An emergency Devon County Council Highways Committee met today to listen to discuss the poor levels of performance from Exeter’s bus service.
Due to Exeter’s ongoing bus crisis, Labour County and City Councillors had secured the emergency Highways meeting. This was in direct response to Councillors concerns and issues raised by local residents who are fed up with a seriously failing service and joined the call for action.
There were lengthy discussions on the failing service and how things could be improved. It was accepted that some issues are national and beyond local control, some of the service disruptions are clearly down to local factors though. It was welcome to hear that Stagecoach are determined to put some of these things right, only time will tell what they are able to correct.
After listening to representations by Exeter Councillors and the public statements today, the Exeter Highways Committee concluded that the bus service in Exeter and its travel to work area is currently not fit for purpose for the following reasons:
- Impact on vulnerable users of buses being cancelled without notice and for safety of women and girls where the last bus of the day fails to turn up
- Failure of the Stagecoach app to provide reliable up to date real time bus information
- Lack of zero emission buses, particularly on routes within the city centre and heavily trafficked arterial routes
- Disappointing level of funding allocated to Devon under the Government’s bus improvement strategy
- Ongoing bus driver recruitment and retention issues
- Recently reduced timetable that has drastically cut the scheduled bus service for many areas of the city
At the heart of a good bus service is reliability, convenience, affordability, passenger safety and zero emission buses fit for the 21st century. Will the current model provide any of this?
The Committee unanimously agreed that the service cannot be made fit for purpose under the current system. They believe that local councils must have power to set requirements on timetables, routes and fares for the benefit of its residents. The committee called for DCC to negotiate a bus franchise arrangement as an essential part of the ongoing local government deal process.
Exeter Labour Councillors believe timetabling, routing and fare setting should all be done locally, with residents needs and not company shareholders put first.
Rob Hannaford, Leader of the County Labour Group said;
“We called this special Highways meeting because of the current ongoing bus crisis in Exeter. Services have been slashed back, people cannot rely on the buses, and there is a chronic shortage of drivers. There is huge public anger and frustration as buses are late or simply not turning up at all, with thousands of bus journeys being disrupted or delayed evert week.
Public trust and confidence in our local buses is at an all-time low and something radical must be done. The current profit driven model has clearly failed and we now need to look at a new bus franchising system to craft a shape a bus service that’s fit for purpose.”
Phil Bialyk, Leader of Labour group on Exeter City Council said.
“We have an opportunity with the county deal with government to introduce better control of our bus services to ensure a greater say for passengers and the rate payer and I urge the county to take the measures it has been given and use them for the travelling public”
Marina Asvachin, Labour Member of the Highways Committee added.
“I was glad we had today’s emergency meeting, as it gave both Councils and members of the public chance to air their concerns over a service which is failing to deliver to the members of our communities.
Whilst we recognise the challenges the service faces, we have been hearing about the deteriation of the service for many years, as well as the promises that it will improve.
This is a great opportunity to make our bus service more accountable to the public and it’s passengers”
The formal recommendations will now go to the Devon County Council Cabinet for them to consider.