February 06, 2016

Who was Doctor Beeching and what was his axe?

Lots of references in the local press here in Wiltshire to the Beeching Axe, and soemthing similar forseen for our bus network. But Dr Richard Beeching was born oin 1913 and passed away in 1985 - long before many of our current publiic transport users were even born. So here's a little bit about "The Beeching Axe".

In the 1950s and 1960s, car ownership was booming and train use dropping - with ever-growing losses being reported from the nationalised British Railways. Richard Beeching was commmissone to oversee a reduction in loss and hs team did so by cutting out large numbers of lines and stations often based on scant or partial data. Around 4,000 route miles and 2,000 stations closed in 10 years.

Only minimal work was done to look at the shape of the resulting network, although there was some. The effect of the removal of a feeder branch into a main line tended to be overlooked too.

Sixty years later, it's commonly acknowldged that the cuts went too deep and too little work was done to ensure that the network left was the optimum one for the future. Little or nothing was done to protect right of way assets, nd in spite of the horrendous costs, lines are stations have re-opened.

The current fear with buses is that cuts are proposed, once again, in order to reach a monetary target rather than an effective network, and that the smaller subsidised services are being considered in isolation from the commercial services with which they form a network.

Illustration - some lines that were closed in the 1960s, photographed much more recently!

Posted by gje at 11:29 PM | Comments (0)
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Working out the costs of running a bus service through the day

I like to work from strength of knowledge of mechanisms. And on that basis, I've modelled the costs in running a bus and the income it might generate each hour through the day. The figures used in this model are llustrative educated guesses only.


It costs me 100 pounds a day in salary to pay a bus driver. Call that 140 pounds with employment overhead. It costs me a further 180 pounds a day to have a vehicle on the road, and it costs me 75 pounds a day in running costs.

The 180 pounds has to be paid whether or not the vehicle is running. The 75 pounds running costs can be factored at 7.50 per hour, and the 140 pound driver cost can be somewhat saved if you can take the odd hour off the beginning or end of the day, but split shift savings in the middle of the day between two peaks are unlikely to be a great deal by the time the driver gets the vehicle back to base and out again, qute apart from most staff really not liking such splits and you loosing staff.

Let's take a ten hour bus day - from 07:45 to 17:45 - that's going to cost us 395 pounds to operate, or 39.50 per hour.
Income perhaps is as follows (school contracts, fares, ENCTS, BSOG atc)::
07:45 - School and work hour - 65 pounds income
08:45 - quieter hour - 45 pounds income
09:45 - seniors peak - 60 pound income
10:45 - seniors getting a bit quieter - 45 pounds
11:45 - 40 pounds (seniors returning but not sharp a peak)
12:45 - 30 pounds (seniors returning but not sharp a peak)
13:45 - say 20 pounds
14:45 - school return - 55 pounds
15:45 - say 30 pounds
16:45 - work return and mop up - 50 pounds
and that's a total of 440 pounds - 11% profit margin.

7 hours are profitable on any measure. Two hours make more than the driver and running costs, and are better run than not run for the total profit as at least they help towards the fixed cost. Just one hour operates at a loss, and it could be suggested that the early afternoon is being subsidised. But wait a moment - most of the people using buses are on day return trips, and pulling out the bus for that hour and loosing 20 pounds would lead to a loss of - let's say - 10 pounds at some other point in the day. And I doubt you would save more than 10 pounds (running cost plus a bit of pay) if you pulled the bus off the road for an hour - so the net result is a 385 pound expenditure and a 410 pound income - day's profit down from 45 to 25 pounds.

Conclusions based on these figure:

1. At these costs, a service is shown to be basically profitable, though I would question whether it's commercially proficatble bearing in mind you may consider ENCTS payments and BSOG to be subsidies

2. There are a handful of hours during the day when depreciation and other capital costs aren't covered by income, but they are compensated by considerably higher income peaks

3. The "siesta hour" around 2 p.m. may not even cover its direct operating costs, but in practise it's carried by the rest of the day and the ultimate bottom line says commercially it needs to be run.

Note that the movement of concessionary passes to start at 09:30 rather than 09:00 has added a significant peakyness to the bus operation which makes it more difficult to run profitably even on the same overall income - peak PASSENGER numbers are around 09:45 (as ENCTS passengers contribute less) leading to loading issues. You can see how this issue fits to the model, but there's not enough depth in the model's data to illustrate the point in numbers.

Although the figures in this article are educated guesses, the analysis was triggered by the words of Justin Pickford of Faresaver buses in the Gazette and Herald - "Bus services must not be cut.

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February 05, 2016

TransWilts Community Interest Company AGM - 13 Feb 2016, Swindon

A year is a very long time in the life of a Community Rail Partnership ... and as I wrote my piece for the annual report and AGM I had to do an awful lot of cutting!

The AGM (of the parent CIC) takes place in Swindon from 10:00 for coffee at Jury's Inn, Swindon, next Saturday (13th February) and all are welcome - but please let us know if you're coming so we have a rough idea of numbers. More details [here].

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February 01, 2016

People matter - but there is a tradeoff between different people in there

"Where everybody matters" is a great philosophy. With a slight balance that there's a tradeoff between different members of that great world "everybody", and just because someone "matters" doesnt mean that they can be looked after or prioritised.

The pedestrian crossing at the end of our street is hideously slow - press the "cross" button and even if there's no road traffic there straight away, you're kept waiting for 30 seconds just in case some vehicle comes along. And one man's bus subsidy is another man's tax rise. And again, would you look after someone if you put yourself at risk? I've added some smallprint to the philosophy - to give some thought to its practical application.

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January 31, 2016

Rail user groups worried about what is happening on the buses

On 20th January I attended the West Wilts Rail User group meeting in Trowbridge, and yesterday (30th January) the RailFuture Severnside meeting in Frome. Very different groups - one a current passeneger group with a strong interest in rail history, and the other a group that looks forward - and far forward into the future.

You'll notice that both are Rail groups. And yet at both meetings we ended up having significant discussions about buses - with Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire all looking to make significant reductions in their subsidy contributions in the future - ranging from cuts from April 2016 in Dorset through to cuts starting in late spring 2017 (after the council elections) in Wiltshire.

Buses are a key ingredient in people's travel. Around 80% of rail journeys (TransWilts survey) involved transfer to another wheeled transport vehicle at least at one end of their journay on the "local" train - and it's the network as a whole that works, (or potentially fails to work). It's no good cutting off the lossmakers piecemeal and expecting the stubbs that remain to continue on as if unaffected.

A very good (Somerset) example from yesterday's meeting related to a bus that used to run between two town centres - but one end of the route into the smaller town was quieter and the route was cut back. Result? Loss of though traffic from the bus and passengers who used to go longer distances into the smaller town. So the remenant route then became unprofitable and needed support where it had not previously needed it.

I am happy to see rail groups taking a significant interest in totel transport requirements - something I've not seen much before - and I applaud them for it. John Smith wants to get from his home to his work, his appointment, the cinema, his day-out destination by public transport, and whilst he prefers a direct service he's happy to change along the way. Both bus and rail are significant; in Wiltshire there are more bus journeys than train journeys made, but the bus journeys are shorter (average 6 miles) than the train journeys (average 20 miles) so the milage by train is greater. Both are key ingredients.

Please take a look at the Option 247 web site to read about our alternative option - and if you like it, please complete the consultation along the lines we suggest. If you have any questions, please ask. If you are sure that you prefer other options, please tell the council that (and we would love to know you reasoning so that we can learn, too). Thank You.

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