PLANS FOR LOCAL BUSES

The East Sussex Council Cabinet member for Transport has just approved new plans for East Sussex bus services.  The details of what has been approved can be found in this document- appendix 2  References in this article are to paragraphs in this appendix.

  • More services on popular routes
  • Many rural routes to be converted to dial-a-ride type services
  • Pensioners and disabled people with passes will have to pay for most of the dial a ride services.

The document represents an about-face from many of the County Council’s previous polices which have been to cut services and increase fares.  This review is perhaps not surprising because the government has said that councils who do not review their services and enter partnerships will lose the new funding which is to be made available and might also lose existing subsidies.

A NEW STRATEGY?

Some people want to re-nationalise bus services and others want to set up a system whereby the county councils are responsible for deciding the services to run and what the fares will be, while bus companies tender to provide those services under the council’s banner.

The government’s new strategy goes some way down that road.  In the past bus companies have run the services they thought profitable keeping the profits, whilst the council funded other necessary services, picking up the losses on these with no cross subsidy..

But now the government wants Enhanced Partnerships or franchising.arrangements with bus operators by April 2022 so things will have to move quickly (3.10.2)

The new strategy adopted by the Councy involves a “partnership” between the bus companies and the County.  The dynamics of this in practice are not clear, but it does seem clear that the County can encourage companies to run the services the County wants, with the persuasive feature of the increased subsidies available and the stick of withdrawing existing subsidies.

PAST MISTAKES

 Despite the County Council’s strategy of managed decline, bus journeys in Sussex increased in the period up to 2014 from 19 million journeys in 2009/10 to well over 22 million journeys in 2013/4. (3/1)

But in 2014 the Council decided to cut subsidies to non-profitable routes and to encourage companies to run less frequent services and to put up fares. Typically, frequency was halved outside peak periods and fares went up by a third.  There was a drastic reduction in journeys.  By 2018/9, the last full year before the pandemic, journeys had fallen to just over 16 million.  The decline was almost all on these formerly subsidised routes, which tend to be to suburban areas of towns and to rural villages. (3/1)

Not surprisingly a survey of passengers and potential passengers revealed that the key issue is seen as bus frequency, followed by (for those without passes) fares.(3.7.3)

As a result, much of the bus network is only used by those who have no alternative (3.13)

Then pandemic has made things worse.  Journeys on Brighton buses fell by over half in 2020 compared with 2019 and there are similar figures for Compass Bus and Lewes Community Transport.  Cuckmere buses suffered an even greater fall.(3/1).

There are particular issues in Lewes town.  Congestion is mentioned, as is the issue of operators having to stretch their bus use to achieve savings, resulting in delays having a knock on effect.  The proposed development of the bus station is noted and the report says it will be challenging to find a new site.(3.2.9)

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

 In Lewes the Council says it intends to

  • “Double the Monday to Saturday daytime frequency of buses (on the 28 and 29)north of Lewes, toup to 4 buses an hour to Uckfield and up to 2 buses an hour to Crowborough.
  • Extend service 28 to Uckfield in the evenings Mondays to Saturdays to create 2 buses per hour between Uckfield and Brighton (5.2.2)
  • Expand the bus service between Hailsham and Lewes to cope with the huge development of Hailsham. Buses every 30 minutes during the day with a possible extension of the route to Brighton.
  • Expand the 121 service with an improvement to hourly in the day
  • Expand the 123 service with an improvement to hourly in the day.
  • Maintain the 127 service around the Landport Estate on current timings but with more buses at peak times.
  • Work with the Planning Authorities to ensure appropriate bus passenger facilities are retained in Lewes and take forward our plans to improve Uckfield bus station. (5.2.2)

There will also be a mobility hub, which is designed to be a meeting point of all bus services, together with real time information and will contain facilities for walkers and cyclists.  This is to be at the “bus station” but it is not clear where the bus station will be. There are also to be improved bus facilities at the railway station. (5.5). Attempts will be made to link bus and rail timetables.

But the biggest change is the proposal to replace the following services with dial-a-ride style services (5.19 and appendix B):

  • 122 Lewes-Barcombe
  • 125 Lewes-Alfriston- Eastbourne
  • 127 Town Centre to Malling (only a possibility)
  • 128/9 Neville estate and Winterbourne estate services
  • 131 Wallands Service
  • 132 Lewes Sunday town service (only a possibility)
  • 166 Lewes Plumpton Haywards Heath
  • 167 Lewes Ditchling Burgess Hill
  • Branch services of the Hailsham bus, round the back of Ringmer and Deanland Wood.

Dial a ride services would be available on other routes in periods when the normal buses were not running, such as evenings.

 

DIAL A RIDE STYLE SERVICES

So what are these services, which the County calls “Digital Demand Responsive Transport”

The document quotes from government sources:

A flexible service that provides shared transport in response to requests from users

specifying desired locations and times of pickup and delivery. Dial-a-ride services

scheduled through next day or advance bookings are a traditional example

 More recent applications of demand responsive transport seek to work dynamically,

adjusting routes in real time to accommodate new pickup requests often made minutes in advance. (5.18.1)

 The main dial-a-ride service in our area is run by Community Transport Lewes Area  CTLA asks you to sign up for the service.  They ask you to book at least a day in advance, although they say if you try to book on the day.  Service is provided by wheelchair accessible minibuses.  Fares within Lewes (including Kingston) are currently £4.50 return.  Fares to places like Barcombe and Newick are £6 return.  The service can be used by anyone for any purpose, provided that there is no bus service you could use, either because of the non-existence of a service or because of disability.

This type of service is not required to accept bus passes because it does not run to a fixed timetable.

Around us there will be a number of areas- Lewes (extending up to Chailey and Wivelsfield), Plumpton and Ditchling and Newhaven.  It is not clear how you are supposed to get from one area to another (for example from Lewes to Ditchling)

The big issue of course is how you match travellers up with the minibuses.  The government information envisaging this being an ongoing process. We can imagine a minibus bound for Barcombe  running up the Offham Road screeching to a halt and diverting because someone has called in from the Landport.

 FARES

 On the remaining scheduled bus services fares will be cheaper and clearer. The document suggests:

Funding (Subsidisation of fares) to lower fares across the county

  • Tap-on and tap-off for contactless payment with fare capping on all services;
  •  Simplified yet sophisticated ticketing provided through the use of modern technology (including multi-day and weekly fare capping applied automatically to users and notified of the savings that they have captured through their increased usage of bus services)
  •  Operators to commit to clearer explanation of fares and ticketing schemes, including on their websites;
  • Attractively priced new area ticketing schemes that benefit smaller towns and rural communities;
  •  Improved availability of ticket schemes aimed at families and groups;
  • The extension of schemes to encourage take-up of evening and weekend services;
  •  Introduction of ‘short hop’ fares;
  •  Simplification of fare structures where possible. (5.10.1)

There is also a suggestion of reductions for the under 30s (5.10.2)

But fares on the dial-a-ride services will be higher- possibly higher than now AND BUS PASS HOLDERS WILL HAVE TO PAY (subject to a possible 2 return journeys a week allowance).

Through ticketing on railways and buses is proposed, although how this is to be achieved when the County is not responsible for railways is not set out.  It is suggested that you could use a ticket to Brighton from Lewes, for example, on the train or the bus. (5.11)

WHAT SHOULD WE MAKE OF THIS?

It looks like we can expect some changes from April 2022

 There are lots of fine words and excellent ideas here, but we have to ask how far they will survive the realisation that government money is finite and may be reduced in future.

We know that East Sussex Council has committed to cutting expenditure on all but its statutory duties and also that they would like to do away with bus passes altogether (Council report from the last round of cuts).  So it is unlikely that the quota of dial-a-ride journeys for bus pass holders will last very long.

And the detail looks complicated.  How will bus pass holders on the Nevill feel about being limited to coming into town twice a week?  Will the dial-a-ride services be flooded on Saturday nights with residents of the Lewes estates wanting to get back from the pub in town.

Who knows?