Monday, 3 June 2013

Assembly Integrated Transport Inquiry (It's good, seriously!)

A few weeks ago, the Assembly's Enterprise & Business Committee reported back on its inquiry into integrated transport in Wales. "Integrated transport" generally refers to how easily you can connect between different modes of public transport and your destination.

For example, Greater London has highly-integrated public transport thanks to initiatives like the Oyster Card, where you can simply hop on a bus straight after coming out of the Underground or railway station, without needing to buy a separate ticket for each.

The Committee (pdf) made a thorough and comprehensive 25 recommendations in total, summarised as:
  • Lobby the UK Government to devolve rail infrastructure powers (in line with Scotland), rail franchising and bus regulation. Also, use existing powers to "drive public transport integration."
  • Use planning rules to encourage integrated transport, via the proposed Planning Bill and the  the Active Travel Bill.
  • Investigate whether existing powers over bus services are used effectively, and move towards bus regulation, with improvements to passenger information.
  • Transport providers should co-ordinate their timetables, and "inter-modal integration" should be a key component of any new Welsh rail franchise contract from 2018.
  • Develop a fully-integrated ticketing scheme on all forms of transport (like the Oyster Card).
  • Give an update on progress made to improve access to public transport for disabled people, carried over from a previous inquiry by the Equalities Committee during the Third Assembly.
  • Expand the "BwcaBus" scheme to parts of rural Wales not currently serviced by scheduled bus services, and increase support for other community transport services.
  • Consideration be given to developing "Passenger Transport Executives" to deliver public transport services.

Next, there's the detail.

Powers & Planning

Some powers - like those over rail infrastructure and funding - aren't
devolved in line with Scotland, for example. This is said - even by
Government Ministers - to impact the delivery of integrated transport.
(Pic : Network Rail)
The Welsh Government wants a "fully integrated transport system" as part of its Programme of Government. University of South Wales' Prof. Stuart Cole - one of Wales' leading transport experts - pointed out that the current powers "severely limited" the Welsh Government's ability to come up with integrated transport solutions and invest in them. Although transport is "generally devolved", several key areas aren't, including:
  • Rail infrastructure and regulation of rail services
  • Registration and regulation of bus services
  • Public service vehicle (PSV) operator licensing

Prof. Cole called for the Traffic Commissioner's responsibilities to be devolved to Wales, as well as regulation of bus services (also called for by Passenger Transport Wales). Network Rail said devolution of rail powers would "potentially" improve integrated transport, but would be competing with other budgets.

Despite praise for Network Rail's administrative "devolution" to Wales, the former minister in charge of transport – Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) - pointed out that current rail legislation hampered his ability to deliver. He described devolution of bus regulation, rail powers and funding (in line with Scotland) as potentially "extremely helpful". The Committee concluded it would be difficult for the Welsh Government to deliver integrated transport without all of the right powers.

Concerns were raised that current Local Development Plans – like the controversial Cardiff LDP – weren't taking public transport seriously. Some expert submissions and witnesses described reopening old railway lines to serve big new residential developments as "needing to" happen, rather than merely"desirable".

Initiatives like the Active Travel Bill are designed to promote and enhance walking and cycling. Sustrans Cymru highlighted a lack of expertise, with lots of experience in local government when dealing with bus services, but not enough with regard active travel.

The bodies responsible for delivering and planning public transport are Wales' four Regional Transport Consortia – joint collaborations between local authorities. Witnesses said this model "works", but with room for improvement. Again, there are concerns about skills and expertise in local government, as well as variations between the differing boards.

The Welsh Government has the power to establish Joint Transport Authorities to deliver public transport on a regional level. Prof. Cole said he would prefer to see the transport consortia evolve to become these, with Network Rail coming to the same conclusion. Sustrans were sceptical, saying education (presumably to do with cycling) would fragment from transport functions. The WLGA said it might cost too much.

There's the option too of creating Passenger Transport Executives – like Transport for London and Transport for Greater Manchester. Wales doesn't currently have the power to create these, however.

Bus Services

First Group dismiss "quality contracts" due to concerns
about burdening local taxpayers.
(Pic : Simon's Bus Photostream via Flickr)
The inquiry looked at whether competition rules prevented bus companies integrating services with each other. First Group denied it did, however the Association for Transport Coordinators (ATC) said the rules led to "bus wars", while the threat of Competition Commission fines put bus companies off co-ordinating their timetables, actively discouraging co-operation. Presumably because there would be a danger of creating "monopolies" or creating the environment necessary for price-rigging.

The current arrangements are territorial, with one bus company saying bus operators were keen to "protect their turf" so to speak. The Chartered Institute for Logistics and Transport said bus companies want "light touch regulation", but competition has led to bus operators cherry-picking routes to maximise profits. They said a fully integrated bus network was, "not going to be done under competition."

First Group argued against the use of "quality contracts" – which would specify what bus services should be like and their operation – because it could destabilise bus operators and burden local taxpayers (to fund unprofitable, but "essential" services, presumably). Others, including transport consortia, agreed.

Prof. Cole said competition wasn't working properly, advocating "bus franchising" similar to the railways. The Welsh Government are intent on linking bus service funding to delivery, but have paradoxically cut bus funding by 25%.

Timetables, Ticketing & Passenger Information

Information about bus service changes are said to be "poor", whilst
real time information at bus stops is rarely found outside Cardiff.
(Pic :
Traveline Cymru is praised for its passenger information services, however the ATC said public transport information was "inconsistent and inadequate". It's said Traveline could be improved by becoming a "one stop shop" for travel information.

A lack of standardised travel information was a concern, one complaint suggested Ceredigion bus services "didn't have timetables!" Changes to bus timetables and services are said to be poorly relayed to the public. There were subsequent calls from passenger groups for more real-time information at bus stops (especially in rural areas) and at train stations.

Another complaint is the lack of co-ordination between bus and train timetables, meaning passengers could be left waiting for up to an hour to make a connection in some cases. Integrating the two would be difficult in rural areas with low service frequencies, and it's made worse as there's said to be very little communication between bus companies and Arriva Trains Wales towards doing this.

First Group were resolute that integrated timetables "don't work", and that while there would be benefits, linking timetables together "doesn't make sense". This claim was rejected by the committee, passengers, Arriva Trains Wales and various witnesses.

The ticketless "GoCymru" card is being trialled on some bus
services in Wales, with national roll out next year.
(Pic :

In terms of fares, Passenger Focus (and individual passenger responses) noted the complexity of fare systems and fares structures. The benefits of integrated ticketing – like the Oyster Card – were made clear. Oyster Card users in Greater London made up a third of public transport use in 1999-00, and it was pointed out that simpler ticketing results in a general "uplift" in public transport use.

Arriva Trains Wales are considering an integrated ticketing system, but are yet to decide if it'll be a smart card due to technological changes. The Welsh Government are introducing a smart card – GoCymru – to replace concessionary bus passes by 2014 on buses, and possibly 2018 on Welsh railways.

The committee concluded that passengers should be able to make journeys on multiple modes of transport with one ticket, based on a simplified price structure – effectively, a "Welsh Oyster Card" or equivalent.


"Seemless" shift from one form of public transport to another
is said to be key to encouraging its use.
(Pic : © Eddie Reed via Geograph. Licenced for
reuse under Creative Commons Licence)
Witnesses pointed out the need to be able to transfer easily between buses, trains and taxis. It's seen as a key part of shifting people out of cars by reducing the inconvenience of changing from one form of transport to another.

Network Rail want to make the process of transferring from bus to rail "as smooth as possible", and support the creation of parkways/park and ride stations, linked to long-distance bus routes.

Passenger Focus also want car parking facilities improved at railway stations, something pointed out by other witnesses as an area to take advantage off once electrification is completed. Sustrans were against that, saying car parks fill up too quickly and are too large, and that improved facilities were needed for cycling and walking – on board and off public transport.

The UK rail industry needs to save £1billion, most of which is likely to come from staff redundancies – especially station staff. However, Arriva Trains Wales said they have no plans to close booking offices.

Accessibility for disabled people was raised by passengers, and examples were pointed out where one train station platform might be wheelchair accessible, but the other platform not. The committee wanted an update on progress made with regard an Assembly inquiry into disabled access to transport.

Community Transport

Community Transport schemes like Bwcabus are
key to providing services in areas abandoned by commercial
public transport operators.
(Pic : BBC Wales)
In areas poorly served by scheduled bus and train services, demand-led and voluntary community transport is often used instead. The BwcaBus scheme – where passengers pre-book the bus to pick them up/drop them off – is used in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. It's said to have been very successful, and it's suggested BwcaBus be rolled out to other parts of rural Wales.

However, integrating community transport with scheduled transport services is a problem, but commercial bus companies are aware of the benefits of community transport. It's particularly important for parts of Wales where there's been a "market failure" by commercial operators to serve the isolated elderly and disabled adequately.

Some community transport operators say, however, they're treated as "second class" by commercial operators, and overlooked as an alternative provider. Gwynedd is said to be a model of community and commercial companies working together.

Community transport operators were also facing difficulties, as Welsh Government funding was hanging in the balance, or operating on a rolling month-by-month basis. The committee concluded there needed to be more certainty on long-term funding for these services, as they enable people to remain independent for longer.


I have the virtual equivalent of tears of joy in my eyes.

Calling for devolution of the right powers, bus regulation, co-ordinated timetables, GoCymru (could become a "Welsh Oyster Card"), Passenger Transport Executives....

This report went under the radar unfortunately - and completely undeservedly. There's been a mass outbreak of common sense. Come, let us bask in its wonder.

It's excellent work. My hat goes off to the AMs and everyone involved. The Assembly and its committees have come under criticism recently, but we should all be able to point to this as an example of all that "dull" and "grim" debate having a purpose. I'd go as far to say it's one of the best reports I've come across since starting the blog. I don't think I can add anything other than say, "They've nailed it".

First Group don't come across well based on some of their evidence, it has to be said. Ask bus users in south west Wales and I'd imagine they'll won't need committee evidence to tell them that.

Now I'm going to demonstrate how easily it is to go from optimism to cynicism when it comes to Welsh politics and Welsh public policy. It's probably why people, even supposed enthusiasts like myself, are turning off politics in the first place.

Despite a brilliant report, with many sensible recommendations, you wake up and realise how slowly the civil service work, how reluctant Welsh Ministers are to take control of anything, the fact these things were staring AMs and Ministers in the face ten years ago without anything being done and the fact there's little money left.

Many of these recommendations are also reliant on Westminster benevolently granting us powers in areas Wales should, by rights, have powers over anyway under the spirit of devolution. So, think 2026, not 2016.

The Welsh Government will no doubt "agree", or "agree in principle", with the recommendations, but any action will either be bogged down by vested interests, diluted by compromises, or kicked into the long grass. Reasons will be found to not implement most of this.


  1. Same old same old, as everyone both inside and outside politics has been saying for at least the last twenty years, Welsh public transport is almost non existant, and everyone agreed that the solutionts are integrated timetabling and ticketing, together with investment in infrastructure.

    One of the arguments for the yes campaign in 1997 was that the assembly would be able to sort out public transport, whilst many in the no campaign were claiming that not having an assembly would free up enough money to sort out public transport.

    The bus and train companies have always been against anything that would make them improve services at the expense of profits.

    This report seems to offer nothing new whatsoever, and politicians have been proposing some if not all of its recomendations for years.

    As you say there is no political will to make any of these things happen, and no chance that public transport will ever be improved, in many ways its getting worse.

    I used to support the idea of public transport, but now i've decided its a lost cause, I think the best course of action is to start campaigning for huge reductions in fuel duty, together with abolition of parking charges to enable people to drive more. In nmost of Wales its the only realistic, affordable way to get around

  2. I have to disagree with some of that, Anon. I'd say transport's an area that's been managed "OK", without really excelling. There's little the Welsh Government can do as long as these services are run as commercial enterprises instead of as essential public services.

    I'd say rail services are reasonable, if pricey. It appears ATW and Network Rail are on board for any changes, while passengers are crying out for them. Obviously there are specific problems there in rural Wales. I can understand cars being the "only realistic, affordable way to get around" in rural Wales, but that's different elsewhere.

    The biggest block to integrated travel seems to be the bus companies. It's First Group who are adament that they don't want things like integrated timetables and ticketing. Bus services are the big joke in Welsh public transport (except in Cardiff). "Exact change" should be a thing of the past in 2013, while it appears the elderly take the priority for bus services over commuters.

    I'm sure the Welsh Government - as I said - will welcome most, if not all, of the recommendations. When it comes to actually trying to implement them though, they'll be browbeaten by the bus operators and local authorities into not doing anything. Just like they're browbeaten on a lot of other things.

    And abolishing parking charges would cause chaos if demand for spaces can't meet supply. Abolishing parking charges near railway and bus stations - that might work. Fuel duty should only be cut for alternative fuels, and I'd favour something like rebates on electricity bills for charging electric vehicles.

  3. The deregulation of the buses was a disaster, and you only have to see the benefits of the integration of different modes of transport in the English conurbations to see the needs for transport executives - or at least that as part of the remit of the regional authorities that you and I both support. Unfortunately we have to go cap in had again to Westminster to get this to happen. Worth calling for a move from conferred to a reserved model of devolution with as few exceptions as possible.

  4. maen_tramgwydd4 June 2013 at 11:32

    "There were subsequent calls from passenger groups for more real-time information at bus stops"

    Non-existent in Swansea, Wales' 'second' (rate) city

  5. "Same old same old, as everyone both inside and outside politics has been saying for at least the last twenty years, Welsh public transport is almost non existant, and everyone agreed that the solutionts are integrated timetabling and ticketing, together with investment in infrastructure."

    This is not the case in my experience. It's a bit like renationalising the rails. Not "everyone" has been saying it at all. It may be a popular idea in Wales but regulation of transport is resisted by the industry, its relatively powerful lobby, and the Conservative and Labour parties (maybe the Lib Dems). The "industry" will lobby against anything that would eat into their taxpayer-supported profit margins.

    It just goes to show that we're not actually living under some kind of "socialist" rule in Wales.

  6. Thanks for the comments.

    Cibwr - Agreed, as usual. The evidence given in the inquiry report reads like whacking the AMs around the head about bringing back bus regulation.

    However, as Anon 16:15 says, it's the commercial operators who are most resistant to it. The only way we could realistically bring back bus regulation is either by forcing commercial bus operators into signing "quality contracts" (via legislation perhaps) or introducing franchised bus companies run as not-for-profits.

    Maen Tramgwydd - I don't think every bus stop needs real time info, just the busy ones or ones serving/near major trip attractors like hospitals, railway stations etc. But you can see why it would be useful, even in rural areas.

    I'm not sure whether it's Cardiff Bus who fund real time info there, or the council. Anyone thinking First Cymru or Swansea Council would part-fund something similar there is being....optimistic.