that he has worked with Great Western Railways, and they could meet with Tony Reese and SCC to develop a joint approach to connections at Yeovil.
Lee Jones, Manager of the SCC In-House Fleet, stated with respect to the #68 that he would like to be involved with any meeting at Pen Mill, because he often gets feedback from the team that’s operating the buses advising that the gates are locked or the locks are being changed.
The Chair advised that SCC had signed the contract to build a junction at Trenchard Way; the junction provides access to the multi-story car park entrance where buses have been impeded from going to the train station to drop off passengers. This work will rectify that problem and should be finished around Easter.
David Redgewell, representing the Campaign for Better Transport, stated that there is a significant issue in the north of the county with driver shortages; they are 150 drivers short in the West of England. There is concern regarding short-notice cancellations of the #376 in Glastonbury-Wells-Street and also Bath and Bristol, as it serves ... view the full minutes text for item 69.
Any Other Business
To discuss any other business that the Chair may raise.
Tony Reese, Vice Chair of the Bus Users and Stakeholders Group, stated with regard to the mobility hub that he was pleased to see the changes and improvements to Digital Demand Responsive Transport (DDRT) services and wants to keep Somerton Town Council involved; Josephine Paterson has agreed to speak to them about DDRT and the local reorganisation. He would like to get local people involved as much as possible.
David Redgewell, representing the Campaign for Better Transport, said that at the right time various operators should send their regional managers to meet with us about these issues, before there is public consultation, after which we should get the quote, then planning permission, and some construction dates. He believes the hub will do more to get people onto buses in the South West than even fare initiatives. The Chair requested that an update on the mobility hub be put on the agenda for the next meeting of the Board.
The Chair summed up that he had only been part of the Bus Advisory Board for five months, but surely this had been the most positive agenda for many years. This was a golden opportunity to transform bus usage in Somerset with all of the initiatives coinciding and connecting 150,000 people. The next three months are key, so he asked that everyone involved push as hard as possible with respect to the Bus It campaign, timetables, etc. He thanked everyone for their work on these matters, and in particular John Perrett and Natasha Bates.
Date of Next Meeting
To confirm that the next meeting is scheduled for 17 January 2023.
The next Bus Advisory Board meeting is scheduled for 17 January 2022.