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CAITHNESS TRANSPORT FORUM RESPONSE TO CONSULTATION ON

PROPOSED BUS REGULATION (SCOTLAND) BILL


1) Do you support the general aim of the proposed Bill?
We appreciate the flexibility that would be provided to transport authorities the Highland region in
particular suffers from issues relating to rurality and peripherality, resulting in a very different set of
challenges to those experienced by central and municipal transport authorities.
In addition, the Highland region is geographically disparate in and of itself, covering the largest area
of any Scottish local authority (26,484 km2) over a third of Scotlands total land area (Highland
Council, 2013)1. By comparison, the next largest local authority area, Argyll & Bute, covers just 9% of
the total Scottish land area (6,909km2), making it almost four times smaller (Argyll and Bute Council,
2012)2.
Furthermore, the Highland region has one of the lowest (if not the lowest) population densities of
any local authority area while there is some minor variation between sources, most place both
Highland3 and Eilean Siar (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, 2013)4 at around 9 people per km2.
It is clear to us that the vast size and scattered population of the Highland region necessitates a
different approach to transport provision and that any legislation allowing local transport authorities
greater flexibility in this matter is to be appreciated.
2) What would be the main practical advantages of the legislation proposed? What would be
the disadvantages?
Practical advantages:
Clearly a major practical advantage of the legislation is the proposal to allow franchising of profitable
and non-profitable routes. Committing operators to providing socially useful services in addition to
profitable ones would have clear benefits for accessibility and social inclusion, particularly in rural
areas such as Caithness.
However, we are uncertain as to the applicability of this particular section of the proposed
legislation to Caithness. At a recent meeting of the Caithness Bus Users Group (Caithness Bus Users
Group, 2013)5, Steve Walker of Stagecoach noted that even popular services within the area are
often subsidised (i.e. not able to be provided commercially). Given this, it is hard to see how
bundling profitable and non-profitable routes together would result in an improvement in the
provision of bus services in Caithness.
Potential disadvantages of the legislation

http://www.highland.gov.uk/yourcouncil/highlandfactsandfigures/highlandprofile.htm
http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/info/statistics/quick-facts-and-figures-about-argyll-and-bute
3
http://www.highland.gov.uk/yourcouncil/highlandfactsandfigures/highlandprofile.htm
4
http://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/factfile/population/census2011.asp
5
Minutes of the Caithness Bus Users Group - 7th June 2013
2

One serious concern we have about the legislation is the potential cost to the taxpayer. A 2011
briefing by the TAS Partnership Ltd notes that the cost to the taxpayer of franchising on the London
network has increased year on year since its introduction, with the latest figures given for 2009/10
showing a staggering cost to the public purse of 690 million. The report further notes that:
Discounting concessionary fares reimbursement and BSOG, subsidy per passenger journey
in London was 36p, compared with 34p in the English Shires and 24p in the PTE areas to
pretend that [the success of the London scheme] can be replicated elsewhere in the UK
simply by changing the regulatory system and at no cost to the public purse is, frankly, not
remotely credible. (Cheek, 2011)6
3) In what ways do you envisage reregulation being used to improve bus services?
We have no particular comment to make on this.
4) How can community transport be better utilised to serve local communities and
particularly low passenger volume routes?
Community transport plays a key role in serving local communities, especially those in remote areas,
and in maintaining socially inclusive and accessible transport links. It can also play a key role in
running feeder services, helping to maintain the commercial viability of other routes.
Use of community transport for health and social care
We are currently in the process of investigating one possibility for the utilisation of community
transport in Caithness. At a recent meeting of the Caithness Bus Users Group, it was raised that
commercial services are not available at appropriate times to transport patients to and from
appointments at Caithness General Hospital, particularly where patients are travelling from further
south.
In this instance, there is little hope of commercial bus services being altered to deal with this issue
the services would be required to run at times counter to those desired by the majority of
passengers (in this case, most passengers wish to travel south early and north late). We are currently
working with NHS Highland and Stagecoach to examine the possibility of community transport being
used to deal with this issue.
This is an issue with nationwide impact, and one which is likely to become more critical in the future.
Scotlands population is ageing, with the proportion of the population of pensionable age projected
to increase by 2.9 per cent between 2010 and 2035 (The Scottish Parliament, 2013, p. 5)7, which is
likely to put further pressure on hospitals and existing patient transport solutions.
We believe that community transport can be of great assistance in dealing with this particular issue.
However, it is important that there is a strong commitment to partnership working between the
public, private and voluntary sectors on this if community transport is to be best utilised here. The
Audit Scotland report Transport for health and social care notes a number of issues, for example:

6
7

Franchising and the cost of buses in London: some facts


2nd Report, 2013 (Session 4): Demographic change and an ageing population

Some community transport providers have concerns that where there is no alternative
transport available, council and NHS board staff automatically assume that voluntary sector
providers will fill the gap and that arrangements are not always formalised. (Audit Scotland,
2011, p. 27)8
We believe this is an area where Scottish Government can be of great assistance, working with local
authorities, private sector transport operators and the voluntary sector to clarify best practice and
encourage joint working where appropriate.
Community transport as a feeder service
Community transport also has the potential to act as a provider of feeder services to commercial bus
routes. This acts not only to foster social inclusion and greater accessibility but also to strengthen
the viability of commercial services, providing additional paying passengers.
Locally, for example, Stagecoach and Helmsdale Community Council have been working together to
provide a feeder to the early-morning Brora Inverness service, with Stagecoach subsidising
Helmsdale Community Transport to run the service (Caithness Bus Users Group, 2013, p. 4)9. We
believe that there are other areas where community transport can help in this.
Anecdotally, the Caithness Chamber of Commerce was recently approached by an American tourist
looking for information on the best way to visit two local tourist attractions the Stacks of
Duncansby and Smoo Cave in one day, using public transport, before travelling to Ullapool to catch
a connecting ferry. On researching this, they found it was impossible to make such a journey in a
single day, despite the attractions being just 90 miles apart, due to the lack of public transport
services.
While we appreciate that this is anecdotal and not hard data, it provides an intriguing example of a
possibility where a subsidised demand-responsive transport solution could serve to support the
economic aims of the area.
It is, however, when we look at the national evidence that we see the real potential benefits of
community transport in bolstering conventional, commercial services. The Lincolnshire Interconnect
service, which provides feeder services from rural areas and is subsidised by Lincolnshire County
Council, was estimated in 2002 to have doubled ridership on conventional services the equivalent
of 180,000 passengers per year. (Department for Transport, 2003)10. More recently, the service was
extended to taking passengers to stations on the Poacher Line, contributing to a 19.3% increase in
passenger numbers on the line. (Poacherline, 2008)11
Other notes and concerns
We would raise one concern, which is that community transport operators in general are under
pressure due to the current reductions in public spending, particularly with regards to the Bus
8

Transport for health and social care


Minutes of the Caithness Bus Users Group - 7th June 2013
10
Traffic Advisory Leaflet ITS 9/03 - Community Transport
11
Nomination for ACoRP 2007 Community Rail Awards: Extending Lincolnshire County Councils InterConnect
Plus Rural Transport Strategy along the Poacher Line
9

Service Operators Grant (BSOG). The Coastal Accessible Transport Service summarises this well in its
written evidence submitted to the Transport Committees report, Bus services after the Spending
Review:
Although the numbers of passengers on community and sponsored transport services are
small compared to the total number that use public transport, reduction or total withdrawal
of financial support including BSOG will mainly impact rural areas, the elderly, local
employees and employers, Job Seekers Allowance claimants, students and those not in
education or employment (NEETs). (Coastal Accessible Transport Service, 2011)12
We are aware that the payment of BSOG is a devolved matter, and would encourage the Scottish
Government to look carefully at the potential impact on community transport should any reduction
in BSOG be considered in the future.
5) Do you agree that the Traffic Commissioner should be able to impose greater financial
penalties on operators who a) fail to meet the terms of the franchise or b) walk away from
the franchise altogether?
While we are concerned that the current legislation only provides the Traffic Commissioner with the
power to hand down penalties of 500 per vehicle for an offence, and are not averse to an increase
in this, we believe there is a more serious root issue which is only briefly touched upon by this
consultation, and one which must be dealt with if an increase in penalties is to have any real impact.
The problem of compliance monitoring
The draft Bill notes that only two financial penalties have been handed down in the last two years.
The annual report of the Traffic Commissioner for Scotland reveals the source of this issue:
In relation to local registered services 5 Public Inquiries were held in 2011-2012. This
contrasts with the 28 held in 2010-11 and the 19 in 2009-10. The reason for this reduction in
Public Inquiries and regulatory action is very simple in that I no longer receive reports from
VOSA Bus Compliance Officers who week in week out went out to roadsides to monitor
whether buses turned up when and where they should. (Traffic Commissioner for Scotland,
2012, p. 2)13
As noted in the draft Bill, these five Public Inquiries resulted in just a single penalty of 750 being
handed down. This is a strong contrast to the 2010-11 period, where a total of 28 Public Inquiries
were held regarding deficiencies in the operation of local bus services. In 17 of those cases, penalties
were handed down, ranging from 450 to 60,500 a total of 143,450. (Traffic Commissioner for
Scotland, 2011, p. 2)14
This concern is further upheld by the recent written evidence from Bus Users UK (VOSA 04)
published in the House of Commons Transport Committees The work of the Vehicle and Operator
Services Agency: Third Report of Session 2013-14, Volume II, wherein they note:

12

Written evidence from Coastal Accessible Transport Service Ltd (CATS) (BUS 50)
A Report to the Scottish Government on Devolved Matters 2011/12
14
A Report to the Scottish Government in in Respect of Devolved Matters 2010-11
13

The Traffic Commissioners window, counting services as being on time if they run no
more than one minute early or five minutes late is pragmatic, realistic and acceptable to
most users. However it is meaningless if Traffic Commissioners have no means of assessing
compliance with this standard. (House of Commons Transport Committee, 2013, p. 8)15
While we are not averse to the possibility of increased financial penalties on poorly performing
operators, we would suggest that this is an issue which must be dealt with first increasing the
penalties is pointless if the Traffic Commissioner is unable to effectively monitor compliance. As also
noted in the Bus Users UK evidence, it is equally important that the Traffic Commissioner be able to
identify traffic issues that prevent bus services running to time, so that practical work can be
undertaken with highways agencies to remedy such issues. (House of Commons Transport
Committee, 2013, p. 8)16
Bus Users UK note that they have received funding from the Welsh Government to employ three Bus
Compliance Officers, taking over the role previously held by VOSA, and that they are currently in
discussion with Scottish Government regarding a similar approach in Scotland.
In the same report, the written evidence from Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) raises the
same issue, noting that:
SPT, at its own expense and on behalf of the travelling public, also employ service
compliance inspectors who monitor the operation of some local services and advise the
Trafc Commissioner for Scotland (TC) of observed breaches of registration regarding
relevant regulations, in accordance with an agreed protocol. However, the formal status of
SPT compliance inspectors is similar to that of any member of the public who wished to
report a breach in registration, and this status has been challenged by operators at the TC
public inquiry stage causing delay and extra cost. (House of Commons Transport
Committee, 2013, p. 16)17
Thus, while there have been good-faith attempts by some local transport authorities to fill the gap
left by the withdrawal of VOSA Bus Compliance Officers, these efforts are hampered by the fact that
these local transport inspectors simply do not have the same legal status or powers as the VOSA
officers.
SPTs recommendation is that compliance inspectors employed by them and other local transport
authorities be trained and certified to VOSA standards and should be given powers equivalent to
those held by VOSA officers.
We have presented here, then, two possible solutions to the root problem of lack of penalties for
non-compliance and would argue that the employment of skilled, experienced Bus Compliance
Officers is a necessary prerequisite to any potential increase in financial penalties.
While we have no particular preference for either solution indeed, SPTs evidence notes a potential
hybrid solution, where they take responsibility for their own area and provide training, support,
15

The work of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency: Third Report of Session 2013-14, Volume II
Ibid
17
Ibid
16

governance and back office for Bus Users UK in the rest of Scotland we would caution that
appropriate funding must be made available to support this. The financial burden of compliance
monitoring cannot be allowed to fall on our already overstretched local authorities.
Other notes and concerns
We would also note that the Transport (Scotland) 2001 act is somewhat selectively cited in the
consultation document. While Section 39.3(a) is cited, noting that penalties shall not exceed 550
per registered vehicle (per footnote 1 in the document), we find it strange that there was no
mention of Section 39.3(b), which notes that the penalty may also be such other amount as the
Scottish Ministers may by order specify (Transport (Scotland) Act 2001) per registered vehicle. We
would request clarification on this matter it seems to us that the Act already allows for arbitrarily
large fines to be set, should the Scottish Ministers so wish.
6) What is your assessment of the likely financial implications of the proposed Bill to you or
your organisation? What other significant financial implications are likely to arise?
As noted in our answer to Question 2, we are concerned at the potential costs of the franchising
process. While this will not impact our organisation directly, the increased expenditure on
supporting franchised services is likely to have a trickle-down effect, reducing available funding for
local authorities and thus organisations such as ours, which are partly or wholly reliant on local
authority support.
7) Is the proposed Bill likely to have any substantial positive or negative implications for
equality? If it is likely to have a substantial negative implication, how might this be
minimised or avoided?
As we have already noted, good provision of public transport is key to social inclusion and
accessibility. While this discussion usually centres on the availability of transport for the older
population, it also impacts strongly on the younger generation. A recent report by the Better
Transport Group notes:
The three youngest age groups are also distinguished from other age groups, except those
above 60, in making more trips by bus. The average number of trips made by bus is raised by
the travel behaviour of 17 to 29 year olds and by the two oldest age groups. 17-20 year olds
make the most journeys by bus of any age group. *emphasis ours+ (Bourn, 2013)18
Access to transport is a key issue for this age group, allowing access to employment, education and
training opportunities. Younger people are generally under financial pressure they may have
student debts and are likely to be significantly lower paid on average than those in older age groups.
As a result, car ownership is often not an option for them. It is therefore important that the needs of
this age group be taken into consideration in any future planning for public transport policy.
In combination with the information noted in our response to question (4) regarding Scotlands
aging population, it seems that giving local authorities the ability to make bus service operators
commit to socially useful services is likely to have a substantial impact on equality in terms of
18

No Entry! Transport Barriers facing Young People

breaking down barriers to access to employment, education and health services for two often
marginalised age groups.
8) Do you have any other comment or suggestion that is relevant to the need for or detail of
this Bill?
Given that both the UK and Scottish Governments have set strong targets for the reduction of
carbon emissions, it is clear that there needs to be a strong focus on supporting sustainable
transport, including increased usage of public transport. A recent UK Government survey revealed
that 39% of respondents would be willing to catch the bus for short journeys, rather than use the
car. (Department for Transport, 2013)19. Obviously, if this willingness to use public transport is to be
capitalised upon, the necessary infrastructure must be put in place that is, while 39% of people
may be willing to catch the bus for short journeys, this is of little use unless appropriate bus services
are in place.

We appreciate the opportunity to respond to this consultation and hope our views will be taken into
account when considering this proposed legislation.
Please respond to:
David Swanson, Caithness Transport Forum, c/o Caithness Chamber of Commerce, Naver Business
Centre, Naver House, Naver Road, Thurso, Caithness KW14 7QA

T: 01847 890076
E: info@caithnesschamber.com

19

British Social Attitudes Survey 2012: public attitudes towards transport

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