Let’s talk about Supported Transport Services

Improving public transport has been a high priority for the council for over a decade. Through the Greater Bristol Bus Network, all the 10 major corridors into the city centre will be vastly improved by £70 million government and local investment, with more bus lanes and real time information radically improving the reliability, frequency and quality of services. The future of local transport is not just about buses. The council is delivering an integrated transport network which includes buses, local rail, the planned rapid transit schemes, door-to-door minibus services for elderly and disabled people, car clubs, cycling schemes and attractive walking routes.

The recent investment in local public transport infrastructure means there is now an opportunity to reshape supported services over which the council has control. We need to look at how some services could work better with the emerging Greater Bristol Bus Network so that they achieve more for local communities with less impact on the council tax payer.

Sharing information, seeking your opinion

Bristol’s approach is to be open and prepared for challenge when seeking to change services. We share data and background information with our citizens and ask for your ideas about how public services could be provided in the future.  We recognise these are important decisions, where citizens’ views and ideas need to be listened to, and that we don’t have all the answers.  As part of a series of conversations to help shape local public services, we would like your views on Supported Transport Services.

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The difference between commercial and supported services

Most of the bus services in Bristol are ‘commercial services’ run by private businesses for profit.  The council has little influence over these services but it works with bus companies to improve journeys through improved bus priority, bus stops, electronic real-time information and publicity. On commercial services, the council has no direct control on route, timetable or fares.

The council DOES improve the infrastructure – such as bus stops and bus lanes. And it CAN help with technology such as smart-cards.

The council DOES NOT pay any money towards keeping these services running except reimbursing bus companies for free travel by concessionary fare card-holders, which is a government requirement. Examples of commercial services are the day time services on main routes into the city run by First.

The council financially supports some transport services for the following reasons:

  • At times when commercial operators claim services or parts of services are unprofitable such as: routes with low passenger numbers, early morning services, late evening services, weekend and bank holiday services.
  • Routes which are deemed to be socially necessary. Or routes which help connect commercially operated routes. Examples would be shopper services/orbital services.
  • Unprofitable demand-responsive community transport (e.g. dial-a-ride / door-to-door) which helps elderly and disabled people get around.
  • To invest in services with great potential such as the Severn Beach Line rail service and harbour ferry services
  • To reduce congestion in the city centre by providing park and ride for out-of-town commuters and visitors.

These financially-supported services are known as Supported Transport Services. They currently cost the tax payer £5.2 million a year (2010/11). They are:

  • Park and Ride
  • Orbital services including the 500, 517/8 and 584/5/6/7 (around Kingswood/Parkway Station/Southmead Hospital & Shirehampton and other North and Central Bristol areas)
  • Local shopper services including the 503, 558/9 and 510/11 (Knowle, Bedminster and Brislington orbitals) and Easy Rider services.
  • Commuter and cross-harbour ferry services
  • Community transport (including Dial a Ride, group hire and local community transport groups)
  • Add-ons to commercial bus services (early morning, late evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday services)
  • Support for Severn Beach Line rail service
  • Night buses (which run from midnight on Friday and Saturday nights)
  • the Yellow school bus to Henbury school

How much do we spend on Supported Transport Services?

Year Cost
2008/9 £5.1 million
2009/10 £5.0 million
2010/11 £5.2 million

The financial support for each type of supported transport services is as follows:

Service Cost £
Park and Ride services (including site costs)


Orbital services


Shopper Services


Commuter Ferry Service


Cross harbour ferry service


Community transport


Add-ons to commercial services e.g. late night, early mornings, Sundays


Severn Beach Line rail service


Yellow Bus


Night buses




Cost per journey to the council

Although passengers on most of these services pay to use them, this doesn’t cover all the costs, so the council subsidies journeys as follows;

Service Average cost per passenger journey
Park and Ride services (including site costs) 55p
Orbital services £1.62
Shopper Services £2.27
Commuter Ferry Service £3.80
Cross harbour ferry service £0.27
Community transport £2.81
Add-ons to commercial services e.g. late night, early mornings, Sundays £0.90
Severn Beach Line rail service £1.65
Yellow Bus £3.17
Night buses £1.67

The council wants some supported services to better fit modern needs. Some individual services have begun to fail because they don’t fit their communities any more. In a few cases, supported services have become so underused that the council is contributing up to £10 per passenger journey and this is unacceptable.

All residents must have access to public transport. But we believe we can make the council’s money work harder at providing the right solutions to meet a range of needs at the right price.

Tendering for a better deal and more competition

We have made a start by doing one big thing a lot better – changing how we buy our supported services from the bus companies that can operate them. The council wants to introduce more competition in the Bristol bus market, which has proved effective in other cities where operators can only attract more passengers by improving the quality of services and keeping fares down.

To encourage more competition, we are ‘marketing’ all our supported services at once.  We hope to encourage providers to agree to run large packages of services at a competitive rates.

We have to be realistic and accept that the rising price of fuel and general inflation will increase the annual costs of these services. But our actions should lead to more competitive bids to offset this rise. The process is ongoing. We should be in a position to offer contracts to successful bidders in June 2011.

We expect to get a better deal for local people by getting more supported services running once more as commercial services. And we want to invest as much as we can in securing the right supported services in the right places. We currently support some lengthy bus routes that may discourage greater use because of the time the journeys take. Perhaps some residents would rather get two quick buses on a radial and direct route, rather than sit on one bus for over an hour.

Scope to change our approach?

The reductions in central government funding will be difficult. The council has to save around £1 million from the public transport budget in two years.

But in facing the issues this presents, we believe the council and the community can co-operate to find look for ways to make services more connected – so that they work better while still saving money.

For example, a combination of door-to-door services for people with mobility problems and conventional services (on circular routes and direct routes into town) are easier to access now we have online and mobile phone links to real bus times and bookings. We can use other council budgets to help more people access online services. We need to think about how we support vulnerable people to use new or unfamiliar services.

When car clubs are introduced across the city, more people – and groups of friends or neighbours – can use public transport for most journeys and access a car for the occasional shopping trip or day trip.  They are a huge success in the areas where they already operate.

Growing passenger numbers

The council also firmly believes that some of the bus services it supports can be run commercially. The best way to use public money is to encourage the growth of public transport. That’s why we have invested heavily in improving bus routes and stops over the last few years. We are looking for bus operators who are also prepared to invest in marketing and growing passenger numbers on their services.

The council must look again at underused services / routes and find opportunities to work with operators and to support  transport services with the potential to grow.

The result is a much more pro-active relationship between the operator and the council, using the money to make the service more popular and growing the number of passengers. An excellent example of this is the recent success story with the Severn Beach Line.

Severn Beach success

Passenger journeys on the Severn Beach Line have increased by 80% over the last four years. This spectacular passenger growth is due to close partnership working – ensuring that public support is directly channelled into initiatives which encourage more people to use the service.

Cllr Gary Hopkins

Cllr Gary Hopkins – Cabinet Member

Councillor Gary Hopkins, Cabinet Member for Strategic Transport, Waste and Targeted Improvement, said: “When we’re talking about investment in public transport, this is the way to do it. Public money must work hard and get results. Extra trains and proper investment in safe and welcoming stations have transformed the Severn Beach Line into an attractive and cost effective travel choice for commuters, shoppers and school children. And there is more good news to come in the form of newer trains and larger carriages later this year.

“We are confident that the route will remain sustainable. The Severn Beach Line success story is a shining example which should inform the way we continue to do business in the future.”

Before you comment you can research

To support this conversation, there are some background documents listed below. We make a range of briefing documents and background information available in a citizen briefing.  Please take time to look at them before commenting.  If there’s something else you would like to see please let us know and we’ll endeavour to provide it.

So, we’re interested in your ideas for how we can deliver better value for money with this service and how we can do more for less.

This consultation is now closed.  Thank you for your views.  The consultation results were reported to The Council’s Cabinet in June 2011 – see the outcome of the consultation

109 thoughts on “Let’s talk about Supported Transport Services

  1. How can we do more for less?
    Choose the right things for initial investment, so that they become self sustaining. For example the investment in the Avonmouth train service has pushed up passenger numbers, so that the funding can already be cut from 420k to 220k per year, so that funding per journey is now halved. Funding further service improvements, such as an enhanced evening timetable, should encourage further increases in passenger numbers and should aim to push the funding per journey down further by taking advantage of the high system capacity to get usage up.

    This example also shows that funding is most successful if put into standard high capacity structural services like the rail network, where initial high capital cost is rewarded by high use leading to low unit cost. Bristol is particularly fortunate to have a local rail network that encircles the city, covering the NW, E, N and S suburbs and reaching out into the satellite towns, and this is provides an ideal opportunity to use funding to create a high capacity, fast urban transit system using proven technology that will become self sustaining.

    The council should aim to leverage external investment by negotiating with central government and agencies to ensure that they address Bristol problems in national schemes like railway electrification. Unfortunately, this currently provides an example of how the council is failing, because the Bristol local network is not on the electrification programme, presumably because the council and local politicians forgot to ask, whereas Cardiff has successfully negotiated the electrification of its local rail network.

    Bus based Park and Ride has limited potential for high usage and consequently passengers should pay close to the the commercial rate from the start.

    Novelty, or innovative technology schemes should be treated with scepticism. The failure of the ferry is a good example of the fact that low capacity and low speed leads to low usage. The failure over decades to obtain a working tram network also demonstrates the dangers of pursuing technology for technologies sake, with a combination of irrelevant ultra-something schemes and tendency to put these schemes where they will be out of the way rather than where they will be useful, with a particular failing in regarding the local rail network as a disused, out of the way place, for all kinds of wild ultra-light and innovative technologies.

    It is also worth noting the difficulties and expense incurred by Cambridgeshire County Council in their innovative busway scheme, in particular there persisting with it against all advice, and the fundamental error of putting a large capital expenditure (fixed guideway), into a low capacity (bus) system, with the probably additional problem that the guideway solution ignores technical lessons learnt in two centuries of road and railway construction.

    Park and Ride should preferably be based on outlying rail stations (Yate, Nailsea, Yatton, Severn Beach, Henbury, Pilning) rather than buses, making use of high rail capacities and speeds and obtaining the benefits of maximising the reduction in car journeys. Nevertheless the anomaly of the vacant park and ride station site at Avonmouth should be considered, since this has easy motorway access. In this context it is interesting that Severn Beach line stations are used for access to the Montpellier area by people driving down the A370. The advantage over the Ashton P&R is that the service runs into East Bristol.

  2. Service 8/9

    From my personal experience, I address the question, from a different angle. How to cut the ‘support’ to services that are viable and are able to stand alone – by the bus operator spreading the costs –v- revenue across the whole service; and not just cherry pick the ‘best’ part of the service.
    For example the council department responsible for supported services could telephone Bristol Zoo, and enquire the best days of the week for attendances of the general public. I know that the answer will be, weekends and bank holidays, (except Christmas day when it is shut – and there are no buses at all). So why is the service 8/9 supported on Saturdays & Bank Holidays, yet receives no support for the Sunday service ?
    A Saving of £20,017.00

    The Service 8 could be curtailed to terminate at Downside/Pembroke Road Junction after 7pm Mon – Sun as the rest of the route is within a short walking distance of Whitladies Road.
    The Service 9 could be curtailed at Whitladies road and turn at Blackboy Hill roundabout.
    (The joint services could also run a part journey prior to 07:00 Mon- Fri)
    On Mon-Fri cut out the 06:10, 06:40 & 07:00 Journeys
    As well as the 23:15, 23:30 services
    On Saturdays cut out the 06:50 and 07:20 supported service (ex Temple Meads) From 19:15 make the service a 30 min service with shortened journeys as discussed above.

    The Park and Ride Service 902 & 904
    As the 902 & 904 are a distance from the ‘cost’ of the 903, why not supplement the service with a ‘Match Day’ P&R service to the Football/Rugby grounds thereby offering a service that has the possibility of alleviating some of the traffic congestion and parking problems around Ashton & Horfield ?
    At Christmas why not open up the P&R to operate on Sundays ?

    Service 500
    As an infrequent user of the service, I think the service would benefit from going up the slope of Temple Meads, so turning the service around to operate in opposite direction, or have two buses on the service in the summer months. The service could also benefit from a hop on off ticket, perhaps working with the ‘Sightseeing Bus’ operator. Also offer integrated tickets for the @Bristol, SS Great Britain etc.

    Service 584/585
    Having used the service to and from Lawrence Hill to Southmead Hospital, I find this a very useful service but find that I am the only passenger until the bus enters Easton, and Lockleaze when people board for Tesco’s at Eastville or the Hospital. At Lawrence Hill why can not the bus use the same stop as the other services ? At present the bus stop is tucked around the corner in Croyden Street.

    Service 920/921/922/923/924
    Looking at the figures of 5,960 passengers = 22 per day on a 5 day week, how is this support sustainable? Would it not be more cost effective to get a fixed price deal with a taxi company to run people to the shops within a specific time frame 10:30 – 3pm a time slot when few taxis are busy. (People would have to register for the service).

    Night Flyers
    Increase the fare to £3.00 single per passenger. Inbound into the City offer a discounted £1.00 single fare (early morning workers). This move has the potential to increase the passenger numbers on an otherwise empty, return service bus, if advertised, in the hospitals, University etc.

    Severn Beach Rly Way Line
    As a regular user of the train service between Lawrence Hill & Clifton Down, I can say without fear of counter argument that the onboard staff do not always collect fares, sometimes because of shear weight of numbers of passengers making it very difficult for them to progress through the train between stations. But, I can also state that in the early evening staff seem reluctant to pass through the train to check all passengers have tickets, I often travel in both directions free of payment. Perhaps the Council could do spot checks on trains, without prior notice to the company, on fare collection, a sort of mystery shopper exercise?

  3. On the Severn Beach Line subsidy, it’s worth pointing out that the figure of £1.65 given as the “average cost per passenger journey” is based on the ticket sales for 2009–10. If the figure for ticket sales for 2010–11 is used, the average cost per passenger journey falls to £1.26 per head. In 2011–12, the lower cost of the new contract with First Great Western will reduce this to £0.79, assuming the same number of ticket sales as in 2010–11. The subsidy per passenger is likely to fall further as passenger numbers continue their consistent upward trend.

    This indicates that investment in local rail services can produce significant passenger growth. I’d like to see the money saved by the new contract used to fund an improved evening service on the Severn Beach Line, and a half-hourly service at Parson Street, Bedminster, Lawrence Hill, and Stapleton Road. This would be a pump-priming investment, like the council’s funding of the two-train service on the Severn Beach Line. Such improvements will make Bristol’s rail network more attractive, and lead to a further increase in passengers.

  4. The subsidy to the Avonmouth/Severn Beach Branch line plainly led to increased usage and revenue.

    The moral is that a better service attracts more passengers.

    Investing the surplus in an enhanced service: evening on the SB branch and cross city (Parson St – TM – Stapleton Rd) ought to increase usage therefor revenue.

    Likewise, a passenger service on the Henbury freight line serving recent development in Southmead and proposed development in Charlton (Catbrain) would be a wise investment

    We cannot afford parochial arguments about which side of an artificial political boundary a rail route may be. The real economy does not recognise the fine lines within the Bristol Travel to Work area.

    • Clearly if BCCC rate payers subsidised all bus routes to reduce the cost as low as the subsidy for the Severn Beach service more people would use it. Not sure the rest of the population who do not use the service would be happy paying for it.

      • Chris,

        The Severn Beach line fares are not subsidised by Bristol City Council; they are set commercially by First Great Western.

        As part of their franchise agreement with the Department for Transport any fare increases are limited to RPI+1% (increasing to RPI+3% from 2012) for all of their Off-peak return (former ‘Saver’) and Anytime return tickets, outside of the London area. This is balanced in a basket for ALL of their fares outside the London area. So the low fares on the Severn Beach line is a result of a commercial decision by FGW, not subsidy from Bristol City Council.

        Even before the subsidy from Bristol City Council started, fares on the Severn Beach line were low.

        • Sorry Joe you appear to have missed the point. Based on the low price being charged for using the Severn Beach line there is no need for BCCC rate payers to support this line by increasing the fares. You can stop the payment and if the line is not economic to run for FGW then they have to go back to the regulators and ask for the price increase to be allowed.

          Its nonsense that the line has to be subsidised to keep the price low due to some government department ruling.

          When are we going to run our public transport services using common sense and normal business procedures.

        • I sympathise with the point about common sense and normal business procedures, but the complex way in which the railway was privatised has made this difficult! The train operating companies work to a detailed franchise agreement made with the Department for Transport, and Network Rail, the Office of Rail Regulation, and local authorities also have a role to play.

          The funding from Bristol City Council does not reduce the fares on the Severn Beach Line. What it does is to pay for a second train to run on the line, additional to the franchise specification. This has produced a reliable 40-minute-interval service instead of the unreliable hourly service we had until 2008. The second train was introduced because BCC made the decision to fund it. Over the three years that it has run, passenger numbers have increased by 80%.

          It is this success that has enabled BCC to renegotiate the contract. From 2011 onwards it will pay £200,000, rather than £420,000, per annum for the second train. This reduction has been possible because of the increased fare income that the improved service has generated.

          As I have said in my comment above, once the new contract comes into effect, the council’s funding will fall to approximately 79p per passenger journey. But even this figure doesn’t relate to the total number of passengers on the line. Because BCC only pays for half the trains that run (the other half being included in the franchise specification), the figures in the council’s document above relate only to the additional passengers that the improved service has attracted. But all passengers benefit from the two-train service because of its greater frequency. If we use the total number of passenger journeys on the line (754,000 in 2010-11), the council funding per passenger journey, from May 2011, is about 27p.

          The consistent upward trend in recent years strongly suggests that passenger numbers will continue to rise if an attractive service is provided. This is why re-investment of the money saved into local rail services is desirable: it will encourage further growth and so make the local rail network more sustainable.

  5. What would be the impact of adopting the national weekday 9.30am start time for concessionary pass users?

    At present, Bristol and the other West of England Councils are generous in allowing a 9am start, but I wonder if that generosity comes at a price?

  6. As a frequent user of the Severn Beach line and the 500 Bus Service I would be more than happy for the fares to be increased.
    As a caring society we should support the more vulnerable. Transport for people with disabilities should be subsidised to give the same oppotunities available to society as a whole. The same argument cannot be used to justify subsidising late night transport, although there may be other reasons to provide it. On balance I would suggest that the Night Bus service should be self financing.

  7. Amongst the Orbital Bus Services the route 586 is not correctly described. It starts in Hotwells before going up to Clifton via the Triangle, as does the 587.

    These services are a vital link for the aged and infirm of Hotwells. The hill up to Clifton shops and services is impossible to walk up for these groups.

    The 500 route is also an important link for Hotwells and the newer housing near the south edge of the harbour – it permits easy access to the two major shopping locations of Broadmead and Cabot Circus without having to negotiate difficult route changes burdened by packages and bags. There is also some tourist traffic on the 500.

    The Commuter Ferry at £3.80 cost per journey is the 2nd highest in that column and the subsidy should be axed. Although a brilliant idea, it clearly hasn’t been taken up by the commuting public.

  8. Ok my mistake the only station not in the BCCC area is Severn beach.

    But again I make the simple point why is the line subsidised so highly when you compare a weekly ticket to Severn Beach costs less than the day return for a bus from North Bristol to the centre.

    The number of people using the service clearly indicates they should pay the full cost.

    I would use a bus if the weekly costs were only £6.90. if I worked in the Centre of Bristol.

    • No Chris I pay enough for the Severn beach line as it is I can’t pay anymore.

      • Sorry I Ed just because I live in Bristol I see no reason why I should subsidise your travel costs. You make no contribution to my expenses and the service you use is grossly under charged.

        • And what about those people who live in areas which don’t benefit from the large public subsidies which the Severn Beach Line receives e.g. St Annes, Broomhill, Stockwood. Where is their cheap public transport? Perhaps if the Severn Beach Line was subsidised less, it might give me a cheaper option to get to work than the extortionate First Bus prices. Also, South Glos Council should subsidise the Severn Beach part of the journey – it’s not even in Bristol. We – the council tax payers of Bristol – are forever subsidising the travel for people from outside of the city e.g. the Park & Rides………

  9. Night Bus: You have people spending money on clothes, shoes, hair care products, going into town buying booze and fags, for them and their mates, scoffing themselves with burgers and kebabs, but when it’s going home time, um… I don’t have any money can the council help pay my bus fare home. If you could afford to go out then you could afford to pay for the whole bus fare home, this subsidy shoudld be cut as it cal also be supported by the establishments that benefit from all the business coming in.

    • I think its important that public transport exists at night though – it’s a great way to reduce drinking and driving.

  10. I use supported transport service on the odd occasion. My reason for not using them more is simply because I have to pay for them. I, along with probably 1000’s of others have first bus season tickets. This costs me £76 per month. Why should anyone then have to pay to use other services to? Why can we not have a London style system where anyone with an oyster card/travel pass can travel on any service, from any company. Simplifying the system is always going to help.

    As for services like the 500, which I see driving around the city empty most of the time, and when it does have passengers, they are usually elderly, so I would assume using free travel passes. I understand that some services are essential for the most vulnerable in society, however I strongly believe that these services MUST either break even or be profitable. If the current route is not, then tweak it until it is, or cancel the service.

    As a country, we cannot afford to offer everyone everything. Those who are MOST vulnerable who need door to door services should get this, later evening services, and services that make Bristol the amazing city it is, should continue.

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