Inquiry into the Better Use of Public and Community Sector Funds for the Delivery of Bus Transport in Northern Ireland

Committee: Committee for Regional Development

Session: 2012/2013

Date: Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Reference: NIA 65/11-15

ISBN: 978-0-339-60481-0

Mandate Report Number: Mandate 2011/2015 Fourth Report

You can view the Executive Summary, Summary of Recommendations and Key Issues below or you can download the full report here.

Executive Summary

1. The Committee for Regional Development (the Committee) has long had concerns at the visually apparent duplication of transport services across the three Executive departments, namely those of the Department of Education (DE), Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPSNI) and the Department for Regional through Translink. Anecdotal evidence indicated that it was always possible to see stock from each of these fleets collecting clients and customers at the same time, often at the same place and following the same routes, particularly at school collection and drop-off times.

2. However, during the course of the inquiry, the Committee were advised that in excess of £200 million is expended on transport provision each year in Northern Ireland. This figure excludes any capital provision for fleets maintained by DHSSPSNI Trusts, DE Boards or the DRD grants to the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company (NITHC) and its operating arm, Translink.

3. The Committee has concluded that there has been no real attempt to integrate transport provision in the public sector in Northern Ireland. The Committee has acknowledged two minor schemes currently in pilot, the Easilink scheme between Enniskillen and Altnagelvin Hospital and the scheme initiated during the inquiry process in Dungannon. The former is at the early stages of evaluation whilst the latter is at the very early stages of development.

4. Whilst useful exercises, the Committee does not believe that these totally encompass the full spectrum of integration as defined, for example, by Transport Scotland in 2009, namely, “A mechanism where departments of an organisation or various organisations jointly plan and deliver transport, sharing resources (vehicles/drivers/staff) and procurement to optimise their use to meet service demand, and enhance the delivery of transport to appropriate users”.1

5. The Committee frequently experienced examples of Departmental, Trust and Board officials displaying unwillingness to communicate and adopt common goals, reverting to their own individual “silos”. The Committee recognises that statutory and regulatory constraints do contribute to this position. However, Members were agreed that the main obstacle to progress was in the mindset and attitude of departments and officials. The Committee believes that a major attitudinal shift is required and is content that this will only occur if there is unified ministerial/Executive support to do so.

6. The Transport Reform process in 2009 provided an agreed platform to progress transport and the delivery of transport beyond the current mandate. The proposed independent agency model, appropriately staffed with professional transport planners, provided the potential for a more coordinated, integrated and functional transport model. This matter will be discussed more fully when the Committee reports on its current inquiry into Comprehensive Transport Delivery Structures. However, it is important to note that the Committee believes this opportunity to have been significantly diluted by the decision to combine the functions of the proposed agency with those of Roads Service, creating a new internal structure within DRD known as Transport Northern Ireland.

7. The Committee commends the Department on the secondment of a professional transport planner during the course of the inquiry. However, the Committee believes that further consideration should be given to this structure and that budget cover should be found to ensure that Executive departments are appropriately supported to ensure the efficient and effective distribution of transport services.

8. The Committee is of the very firm belief that a significant level of integration in transport services is possible in Northern Ireland. Whilst Departmental, Trust and Board officials referred to the “barriers to progress”, the Committee, through its study visits, were able to see that these barriers could and have been overcome. The Committee fully appreciates the complexities of transport integration and that getting there is not going to be a quick process. However, the real examples of efficiencies that are being achieved through, for example, fleet reduction and fuel procurement, provides the Committee with encouragement that significant efficiencies can be achieved in Northern Ireland and that a user-ended service with a wider and more complete coverage is possible. The Deputy Chief Executive of the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) provided a succinct analysis of how his organisation had been successful in their integration efforts when he stated that “You just have to sweat the bus a wee bit more!” The Committee believes that this is achievable through collaborative working between the public and community sectors and has made a number of recommendations within the report to support this view.

Introduction

9. At its meeting on 4 July 2012, the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for Regional Development agreed to commence an inquiry into The Better use of Public and Community Sector Funds for the Delivery of Transport Options in Northern Ireland.

10. The Terms of Reference for the Report were agreed as follows:

  • To assess current public and community transport requirements;
  • To assess the current public and community sector transport infrastructure and costs;
  • To assess current inter-relationships in the delivery of public and community transport options;
  • To identify examples of best-practice in the provision of integrated public and community transport options; and
  • To consider options for the future provision of public and community transport options.

11. On 6 July 2012 the Committee inserted signposts in the Belfast Telegraph, Irish News and News Letter seeking written evidence on the Inquiry by 14 September 2012. The Committee also wrote to key stakeholders with the same request.

12. During the period covered by this report the Committee considered written submissions from in excess of 20 organisations. A copy of submissions received is included at Appendix 3.

13. The Committee also heard oral evidence at four meetings between 9 January 2013 and 27 February from the following organisations:

  • Department for Regional Development
  • Department of the Environment
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety Northern Ireland
  • IMTAC
  • Community Transport Association
  • Easilink Community Transport
  • North Coast Community Transport
  • Consumer Council
  • Translink

14. The relevant extracts from the Minutes of Proceedings are included at Appendix 1. Minutes of the evidence extracts are included at Appendix 2. The Committee would wish to thank all those who provided both written and oral evidence.

15. The Committee also undertook four Study visits in the duration of the inquiry. The relevant organisations visited were:

  • Total Transport Conference – London
  • National Transport Association – Dublin
  • Strathclyde Partnership for Transport – Glasgow
  • National Assembly for Wales
  • Devon County Council
  • Reggio taxi Gelderland – Arnhem

The relevant papers from the trips can be found in Appendix 2. The Committee would wish to thank all those who provided presentations and tours during the study trips.

Summary of Recommendations

16. The Committee recommends, therefore, that the relevant departments review their respective legislative and regulatory processes to ensure that vehicles and services can be used for a wider range of services than that for which they are currently deployed. This should include the ability to charge a fare or fee for use of the service.

17. The Committee recommends that:

  • The Department for Regional Development and the Department for the Environment liaise on the review of the 10b operating licence with a view to expanding the potential for CT delivery of scheduled, fare-paying routes and other public procurement exercises, such as the delivery of school meals. This will include other ancillary issues such as insurance and vehicle maintenance;
  • The Department for Regional Development, in conjunction with the Community Transport Association, examine the potential for realignment of current services in preparation for the expansion of the range of services to be provided under the recommended 10b licence; and
  • The Department for Regional Development and the Community Transport Association assesses what capacity building is required to operate an enhanced service. This should not be so bureaucratic as to deter volunteers from providing their services but should be sufficient to ensure that users of the services are protected and that all statutory obligations, such as road worthiness, are catered for.

18. The Committee recommends that the Minister for Regional Development commence formal negotiations with his Executive colleagues to identify the best model for funding of transport across the entire public sector. The Committee further recommends that the Budget Review Group (BRG) and/or the Performance and Efficiency Delivery Unit (PEDU) undertake an urgent study on the centralising of the transport budgets to aid and inform the Minister and the Executive in their consideration of this matter.

19. The Committee recommends that the pilot project should look at the potential for full integration of those fleets within the test area, including that of the health fleets. The pilot should also test whether there is a need for a re-design of specific elements of the fleet to allow for a better integration of abled and less-abled customers.

20. The Committee recommends that the Minister for Regional Development undertake a major travel proofing, mapping and identification of appropriate transport options of customer transport needs in Northern Ireland as soon as is practicable. Departmental budgets should be re-examined to identify coverage for the secondment of additional professionally qualified transport planners to undertake this exercise.

21. The Committee recommends that the Department reviews both Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) schemes with a view to permitting the integration of the schemes.

22. The Department should also implement the use of call-centre technology, such as that viewed by the Committee in Glasgow, Arnhem and Dublin as a matter of urgency. With modern methods of tracking buses across the Province a truly integrated method of transport can be brought about.

23. The Committee recommends that Translink explore the options for the full and functional integration of ticketing across all providers, including CT provision. In addition, Translink should ensure, as part of the pilot project in Dungannon, that integrated ticketing information is provided ensuring a full coverage of providers participating in the pilot.

Key Issues

Statutory/Regulatory Issues

24. The provision of transport services across the Executive departments with responsibility to provide such services differs significantly and, in most cases, prevents the integration of transport.

25. DRD’s legislative provisions are defined in the Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 which require that in order to operate a bus or coach service for fare paying passengers, the operator requires a Roads Service Licence. The Department of the Environment (DOE) is currently the licensing authority.

26. The Roads Service Licence comprises two main elements; firstly, a licence confirming professional competences to run a bus service and, secondly, a licence to run services on certain regulated routes.

27. In addition, the Act established NITHC and provides for its relationship with the Department.

28. There are circumstances where a Road Service Licence or a Public Service Vehicle Licence is not required and these are referred to as “10b” licences. This type of licence is granted where a bus is used for education, religion, social welfare or recreation purposes or other activities which are of benefit to the community. In order to qualify for the 10b licence, the service provided cannot be used by a member of the general public in a fare-paying capacity or to make a profit.

29. The Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 was amended by the Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. The main purpose of the latter is to create an effective, efficient and sustainable public transport system that contributes to the Executive’s objectives relating to transport, the environment, social inclusion and equality.

30. DE advises that education boards are governed by Articles 44 and 52 and Schedule 13 of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986. Schedule 13 is of particular importance as it establishes the raison d’être for the policy, namely that it allows parents to meet their legal duty to secure their child’s attendance at school during the period of compulsory education. This policy was first put into effect in the early 1940’s.

31. DHSSPSNI has a statutory duty, through Article 10 of the Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1972 to “make arrangements, to such extent as it considers necessary, for providing or securing the provision of ambulances and other means of transport for the conveyance of persons suffering from illness, expectant or nursing mothers or others persons for whom such transport is reasonably required in order to avail themselves of any service under this Order…”

32. DHSSPSNI also has a specific duty, under Article 15 of the Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, to provide or secure the provision of such assistance, to such extent as it considers necessary, to individuals who require access to social care services. Furthermore DHSSPSNI has a specific duty to provide transport to social care facilities for people assessed as having a qualifying disability under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1978, Section 2(d).

33. It is safe to say that the variety of this legislation brings about its own complexities and constraints to integrating. Indeed, it became the mainstay of a number of officials that the reason they had or could not integrate was because of the regulatory environment.

34. There are some vagaries across the legislation and regulatory procedures. For example, DHSSPSNI can, where appropriate, make a charge for any transport provided, whilst DE and community transport (CT) providers cannot. This limits the ability to collect fare paying customers whenever capacity allows it. In addition, issues such as contracted hours and insurance contribute to ensuring that departments and fleet operators remain within their respective silos.

35. The Committee recommends, therefore, that the relevant departments review their respective legislative and regulatory processes to ensure that vehicles and services can be used for a wider range of services than that for which they are currently deployed. This should include the ability to charge a fare or fee for use of the service.

36. As previously stated, the 10b licence cannot be used by a member of the general public in a fare-paying capacity or to make a profit. This licence is used, on the whole, by volunteer drivers providing valuable services in the CT market. The licence is currently under review and there remain concerns, particularly by the members of the Community Transport Association (CTA), that the review will result in the reduction of volunteer drivers.

37. In addition, the current format does not allow CTA members to tender for routes or other works, such as school meal deliveries, in their local areas. The Committee believes that CT is integral to the success of an integrated transport system. Members accepted that there may need to be a restructuring and repositioning of the current provision, particularly in light of proposed council realignments. However, the Committee would point to their visits both to SPT and to Gelderland in the Netherlands as examples of best practice in the use of CT in integrated transport deliver.

38. The Committee recommends, therefore, that:

  • The Department for Regional Development and the Department for the Environment liaise on the review of the 10b operating licence with a view to expanding the potential for CT delivery of scheduled, fare-paying routes and other public procurement exercises, such as the delivery of school meals. This will include other ancillary issues such as insurance and vehicle maintenance;
  • The Department for Regional Development, in conjunction with the Community Transport Association, examine the potential for realignment of current services in preparation for the expansion of the range of services to be provided under the recommended 10b licence;
  • The Department for Regional Development and the Community Transport Association assesses what capacity building is required to operate an enhanced service. This should not be so bureaucratic as to deter volunteers from providing their services but should be sufficient to ensure that users of the services are protected and that all statutory obligations, such as road worthiness, are catered for.

“Barriers” to Integration

39. DRD made a presentation to the Committee on the pilot integrated scheme in Dungannon on 15 May 2013, during which they spoke of “barriers to the delivery of the pilot”. Some of these have been previously referred to, such as different driver and vehicle licensing requirements, PSV for buses collecting the general public for hire and reward, accessibility of vehicles and insurance requirements.

40. Undoubtedly, a major hurdle to integration is who holds the budget. A great deal of reference has been made during the oral evidence sessions regarding the budgets and the fact that Northern Ireland cannot be compared to local government provision in the remainder of the UK. In addition, transport in England, Scotland and Wales has been deregulated for a number of years.

41. The argument that health, education and transport are contained within local government and that it is easier to integrate the funding stream is a valid argument. However, the Committee believes that this argument is also systematic of the “silo – mentality” in that individual departments do not wish to lose or share any of their budgets, even if, in the opinion of the Committee, this exacerbates or maintains inefficiencies.

42. The question of where the budget should lie is one that the Executive collectively may wish to look at beyond this mandate. The best solution, again in the view of the Committee, would have been the independent agency model proposed as a result of the Transport Reform process in 2009. However, the Minister for Regional Development has decided, due to budgetary constraints, that this is not possible and that an internal re-structuring of his department will see Roads Service take on policy responsibility that would have transferred to the agency.

43. In the Netherlands, the integration of buses is possible because all the services are coordinated by a provincial or regional transport authority. In England, local authorities have combined to deliver all transport, including that of health and special educational needs (SEN) and have apportioned any savings across the appropriate local authorities. In Scotland, the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport coordinates and manages public subway, bus services, bus stations, bus infrastructure and travel planning for Glasgow and 12 councils. In Dublin, the National Transport Association is to chair the National Integrated Rural Transport Committee following successful pilot projects in the north east and north west of the country.

44. The Committee is currently taking evidence on in its inquiry into Comprehensive Transport Delivery Structures and will make recommendations on this matter in due course. However, the Committee does not believe the centralising of the transport budget to be a barrier to the integration of transport services.

45. The Committee recommends that the Minister for Regional Development commence formal negotiations with his Executive colleagues to identify the best model for funding of transport across the entire public sector. The Committee further recommends that the Budget Review Group (BRG) and/or the Performance and Efficiency Delivery Unit (PEDU) undertake an urgent study on the centralising of the transport budgets to aid and inform the Minister and the Executive in their consideration of this matter.

46. A major barrier to integration is the attitude of departmental officials in the three main departments with transport responsibilities who appear to be embedded in their respective departmental silos and are actively reluctant to accept suggestions for change. Examples of this include:

  • A New Approach to Regional Transportation, which will shape transport investment from 2015, is isolated and insular to DRD alone and does not incorporate transport in other Executive departments;
  • The Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) report in June 2005, “Education and Health and Social Services Transport”2 concluded that “…there is scope for the development of a greater consensus on how the transport assets available within both sectors might be more effectively coordinated to improve operational efficiency and enhance the services provided to customers”. DHSSPSNI officials told the Committee that their response to this was to point out the constraints in doing anything to the audit office. DE officials in oral evidence and in follow-up correspondence referred to a “down-time” survey which indicated that there was little scope for sharing of vehicles. This is despite the survey only looking at week days and during school terms.
  • Other excuses provided included TUPE, timetabling, driver’s contracts, and child protection, even though the majority of school children travel on normal Translink services during school days, in the evenings and at the weekend.

47. The Committee is content that there are no real barriers to integration, in that they would prevent progress along that particular path. Through the careful targeting of its study visits, the Committee has been able to see practical and actual examples of how these perceived barriers have been overcome, from the design of a front-loading bus that caters for both abled and less-abled passengers, to the leasing of buses to community transport organisations, to the scheduling and collection of fare-paying passengers in remote rural areas by volunteer drivers.

48. The Committee believes that a major attitudinal shift at senior level is required within those Departments, Trusts and Boards with responsibility for transport services and that this should commence immediately and in respect of the pilot project in Dungannon. This project is only looking at the utilisation of the education and Translink fleets but does not include the health fleets.

49. The Committee recommends that the pilot project should look at the potential for full integration of those fleets within the test area, including that of the health fleets. The pilot should also test whether there is a need for a re-design of specific elements of the fleet to allow for a better integration of abled and less-abled customers.

Programme for Government considerations

50. The Programme for Government (PfG) 2011 – 2015 seeks to invest £500 million in sustainable modes of transport. However the current budget allocation to the Department for Regional Development has an allocation apportionment of 80:20 in favour of roads against public transport.

51. A number of organisations considered the budget allocation to be in contradiction to the PfG objective and could not see how the necessary modal shift could be made away from cars to use of public transport. There was a view that the emphasis was on capital and structural expenditure rather than on the delivery of travel and transport options to the end-user. The Committee believes that a significant part of this can be put down to the fact that, at the commencement of the inquiry, there were no professionally qualified transport planners employed in the public sector. The Committee notes that the Department has now seconded one on a short to medium term contract.

52. The Committee believes that there needs to be a collaborative approach to the planning and funding of transport. The Committee further believes that, in order to achieve a substantial degree of modal shift, the end-user needs to be consulted in order that the “when, where and how” people wish to travel can be understood.

53. The Committee recommends, therefore, that the Minister for Regional Development undertake a major travel proofing, mapping and identification of appropriate transport options of customer transport needs in Northern Ireland as soon as is practicable. Departmental budgets should be re-examined to identify coverage for the secondment of additional professionally qualified transport planners to undertake this exercise.

Other Findings

54. During its presentation, North Coast Community Transport (NCCT) identified a cross-over between the Dial-a-Lift service they provide and that of the Door-to-Door scheme provided through private operators. There were also issues regarding cross-over of adjacent provision of Dial-a-Lift services where one CT group was prevented from crossing into another area due to funding restrictions. The Committee believes that this negates frustrates the provision of service, particularly as the redistribution of health clinic and hospital provision has seen this provision move to different centres.

55. The Committee recommends that the Department reviews both Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) schemes with a view to permitting the integration of the schemes.

56. The Department should also implement the use of call-centre technology, such as that viewed by the Committee in Glasgow, Arnhem and Dublin as a matter of urgency. With modern methods of tracking buses across the Province a truly integrated method of transport can be brought about.

57. Translink has often claimed that it has an integrated ticketing system. The Committee would dispute that this is fully or functionally integrated as it is restricted on the whole to those services provided directly by Translink.

58. The Committee recommends that Translink explore the options for the full and functional integration of ticketing across all providers, including CT provision. In addition, Translink should ensure, as part of the pilot project in Dungannon, that integrated ticketing information is provided ensuring a full coverage of providers participating in the pilot.

1 Research and Information Service Briefing Paper, “Best Practice in transport integration” (NIAR 540-12)

2 NIA 178/03

Download the full report here.

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