Subsidised buses – services all running, money saved

The work continues on subsidised bus routes for Brighton & Hove. You can read the story so far in my previous posts. We made some important decisions at yesterday’s Policy & Resources Committee.

In summary: To cope with government cuts the council budget, agreed by all parties, included the need to find a saving from the bus subsidy budget. Combined with the pressure of increasing fuel costs and a government cut to bus operator subsidy this made for a challenging, pressured issue.

Strictly speaking the law requires bus companies to not run any routes or parts of routes which are unprofitable. This was probably intended to prevent anti-competitive ‘loss-leader’ services by one company to undercut another. The result however is that some routes don’t operate without a council subsidy.

Two key issues at hand were school bus routes, some of which were costing the council over £1,000 per child per year (plus the £240/year parents pay for a pass) while child numbers are declining and also some non-school routes which were costly to keep going.

As we have long said, we are working on alternative approaches to school transport. So yesterday Greens proposed, and the committee agreed, that we procure one year contracts for services on the 74 and 96 school routes. These will be for smaller vehicles under more flexible terms which we estimate will be half the cost of the services as they were currently run. These will be funded from one-off funds.

For the other services, as I have said many times, only by proceeding with the procurement as we did last month could we flush out which services could continue commercially, without subsidies. It was a strong approach which has shown that a number of evening services will now continue without council taxpayer support.

The one change to the services previously run is the 52 route which will now terminate at the Marina. There was also a very unfortunate administrative error which resulted in one route being given to the incorrect operator – that is being corrected, and everything has been reviewed by senior officers to ensure it’s all now proper and correct.

Still now with the information we have from the commercial bus companies, which was only possible by the approach we took, we are in a position to keep services going on all routes that were previously subsidised but with a saving of £230,000 per year.

The opposition, particularly the Labour group, have been continuing to claim that they did ‘deals’ with the largest bus company to ‘save’ routes and also that their ‘campaign’ including a petition had pressured us into changes. This continues to be complete nonsense. We said we’d do what we have, and we have. No deals have been done with the bus companies – Roger French has made absolutely clear that there hasn’t been a deal. Indeed it wouldn’t be legal, the bus companies have to make their own commercial decisions on which routes they run. The remainder have been procured through EU rules.

Both opposition parties have been in administration and know the way you have to negotiate procurements with bus companies, as we have successfully done. Their comments and campaigning indicate that they are either naive over these processes or being intentionally misleading about how they work. Either way it’s not good for them. They’ve been completely wrong-footed by our actions.

So let’s remember, we’ve delivered on what we said we do and all the services keep running with a significant saving for council tax payers.

5 thoughts on “Subsidised buses – services all running, money saved”

  1. Mr Kitcat,
    “As we have long said, we are working on alternative approaches to school transport.”
    I’m sorry? How long was that? Bearly a month ago you sprang a lovely surprise to parents of the young people that use the 96 bus and gave us only a week to mount a (Successful) defence of that route.
    If there hadn’t been an outcry from all users of the bus we would not have that route. In the council meeting I was at, you showed no remorse when voting to stop these routes just grinning nervously when sensible options were put forward and bright young people put their common sense points forward.
    I was extremely dissapointed with the green party and the way they behaved.
    I realise that the opposition bringing up th One Planet argument was a red herring but the counsellor trying to defend it hardly sounded convincing (you should send him on a debating course – he was dire).
    A leson to be learnt from this mess is consult with the people that are involved with your policies – they may be able to help.
    Regards

    Peter C

  2. Jason my wife uses the 52 bus and whilst the change to it only going to the marina was an inconvenience we now have two issues as it is now going to be run by the big lemon. My wife has an annual pass for Brighton and Hove buses. Will this pass be accepted to go on the Big Lemon? If not surely people can’t be expected to pay for two day passes from two bus companies to get 5 miles to town from Ovingdean. It will be cheaper for me to drive her to work. Also will the big lemon bus be buggy and wheelchair accessible? My wife will be very pregnant by the time this change comes about so she would struggle to walk a mile to the seafront to get a Brighton and Hove bus from our house.

  3. I have the same issue as Mark. I also get a yearly saver and from working out the cost it is going to be about another £520 a year for me to get to and from work everyday, on top of the £450 yearly saver I already have. As I have been told that through ticketing is not to be available is the Council going to fund all tickets for the Big Lemon as it is you who is taking away the bus in the first place? The residents of Ovingdean are still strongly opposed to the cut to the 52 as you are distancing us even more from the city – we will be the only place to not have a direct link to the city anymore. The route has not been ‘saved’ by the Big Lemon. It is still being taken from us and we are being given a substandard bus service in return. You raise our council tax with one hand and then remove our basic bus service with the other. How is this right?

  4. Hi Gemma. I spoke with the council public transport department today and they told me that we should be able to use our Brighton and Hove tickets on the big lemon 52. Big lemon have now made a statement saying this here on their website http://snipurl.com/24c55hy It would still be nice if our bus could get us a bit closer to town though. Even going to the Steine would be a big help.

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    @Peter: Since this January, if not earlier, we have been publicly saying (as minutes in scrutiny meetings show) that we are reviewing school transport to find cheaper, more flexible options. So I think it’s fair to say now in July that we’re doing what we’d said we would do!

    I agree it would be great to consult more on this, we did include bus subsidy reductions in the budget consultation which ran for nearly 3 months. But due to the way EU rules require councils to run procurements we couldn’t discuss which routes my be affected until the point at which we did.

    We had to vote through the report reducing bus spending in June to flush out which routes would be continued commercially. Without that move we would have ended up paying for all of them ourselves. Instead, by sticking firm, we’ve saved the taxpayer almost £1m over the life of the 4yr contract whilst every route still has a service, though shortened for the 52.

    @Gemma Is it fair that reductions are happening? No but the government isn’t fair. They are cutting council and bus operator funding, we are only picking up the pieces of what they impose on us. Just the other day they announced over £2.4bn more cuts for councils but did anyone notice? No, they don’t notice that, they only notice when we start finding ways to balance the books once the cuts hit locally. The fact that we have found a way to keep a service going on every route, even if imperfect, is resisting these cuts as best we can. We’ve surveyed the land and can find no other council which has protected subsidised buses as well as we have.

    Our contract requires all subsidised routes to accept tickets from competitor bus firms.

    @Mark I understand conversations are going on about options for getting to the Steine, but the route registered with the transport commissioner is what the contract had to be based on. Hopefully a way can be found to keep the Commissioner happy and meet the contract terms.

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