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