Nick Jones, Traffic Commissioner for Wales, has given Stagecoach South Wales a warning after it failed to operate punctual bus services in the region.
The company’s services between Cardiff and Caerphilly have been the subject of public complaint for some time, which resulted in repeated timetable monitoring exercise, which in turn resulted in a public inquiry being convened.
There was much discussion regarding overall adherence to a timetable. There was also discussion regarding the use of the operator’s own data instead of the AVL data.
Initially the standard of timetable compliance on the route – which caused so many public complaints – was very poor, however successive monitoring exercises resulted in a clear improvement, notwithstanding the fact that the latest exercise was still far from satisfactory.
There was little disagreement on factual matters raised and the operator, being aware of punctuality issues with the services, did make an application to vary the timetables. Although timetables were varied, the route remained unchanged.
The first monitoring exercise over a five-day period between 5 and 15 December 2016 revealed an overall punctuality rate of 47.19%.
A second phase monitoring exercise was carried out over a seven-day period between 16 and 27 January 2017, which revealed a 76.09% punctuality rate.
A third phase of monitoring took place over a 17 day period between 7 June and 18 July 2017. This revealed a 74.38% compliance rate. It was felt by the Bus Compliance Officer that despite the relatively poor performance, the operator had continued to work to improve reliability on the services.
But the observations showed that they were still susceptible to failing punctuality due to the volume of traffic through Llanishen and Birchgrove. She described the congestion as sporadic and unpredictable.
Punctuality checks were repeated prior to the January 2018 public inquiry, monitoring between 4 and 16 January 2018, revealing an overall punctuality rate of 89.17%.
Further punctuality monitoring was conducted prior to the June 2018 hearing. Out of 223 observations the only failures were 15 late departures. This equated to an overall punctuality rate of 93.27%.
It was accepted that having experienced major traffic delays at the site of the University Hospital of Wales, a decision was made to revise routes to improve punctuality.
The overall trend was of relatively sustained improvement with the final figure only just below the target of 95% punctuality set by the Senior Traffic Commissioner. It was clear that a lot of work had been undertaken to improve punctuality.
Nick Jones, the Traffic Commissioner for Wales, said: “The level of adherence to registered timetables at the commencement of the exercise was wholly inadequate by any standard, reflecting that this was an operator that does not ordinarily have such low levels of compliance, it was a concern.
“I remind myself that the operator trading as Stagecoach in Wales has a large number of registered services in the area, most are not to my knowledge the cause of any significant complaint.”
“I am satisfied that this is an operator that has sought to address the problems identified, some of which were relatively unusual.
“My decision that the regulatory outcome was no more than a warning was an inevitable one having reflected on the totality of the evidence. It would have been wholly disproportionate to have made decisions affecting the ability of the operator relating to registering further timetables, or to impose a financial penalty.”
A spokesman for Stagecoach in Wales said: “We regret that our customers were inconvenienced by punctuality issues affecting our services connecting Cardiff and Caerphilly in 2016-17 and we accept our performance was not at the level we want to see.
“It is very important that passengers are able to have confidence in the published timetable and we are pleased that punctuality has dramatically improved.
“We welcome the Traffic Commissioner’s acknowledgment of Stagecoach in Wales’ overall good track record, the steps and investment we have made to address the issue, and the contribution to the problems of several external factors outside of our control.
“These factors included illegal parking by other road vehicles, the lack of universal use of enforcement powers by local authorities in Wales to tackle the problem, and lack of effective bus priority measures.
“Delivering punctual and reliable bus services depends on the joint actions of bus operators and authorities responsible for the free flowing of traffic on the road network.
“Congestion continues to be the biggest factor holding back bus use and undermining the long term sustainability of bus networks across the country and we hope the Traffic Commissioner’s findings will lead to action to tackle the issue.”
Factors said to have affected the punctuality of the service include a relatively high degree of illegal on-road parking, which was not enforced as effectively as the operator would have liked; major roundabout works; a bus lane not being laid out in accordance with guidelines, which resulted in insufficient road space to use it; and staff misconduct, for which there is evidence that it was promptly identified by the operator and proportionate action was taken.
A complaint was made by the operator related to the fact that Cardiff City Council officials were inconsistent in attendance at regional meetings.