SCC Bus Advisory Board
Friday, 2nd December, 2022 10.00 am
- Meeting of Bus Advisory Board, Friday 2nd December 2022 10.00 am (Item 64.)
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 responsible in the Bridgwater and Taunton areas covered by the BSIP for maintenance of bus shelters and schedules and who is going to carry that out as part of the customer service element of the local authority. This includes the information displays on the bus stops and good repair of the bus shelters, because that is what enhanced partnership with the operators is about. He asked if a proper audit could be ensured once the unitary council is in place and takes control of these bus shelters and assets. The Chair responded that they are already working on who owns what and will subsequently organise a maintenance schedule.
Tim Reynolds noted with respect to the legal entity of the contract that it is with First Bus, who is the local operating partner and signatory of the EP; if that needs to be updated or an additional signatory slightly higher up in First Bus needs to be added, that can be done later as an amendment to the EP, without that issue holding up the imminent draw-down of funding. In terms of bus stops/shelters and other general information in the EP, the scheme can be varied at any point, so it is probably sensible to wait for the unitary status of the local authority to be confirmed, at which time it will be known what assets are where and who owns what, and there is a maintenance schedule in place. At that point, once a clear level of ownership and accountability is known, detail could be added to the EP.
All operators present unanimously agreed to adopt the latest variations to the EP through the bespoke variation mechanism.