Passenger Focus backs to Sheffield partnership proposals

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Response to public consultation praises the partnership proposal

Transport watchdog Passenger Focus has responded to the Sheffield Bus Partnership consultation which took place on July 12, where the public asked questions and gave feedback to a panel consisting of representatives from First, Stagecoach and South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE).

The response, in the form of a letter written by Passenger Team Director David Sidebottom, praises the prospective partnership’s proposals, highlighting that they fit well with passenger priorities which Passenger Focus has outlined.

It goes on to say: “Improvements to frequency and subsequent improvements to punctuality are clearly important to passengers. However, in any change of such magnitude there will inevitably be winners and losers: we are aware for instance of concerns with services to Ringinglow and Psalter Lane. This makes it all the more important that there is extensive local consultation – the people best able to judge and comment on services being those who use them.

“To this end we would congratulate you on the efforts made – especially through the route maps – to engage with passengers. Following the consultation it will be important to identify those areas which will receive a worse service and to see what can be provided in mitigation – for example in terms of demand responsive transport.”

The response also includes an extract from the watchdog’s Bus Passenger Survey. The table highlights results for the SYPTE area – overall as well as a split between First and Stagecoach.

The letter continued: “One area of particular interest is value for money. The table shows this as one of the lower areas of satisfaction, particularly so for First’s passengers. Reducing the city-wide day fare from £5.00 to £4.30 will help address this in general.

“It should also provide an incentive for First to lower its own ‘First Day’ fare from its current £5 level. Why, for instance, buy a higher-priced operator specific fare when you can have a multioperator ticket for less? This move ought to help drive up value-formoney scores. We are strongly supportive of the move to reduce the city-wide day fare and also to introduce weekly, monthly and annual products.

“We would also look to the partnership to provide greater stability of service. We ask passengers for the main reason they chose the bus – some 30% of passengers in the SYPTE area said it was because they had no other option. Passengers rely on bus services for work and to access local services – for many people it is an essential part of their lives – and so stability of service is important. We understand from our meeting that the partnership would provide more protection and regulate changes to timetables – this is also something we would welcome.

“Finally, we would like to see any partnership agreement include qualitative targets within the contractual framework. It is not clear from the consultation material how this is to be addressed. ‘Hard’ measures of punctuality and service frequency are very important but there is also a need to keep one eye on service quality. Our strong preference is for targets based on what passengers think – the best judge of quality being those who have used the services in question. This could encompass driver attitude (the fourth highest priority of improvement in our research) and also such things as personal security, the condition and upkeep of the bus stop and the provision of information.”

Passenger Focus CEO Anthony Smith told CBW: “We rarely take a view on the inputs to the rail or bus industry preferring to concentrate on the quality of the outputs. Passengers, we think, care more about value for money, reliability and getting a seat than with who runs services.

“It’s also very difficult to draw comparisons between different ownership/organisation models. Devolution of rail franchising raises similar issues. Short, well specified and funded franchises, can be good for passengers. Long franchise can be very bad for passengers. Partnerships can work, poor contracts rarely do. The mix of factors which make bus services successful are usually, it appears to us, built around the quality of the relationship between local authorities and operators, not the contractual or other links which bind them.

“However, the bus partnership/ quality contract debate has generated a lot of heat. So, basing our comments on our research we have set out what we think passengers are looking for in South Yorkshire and matched this against the promises of what the partnership could offer. As you will see we think there is a good match in the case of South Yorkshire.”