ATCO winter conference changing behaviour

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Behaviour change can work says conference

Behaviour change can be an effective way of growing the market for bus services, delegates to ATCO’s Winter Conference were told.

The scene was set by Transport Minister Norman Baker, who emphasised the importance of behaviour change in delivering national and local government priorities and said: “Behaviour change is not some elaborate plot designed to control people’s decisions – it is about enabling passengers to make quicker, easier, greener and cheaper journeys by putting the right infrastructure in place. It’s about meeting people’s needs better.

“We’re providing £400 million for measures to promote the uptake of electric cars, we have provided £200m to support ITSO smart ticketing schemes between 09/10 and 10/11, and I’ve just launched the Anywhere Working initiative to help businesses change to more flexible working practices. I’ve also provided £560m for sustainable transport projects through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund – successful schemes include better cycling and walking facilities and improvements to roads and public transport, all of which will help to create growth and cut carbon”.

The conference sessions following were based around Dr Jillian Anable’s categorisation of transport users as: aspiring environmentalists; malcontented motorists; car complacents; and diehard drivers, with the speakers challenged to identify ways of motivating each group to adopt more sustainable transport choices. In a series of upbeat presentations, the audience heard from Elaine Rosscraig (head of customer insight at Stagecoach Bus) and Rob Bennett (commercial manager at Norfolk Green), who described how positive and targeted marketing can lead to sustained growth in bus market share; while Steve Atkinson (Merseytravel) and Julian Feasby from the Environment Agency showed how personalised travel planning and business travel plans can have a significant impact on travel behaviour. Neil Buxton enthused about the success of Community Rail Partnerships in promoting greater use of local rail services, while Bob Menzies reported high quality reliable service offered by the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway was changing travel habits along the congested A14 corridor, and Perry Payne from BUSK (Belt Up School Kids) put the case for a partnership approach to tackling poor behaviour on school buses as a way of making school transport more attractive and reducing the impact of the school run. Finally, Richard Hebditch from the Campaign for Better Transport concluded the only way to influence drivers was to change the context in which their travel decisions were made, through joined up policies. He noted this required a long term approach – sadly not evident in the short termism characterised in approaches taken by successive Governments.

Despite the upbeat message from the Conference, local authorities and operators continue to face real difficulty in maintaining bus services in face of the financial pressures arising from the triple challenge of reduced BSOG, local authority funding reductions and concessionary fares reimbursement. Delegates who stayed on for ATCO’s AGM heard Roger Banks present the results of ATCO’s annual price, expenditure and competition survey. This revealed although tender prices had fallen for the third successive year, it had been offset by inflation increases and the estimated additional £6.4m authorities had to spend on replacing withdrawn commercial services and contracts which had been terminated early. Nearly half of all local authorities said they had to reduce local bus services in the current financial year to stay within budget, with a much worse situation being reported in rural areas where 81% of authorities were having to cut services. The situation is unlikely to improve next year, with rural authority transport co-ordinators saying they believe they would need an inflation-busting 11% budget increase to maintain existing levels of service.