Reading Buses boss urges government to support councils

 

Martijn Gilbert: ‘[Congestion] is the single biggest driver of dissatisfaction, and we need to crack it’

 

Reading Buses chief executive officer Martijn Gilbert has called upon central government to take a greater role in addressing traffic congestion.

Speaking at the publication of the Autumn 2017 Bus Passenger Survey in Reading earlier this month, he voiced concerns that are shared by many of his industry colleagues.

Of the 78 bus companies covered by the eighth annual survey from Transport Focus, award-winning Reading Buses experienced the sharpest decline in overall satisfaction down five percentage points from 93% to 88%.

Despite the best efforts of Gilbert and his colleagues, he said that poor traffic conditions had impacted on the results – satisfaction with the punctuality of Reading’s services fell from 79% to 73%.

Meanwhile, Reading Buses is working with its highways authority to improve matters. There are plans to introduce a Red Route scheme to improve traffic flows over the length of its busiest bus route and new bus priority measures are coming in as part of the forthcoming Mass Rapid Transit scheme. However, Gilbert says there is much more to do.

Addressing the event in a pre-recorded video, buses minister Nusrat Ghani made no mention of congestion. Instead she spoke about problems with punctuality, and called on bus companies and local authorities to work together on solutions.

Local authorities and operators need to work together to combat such issues, and when they work in partnership it’s bus passengers that benefit

“It is evident that some places are still seeing problems with punctuality, and this is one of the most important factors in determining how satisfied passengers are,” said Ghani. “Local authorities and operators need to work together to combat such issues, and when they work in partnership it’s bus passengers that benefit. The measures we are introducing following the Bus Services Act will make it easier to form partnerships of different kinds which are appropriate to local needs.”

Speaking afterwards, shadow transport minister Matt Rodda also by-passed the issue of congestion. Instead the Reading East MP proposed to stem the decline in bus use through a combination of franchising and remunicipalisation.

Gilbert called on the government to view congestion as a national issue, rather than a local one.

“We’ve heard from the buses minister [Nusrat Ghani] earlier about bus operators and local authorities working together, I think we have reached a point now where actually there does need to be greater central government focus on this area in terms of the funding, resources and powers that local authorities have available to them to more effectively manage the highway network as well. They probably don’t have the money to put the effort in in terms of dynamic control of the highway, supervising traffic control centres.

Congestion is a national issue – and it really, really, really does need to be driven up the agenda in a way that we’ve never seen before

“So this isn’t just a local issue any more. Congestion is a national issue – and it really, really, really does need to be driven up the agenda in a way that we’ve never seen before.

“The results have told us for years upon years now, through the great work of Transport Focus, that it is the single biggest driver of dissatisfaction, and we need to crack it. I think it is a bigger problem than what is being discussed so far.”

Gilbert also called for the bus industry to be “properly funded”. “We have a farcical situation where we can be carrying buses full of people carrying concessionary passes that don’t actually cover their costs,” he said. “That’s just one such example.”

Meanwhile, commenting on the findings of the Autumn 2017 Bus Passenger Survey, Robert Pain, senior insight advisor at Transport Focus, revealed that journey time and timeliness are two of the three main drivers
of a ‘satisfactory’ bus journey.

 

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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