Welsh first minister pledges 12-month trial ‘to strengthen bus services’, but bus operators raise concerns about the plan. Rhodri Clark reports

 

TrawsCymru

 

Carwyn Jones, first minister of Wales, has announced free weekend travel on TrawsCymru bus services, funded by the Welsh Government. The bus industry was not consulted before the announcement.

At the Welsh Labour Conference in Llandudno, Jones announced three measures which, he said, would make a tangible difference to passengers on Welsh public transport. Two relate to Wi-Fi for rail users. Jones continued: “And to strengthen bus services, I am today announcing a 12-month pilot of free weekend travel on our long-distance TrawsCymru service to encourage more people to travel on the network.”

To strengthen bus services, I am today announcing a 12-month pilot of free weekend travel on our long-distance TrawsCymru service to encourage more people to travel on the network

The Welsh Government declined to answer questions from Passenger Transport about when the initiative would begin and whether it would exclude sections of the TrawsCymru network which duplicate train and other bus services.

Justin Davies, chair of CPT Cymru’s bus commission, commented: “It interferes with the commercial market. Does he [Jones] intend to pay us compensation or make our journeys free, for example between Ystradgynlais and Swansea or Merthyr Tydfil and Cardiff?”

On those corridors, and others into main centres such as Wrexham and Bangor, free TrawsCymru buses at weekends would enable passengers to avoid the fares payable on other public transport.

Davies also said: “What is he going to do if it’s so successful that we need more buses? What happens if 40 people get on in Lampeter and everyone  else is left behind?”

He said that free weekend travel would not necessarily achieve modal shift. “What is it trying to achieve? Once you understand that, you can understand how you can achieve the aim, which might be done in a different way from saying everything is free. That needs careful thought.”

Free public transport has been introduced in many urban areas. Manchester’s Metroshuttle, for example, connects main railway stations and car parks to shopping and employment areas every 10 or 12 minutes.

TrawsCymru, however, is focused principally on towns and villages separated by large areas of countryside. Passengers unable to board a rural TrawsCymru bus on a Saturday would have to wait at least an hour for the next bus. On Sundays, waits of three or four hours would be common. The Newtown to Brecon service has only one working per direction on Sundays.

Franchising questioned

For the longer term, the Welsh Government has proposed to remove the TrawsCymru network from the commercial market and award franchises to operators (PT156). However, Stagecoach South Wales is questioning whether that is necessary for the government to achieve its aims. Stagecoach has extended the Newtown-Brecon service to Cardiff by inter-working with its frequent X4 commercial services south of Merthyr Tydfil.

Stagecoach South Wales managing director Nigel Winter said: “What can Welsh Government not achieve through the current model? What would be the point of running an X4 and a separate T4 south of Merthyr? We provide a coordinated timetable at present.

“What is the TrawsCymru objective and what measures are in place to report objectively as to whether these objectives are met? What is needed is an assessment as to whether TrawsCymru provides value for money.

“I get the impression that it’s seen as a great thing to connect these places by joining separate bus routes together, which may generate some longer distance through travel, but it should not be at the expense of local travel which is the majority of the market.”

 

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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