Transforming how we pay for our buses could be key to speeding up services reckon bosses - but more needs to be done to make people aware of how they can pay for travel.
That, and congestion on Bentley Road, were among issues emerging from the latest Doncaster Free Press round table event, on the subject of transport, held at Doncaster Sheffield Airport.
Taking part were: John Huddleston, communications and corporate affairs manager at Doncaster Sheffield Airport; Neil Firth, head of Service for major projects and infrastructure at Doncaster Council; John Hoare, chairman, South Yorkshire Transport Users Group; Caroline Flint, MP for Don Valley; Alan Riggall, head of commercial, First South Yorkshire, David Budd, assistant director-transport, Sheffield City Region; Ben Gilligan, director of public transport, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive; Francis Jackson, mayor of Askern, Graham Moss, chairman, Friends of Askern Railway Station.
In the first part of a report of the round table, we look at what needs to be done to improve Doncaster's bus services.
Alan Riggall: The biggest feedback we get is all around reliability and punctuality. We're working on the local authority to look at making journey times more predicable. We've done work on bus priority, which has been implemented over the last five years or so, and we expect more journey time improvement from moving cash off bus in the next three years, so, we've got a target of getting 80 per cent of our revenue away from the bus driver, as currently in South Yorkshire 86 per of our revenue is taking by the bus driver. If you load a double decker bus to full paying by cash it will take 12 minutes. If you load it by off-bus payments it will take three minutes.
Caroline Flint: I think that's a great idea. For South Yorkshire to have a top-up card like the Oyster card in London makes complete sense but it needs to be wider than just a particular bus company. It would be great to have it as something you could go on railway journeys as well. I think that is the goal. I think wider, we need quality bus contacts across South Yorkshire. Too often bus companies cherry pick the routes that they like and people who want to use bus services find themselves left out. As someone who represents a constituency outside Doncaster town centre, it is often those routes and those communities who feel they have not got access to the services they need. If we could do an offer South Yorkshire wide, I think that makes sense. I would say for many who work and need to work away from where they live there are not enough buses providing early or late services to get to the jobs, and we don't have a transport system that mirrors were the jobs are.
Ben Gilligan: Bus partnerships have been a success and what that's done is brought more certainly around the frequency of service changes, and limited the cherry picking that there might have been. I think one challenge in South Yorkshire and Doncaster is it has to be commercially viable or all the risk moves into the public sector things are changing. The high street is dying in many towns, shops close, shops move out of town and I think it means we need to change the shape and design of our networks.
CF: I wouldn't say our towns are dying. They are changing.
BG: Footfall is down and some shops are moving out. I think that changes how the network should be designed. I think we need to reflect changes and ticketing is a key part of that. In South Yorkshire while we don't have an Oystercard, we've got Travelmaster, while does give bus train and tram access akin to Oyster. You pay in advance, and have a smart card. Oyster is effectively and e-purse and you have to top it up. It does work in a similar way. Awareness is an issue. We recently did a survey and one thing that came out was a lack of awareness of the ticketing products, and the value for money there is. We need to raise awareness of that.
John Hoare. I think there's a lack of awareness. And some operators have cheaper tickets of their own and this works against the success of the Travelmaster. I also want to raise a point about the interchange, which as a user group we use a regularly. That's the lack of an effective public address system there. People are never told if a bus is cancelled or if a bus is late. There is no effective up to date information provided.
AR: Our view at First is regardless of how buses are run, contracted or commercially, all that really matters is improving things for the customer.
CF: If its cheaper to buy certain tickets on certain routes without that card, then that creates a problems whether it s for buses or trains. It confuses people as to what's the best offer. I think you're going to find it hard to market a card if the punters don't realise that the way they use their bus services is going to be cheaper. How can we simplify it for people?
Francis Jackson: The difficulty I see is the infrequent user. How do they become aware of tickets? I infrequently use the buses so as far as I'm concerned I wait at the bus stop, it comes, and I jump on it. I don't know anything about ticketing. The difficult we have today is not the buses themselves, its the usage of the road. Trying to get into Doncaster between 7am and 9am is horrendous. If buses can't keep to time people will say there's no point in using it.
AR: I would say Doncaster was one of the better areas in terms of limiting congestion.
FJ: I suggest you try to get into Doncaster from Askern at 8am.
AR: The road via Bentley is very difficult.
FJ: You hit Bentley. You've got three schools, crossings, everyone's moving around. You get to the North Bridge and you can't get over it.
AR: The bus goes over the old North Bridge and it can get over it. In Doncaster we do more mileage than we did five years ago. There are very few corridors in Donaster that are underprovided. The vast majority have high frequency bus services. The one big issue that we haven't resolved in terms of reliability is the Bentley corridor. It is very difficult scheme. We've raised it a lot of times with Doncaster Council but if you look at Bawtry Road, its had investment, Balby Road, it's had investment, York Road has had investment.
CF: Can I ask you about your service to key employment sites, early and late? Iport, DHL,
AR: We run specific iport services timed around shift times. We even have an AM1 and AM2 on a Sunday morning. That's fully commercial. When the iPort opened we changed our Rossington service to cater for it. The 55 and the 56 as soon as Great Yorkshire Way was opened, was changed to give a 15 minutes service out to the iPort .
BG: There's also funding for the X4 to the airport, as a key priority for the region is connectivity to the airport.
AR: If you look at connectivity, we've started to link the cross town routes. We've linked the 15 with the Edlington and Clay Lane services, to give better access to the East side of town and the market. We've done a lot around the employment around the Lakeside area.
CF: What about people in Doncaster trying to get to a job in Sheffield, or Barnsley, or Dearne Valley by bus?
BG: There are rail services, that are fairly frequent, the X78 bus service runs from Doncaster to Sheffield , the X19 and associated services run via the Dearne to Barnsley so there are good links out there. One of the challenges we do have in Doncaster is the price of car parking which have made services like the park and ride fairly unattractive. Doncaster doesn't have a lot of control over parking prices as there is a fair amount of it in private hands and I don't think that has helped.
Neil Firth: There has to be a balance and we all could imagine what a perfect bus service would be like - fast reliable, easy to use, cheap go to every area. I think it's unlikely we're going to get to that Utopia very quickly, so we need to be realistic. One of the issues is private investment and public subsidy. Operators will invest where it is commercially advantageous for them. Public subsidy, over recent years, under all sorts of Governments, have declined. We have to recognise that's a constraint.
The issue around congestion is a good one. Bentley Road is a good example. We've done work on a lot of the other key corridors. But the fact is that the built environment of the A19 through Bentley is terraced houses up against the main road. To do a bus priority corridor down there would he extremely difficult. Another issue about bus priority schemes is that of the cost to other users. If we put in a bus priority scheme, other users like car drivers have to pay a price. It's always a balance of need. We've done things like Great Yorkshire Way. That removed, although its creeping back, the Cantley Crawl, and the Cantley Crawl drove people to use the park and ride. We did the park and ride on Bawtry Road, then Great Yorkshire Way, and traffic moved on there and therefore the advantage of jumping on the bus and ovetraking the queuing traffic disappeared. I think as growth occurs the park and ride will come back into play but I think a Utopian solution is difficult to do.