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. Firstly, I think a congratulations are in order for Bristol City Council for actually engaging with their residents on the changes to be made to supported (ie. subsidised) services in the city. Two particular things of note stuck out to me when reviewing the figures, firstly the subsidy to Park and Ride services and then the commercial subsidy in the evenings and weekends.

    Firstly, Park and Ride services there seems to be quite a big difference in Subsidy between the 904 and 903/2 services, of particular interest was route 902 which has the highest subsidy. I couldn’t help considering the subsidy already given to the Severn Beach Line, to which I have no objections to, could perhaps be used to encourage Severn Beach services to call at the nearby Shirehampton station to replace the 902 service which would according to your figures save £380,000 per annum so well on the way to reducing the overall budget as required. I’ll admit to not have much knowledge of the area but when savings are needed to be found, surely making better use of assets already available (and being subsidised) offers a good opportunity to encourage Severn Beach Ridership (and thereby reduce its subsidy?) whilst also saving money on a high subsidy (£1.04 per journey) Park and Ride service. Obviously theres scope for replacing the bus stop with a platform for a Portway P&R, I suspect the capital outlay of this is beyond Bristol City Council at the moment.

    Finally, the most striking thing to me was the cost of subsidising services in the evenings and at the weekends, while it doesn’t take a genius to realise that passenger use is lower at these times and thereby a subsidy is required, why is cross subsidy not being used by the commercial operators to run these services? I appreciate since the 1986 Bus Deregulation the City Council has very little power to get First and Wessex to do this it does however have powers in the Local Transport Act 2008 for Bus Quality Partnerships. The Greater Bristol Bus Network has seen the former Avon counties alongside the DfT and First invest significantly into capital infrastructure for buses, isn’t it time that as a return for using the improved bus infrastructure the operators meet quality partnerships to ensure that passengers gain?

    Whilst the one thing that blocks an Avon ITA is the lack of agreement, there is no reason why Bristol can’t go it alone and become an ITA, just as Nottingham has done. The main objection I can see to this is the argument that the a lot of Bristol’s bus services start and end outside their political boundaries. However my counter argument is that they are all heading to one place, Bristol City Centre, and so if the operators want to run their services to there why shouldn’t they meet Bristol City Council’s partnership agreements. I can see very little reason for services such as the 70, 71, 72, and 73 suddenly stopping at the boundary line with Bristol from South Gloucestershire if this was introduced as no-one would use the service, there is demand and so the commercial operators will run to Bristol if they introduced Quality Bus Partnerships. Going back to my original point, my main opportunity presented to Bristol City Council is that a way to reducing the bus subsidy to commercial operators for running important evening and weekend services would be a way of agreements with the main operators for Quality Bus Partnerships if they want to operate in the city. Within these agreements for not only age of buses, emission standards, frequency and use of bus stops there could be scope for Bristol-wide integrated tickets. The scheme has been successful in many other parts of the country in PTE areas and also as mentioned Nottingham which isn’t. I really believe that Bristol City Council, at a time of cut-backs when they have made significant investments in improving the city’s bus infrastructure why they shouldn’t ask for something back, especially when many other cities do.
    In my conclusion, I can’t help but hope that Cllr Hopkins looks at other cities, including Nottingham and considers the powers his authority have granted to it in the Local Transport Act 2008 to introduce Quality Bus Partnerships (and or Contracts) with local operators as a return for their (ie. the Council) commitments to providing clean bus shelters, bus lanes and bus priority measures. Isn’t it time Bristol for once made a brave decision, confident that others would follow instead of waiting for a consensus that will never happen between the former Avon counties due to political indifference? I hope Bristol City Council work closer with operators using its powers to prevent service cuts at a time when subsidies have to be cut to secure the residents a good quality public transport system that is a viable alternative to the car.

  2. Re the 500 service I and my partner who live in Hotwells find it completely invaluable. When we use it means that we can leave the car where it is, so it also cuts down on congestion/pollution in the City Centre. If a fare increase is proposed then it should go to £1.20 or £1.50 so as to make the money handling easier for both passengers and driver.

  3. We do not have access to computers or the Internet, therefore we have requested that Bristol Dial-a-Ride submit the following comments on our behalf:

    Mrs R – “I’m blind, so I wouldn’t go out if it wasn’t for Bristol Dial-a-Ride”

    Mrs B – “I wouldn’t manage without them and would have to stay in. I couldn’t use taxis as they are too expensive”

    Mrs Bagshaw – “I wouldn’t be able to visit my husband in the care home”

    Mrs Buston – “I couldn’t get out on my own due to being partially sighted”

    Mrs Vivian – “Incredible service, I don’t know what I would do without it, the drivers are absolutely fantastic”

    Mrs Wheeler – “I couldn’t get the shopping without Bristol Dial-a-Ride, taxis are very expensive”

    Mr Thomas – “I couldn’t cope with public transport”

    Mr Smethurst – “I rely on Bristol Dial-a-Ride for everything”

    Mrs Davies – “Very good door to door service”

    Mrs M – “Invaluable due to my blindness, I would rather have Dial-a-Ride drivers than taxi drivers”

    Mrs Shaw – “invaluable, I can’t get to my local bus stop or carry shopping back”

    Mr Barnes – “Bristol Dial-a-Ride is most important to me”

    Mrs Bagshaw – “It’s a fantastic service”

    Mrs Wills – “Out of this world door to door service”

    Mrs Southcott – “door to door service is brilliant, they help me into my home”

    Escort for Master T – Dial-a-Ride is “helping him to build his confidence”

    Please do not cut our Dial-a-Ride service.

    Statistics – In a recent survey, members said:

    73% of members had made a new friend on a Bristol Dial-a-Ride vehicle

    98% of members felt Bristol Dial-a-Ride helped them maintain their independence

    92% of members wanted to speak to a Councillor to support the service

    98% of members had no access to this online survey and would require transport with Bristol Dial-a-Ride to attend a meeting with their local Councillor to take part in this discussion

  4. Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways welcomes the emphasis in this article on the success of the Severn Beach Line, and suggests that the £200,000 saved in the new contract with First Great Western should be reinvested in Bristol’s local rail network.

    One priority is to improve the Severn Beach Line’s evening service, by filling the gap between the 20.34 and 22.16 weekday departures from Temple Meads, and having a later last train. Earlier and later trains on Sundays are also needed.

    Further afield, a half-hourly service is needed at Parson Street, Bedminster, Lawrence Hill, and Stapleton Road, to produce the Bristol Metro service envisaged in the West of England Partnership’s Joint Local Transport Plan. Better cross-Bristol journeys are especially needed in the evenings. There is also a need to consider a new station at Shirehampton to serve the park and ride site there, a new service for the Henbury loop, and a station for Ashton Gate on the Portishead line.

    On the figures used in the article, the average cost per passenger journey given for the Severn Beach Line (£1.65) is based on the ticket sales for 2009–10 (673,000), minus the ticket sales for 2007–08 (421,000, the pre-subsidy passenger figures used as a baseline). The total cost to the council of £420,000 is divided by the difference between these two figures (252,000) to give £1.65.

    However, there are three reasons why the real cost per passenger journey is now much lower than this. First, ticket sales for 2010–11 have risen to 754,000. Secondly, the annual cost to the council is about to fall to £200,000. And thirdly, it is arguable that the cost per passenger should relate to the total number of passenger journeys on the line, not only the additional journeys, since all passengers benefit from the improved service funded by the council. On this basis, the average cost per passenger journey, from June 2011 onwards, will be about 27p.

    Another way of looking at the figures is to compare, for each transport mode, (i) its percentage share of the total number of passenger journeys across all modes with (ii) its percentage share of the total budget. This gives a better idea of how effective the funding for each mode has been in attracting passengers in comparison to the other modes. For example, orbital bus services take up 23% of the budget (the largest share), but carry only 15% of the passengers. The Severn Beach Line also carries 15% of the passengers (if we use the total number of ticket sales in 2010–11, 754,000), but costs only 7% of the budget. When the new contract comes into effect in June 2011, the cost will fall to 3.5% of the budget.

    This suggests that investing in local rail services is one of the most effective ways of encouraging people to use public transport: trains are fast and reliable, and do not get held up in traffic. The council’s pump-priming investment in the Severn Beach Line has been a great success, which should be built on by reinvesting the money back into the local rail network. Such investment will attract more passengers and revenue, producing a virtuous circle by which we have further improvements in the local rail service for the same funding.

  5. Part of the problem with transport is the lack of integration. By considering Bristol alone, the majority of journeys in the area are ignored e.g. those that begin and end outside Bristol such as Filton, Frenchay, Pill etc. What is needed is an Integrated Transport Authority which has teeth to demand local services from providers which meet needs e.g. regular, from 6am to 10 pm and at an affordable price. Nottingham has an ITA and it runs at a profit. Perhaps Bristol could employ Nottingham’s transport supremo.
    Integrated ticketing is vital and getting First GW to take fare collection seriously – I have yet to see a ticket check at local stations in the last 5 years.

  6. Firstly, I think it’s good these questions are being asked, and hopefully our views will be listed to.

    My points:
    * We need an Oyster type system for local rail and bus – many buses are painfully slow due to fare collection, and many trains run without all passengers paying.
    * Train subsidies are clearly working. They need to be increased and widened – providing a more frequent service, reopening the Portishead line and Henbury loop.
    * In the longer term: forget the ‘rapid’ bus routes. They’re slow and artificial. Invest in a local tram/light rail network for both the centre and suburbs.
    * Scrap the shopper and commuter ferry services. They’re poorly used and very expensive.
    * Operators who run buses (i.e. mostly First) need to run a frequent service at the less-profitable times – in return for the revenue the rush-hour buses generate.

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