Fringe Box



Letter: How the No.17 Episode Drives A Bus Through The Illusion Of An Infrastructure Solution

Published on: 11 Feb, 2016
Updated on: 11 Feb, 2016

From Neville Bryan

Last month our Wood Street Village community got a shock. Arriva advised Surrey County Council (SCC) it would be removing the only bus service (the number 17) through the village as it was unprofitable.

emails letterIn a blitz of anger from the village and local communities, which included emails, letter writing and petitioning,  SCC officers and local SCC councillors (my thanks to Keith Witham particularly in this regard) have persuaded another operator, Stagecoach to temporarily take over the service (for six months).

Job done then.

Well no – I think not. Let us examine how we got into this mess.

The number 17 route was not subsidised by SCC. Arriva who operated it had no duty to notify SCC of its removal in advance, and therefore SCC had not notified anybody either. When Arriva announced its decision to withdraw the service it came as a big surprise.

At one point in time the 17 service must have been profitable. We do not understand all the reasons behind the new Arriva statement. We are not transport experts, but factors which have changed could include

  • The success of the Kite service (Aldershot to Guildford every 15 minutes)
  • The provision of a 15-minute and £1 service at the Onslow park and ride
  • The absence of buses at the right times, and
  • The cost/unreliability of the service.

It is one of the key roles of SCC to understand the local bus transport needs. Its vision is set out in Surrey County Council’s Local Transport Plan (LTP3) as “to help people to meet their transport and travel needs effectively, reliably, safely and sustainably within Surrey, in order to promote economic vibrancy, protect and enhance the environment and improve the quality of life.”  One might consider one of their key objectives would be to drive up the number of bus users to reduce car traffic, but not so.

Surrey County Council is, according to Cllr John Furey, £3 billion behind on infrastructure funding.  In addition the county council is having its Revenue Support Grant dramatically reduced, which will have an impact on its £20 million bus funding.

Therefore to achieve the newly stated LTP3 vision would appear to require angelic assistance!

Given the stark realities of a drastically reduced budget, it is perhaps understandable that SCC is currently undertaking a public consultation designed at removing all discretionary bus funding and encouraging community volunteer led schemes.

In an extract from the Surrey Rural Strategy recent public consultation undertaken by SCC, one of the “visions” for which SCC asked for responses under “People & Communities: Transport” was “Effective transport for rural communities that is based on assessment of community needs and community involvement in the delivery of transport services.” SCC posed the following: 

“This could be achieved by:

  • Communities supported to work together to understand their local needs and develop innovative local solutions 
  • Recruiting more volunteers onto voluntary car schemes and community transport initiatives
  • Sharing good practice from other rural areas
  • Supporting local bus operators to grow the market (who would support the bus operators?)
  • Ensuring better travel planning information and a better journey experience for passengers”

What the sudden removal of the number 17 has now exposed, is that once the funding is removed SCC will have very little real say in what bus services are provided in Guildford (or anywhere else for that matter).

Bus companies will only have to provide services they can run as profitable – for the bus companies!  This is not the fault of the bus companies – they are profit making organisations. However, bus services are just that – a service.

So where does this all leave Guildford?

Guildford Borough Council (GBC) is producing a local plan. As owners for the local plan GBC is responsible for liaising with SCC over the infrastructure needed to meet that plan.

GBC has also publically stated it is committed to reducing congestion. The last iteration of the Local Plan, proposed 13, 000 new houses, (that’s around 25,000 cars) in the borough of Guildford, a very serious increase and problem.

Most recently, Guildford Borough Council’s draft Town Centre and Hinterland MasterPlan (referred to as the MasterPlan) highlights traffic and congestion as a major issue. 3.4 – “The emphasis needs to be on encouraging more sustainable modes of transport and reducing congestion while attracting more visitors to the town.”   (Aren’t buses a more sustainable form of transport than the car now?) .

I am left wondering how GBC is going to achieve a local plan, which relies on a reduced number of car journeys, when there are fewer bus services, and the only transport infrastructure added will be multi-million pound cycle routes (Guildford is not flat like Holland), and nice quaint river boats for park and ride shoppers (which are only used in tourism even in Holland!).

Are we supposed to drive to Guildford, park up and catch the bus to Horsham?

Or perhaps GBC’s Executive is planning to purchase a fleet of tricycles using CIL to get everyone into town via their green corridor – it could be the only way for residents of Wood Street Village to get into Guildford if the number 17 is removed.

It would certainly be quicker for the elderly in Jacobs Well to cycle along the path to Sainsbury’s than it will be for them to catch a bus into town and another back to Burpham!

The impact on infrastructure of the misaligned LTP3 strategy and reality, and between GBC’s stated vision and reality, are another clear example showing how Guildford’s rapid expansion plans are fundamentally flawed.

Much more attention needs to be paid on how public transport is provided and motivated to get cars off the road. But who will do that if no public bodies including central Government, SCC and GBC are taking ownership of the planning and funding?

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Responses to Letter: How the No.17 Episode Drives A Bus Through The Illusion Of An Infrastructure Solution

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    February 12, 2016 at 12:09 am

    What an excellent set of observations.

    The observation I would make are of 150 working respondents to Burpham some three years ago worked in 50 locations averaging 14 miles from home.

    Sorry guys, cycling will not cut it and trying to schedule 50 buses from Burpham each carrying three passengers to each location to my mind is called
    a car!

  2. Jan Messinger Reply

    February 12, 2016 at 6:37 am

    I totally agree with all your comments.

    A “park and ride type system” from your local bus stop into the town centre would be a great way to get us all using the buses.

    Currently I have to drive some distance to all the park and ride areas.

    It defeats the object because as I am half-wway there I have already added to traffic congestion.

    More homes will mean more congested roads. They cannot cope now.

    I urge GBC before producing a Guildford town centre master plan where you suggest we all get on a bus, make sure that there is one that we can use.

    It seems to me there will not be any.

  3. David Wragg Reply

    February 12, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    What is so incredible about the Arriva No.17 saga is that at no time did the bus company seem to approach the SCC and request a subsidy.

    Admittedly this would have involved a tendering process that Arriva might not have won, but this seems an unforgivable oversight.

    Part of the problem is that we have far too few truly independent local companies such as the deservedly well-regarded Safeguard.

    Privatisation has led to the formation of large groups with heavy overheads and little local involvement.

    I remember a survey in Scotland in the 1960s that found that the big nationalised companies had costs that were 125% higher than small local independents, even often operating the same or similar vehicles, and having to pay the same rates of pay at a time when many industries were subject to the controls of wages councils.

    Community bus services depend on a steady stream of volunteers able and willing to drive buses and commit themselves to the time necessary. Would there be enough to go round, one wonders?

  4. Lisa Wright Reply

    February 12, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    And with more commercial, retail and employment sites planned for the centre of town the congestion will only get worse.

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