Posted: Sat 24th Feb 2024

Local councils implementation of 20MPH roll out blamed as Arriva bus service changes highlighted in Senedd for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Saturday, Feb 24th, 2024

The provision of bus services in North Wales has come under the spotlight in the Welsh Parliament on Wednesday.

Mark Isherwood, Member of the Senedd (MS) for North Wales, challenged the Welsh Government regarding the sustainability and funding of bus franchising in the region, amidst a backdrop of service changes brought about by the default 20mph speed limit.

The issue was first brought to attention in the Senedd last month when Mr Isherwood questioned Lee Waters MS the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, with responsibility for Transport, about Arriva Bus Wales’ claims.

The company had stated its reluctance to alter services but felt compelled due to the operational delays caused by the new 20mph speed limit, leading to route curtailments and frequency reductions.

In the Senedd, Mr Isherwood raised the issue again and asked the Deputy Minister what engagement he has had with Arriva in the last month.

After the Minister was asked to make a statement on the provision of bus routes in North Wales, he said:

“Questioning you here last month, I quoted Arriva Bus Wales, whose Head of Commercial, North-West and Wales, told me, quote:

“As we discussed in Wrexham, Arriva do not want to change services, but have to because of 20 mph…because of 20 mph, the buses are taking longer to operate across North Wales, so we’ve had to register changes that have seen route curtailment, frequency reduction and additional resource to cope with the new running times required.”

“In response, you told me you were ‘very keen to engage with them’. They also told me that with the Bus Services Act 2017 creating Bus Franchising in England, Manchester had had to spend £75 million to £100 million to launch this there, and that Manchester had also had to introduce a Council Tax Bus precept, and asked how the Welsh Government were going to fund bus franchising in Wales, when they don’t have enough to fund the current network, where the people need to know.

“So, what engagement have you had with Arriva Bus Wales since last month? And how are you going to fund the additional cost of bus franchising in Wales?”

In his response, the Deputy Minister blamed Arriva and Local Authorities for the changes to bus services in North Wales.

Mr Waters replied, “Do I understand from the Member’s question that he is not in favour of franchising, because, of course, that requires investment? We’re not introducing the same system as Manchester is; we’re introducing a different system, which will be based on regional franchising, and it will be done under a whole one-guided mind system, and TfW and the regional consortia will have a key role in designing that.

“Now, I did speak to the teams at TfW, who have been working with Arriva, to understand the exact nature of the conversations we’ve been having with them around the planning of the 20 mph roll out. I don’t think it’s fair or accurate for Arriva to blame the changes to the the timetable on 20 mph.

“Other companies have managed to plan that without achieving such adverse consequences. But there are areas where the routes are going down roads, which, arguably, could well be turned back to 30 mph. Now, we have local authorities in north Wales who have not used the discretion that they have under the current guidance to introduce exceptions, and I think that is a question for them to explain why that is.

“Rather than Arriva blaming the policy, I think it is the local implementation of it in those areas that could have been better planned with Arriva. This is part of the review that is ongoing that we published today an interim report from, and that is saying that you need to look at bus routes as part of an extended version of the new guidance, to remind the local authorities of the discretion that they do have.”

“I don’t think the right answer is always to turn routes and roads and streets where people and traffic mix back to 30 mph when the heaviest vehicles can travel fast down them. That is not always the right answer. We can get better bus timetable throughput from bus priority measures, and that involves some difficult decisions, which I very much doubt the honourable Member—oh, where did that come from—would support.

“So, it’s all very well huffing and puffing about the need to make change, but you also have to follow through the necessary things on the ground to allow that change to happen. Putting in bus priority measures is a key thing for making buses more reliable, which allows for more passengers and for more routes. I think there is a question about some of the detailed routes Arriva have and whether or not the guidance needs to be changed on some of those routes, but as I told him last time, other bus companies anticipated the changes coming in and changed their timetables in advance.

“And given the range of pressures on the bus service, to blame it all on 20 mph simply isn’t correct and I think is disingenuous, and I would remind the Member that if it was not for the Welsh Government Arriva wouldn’t be in business. So, I don’t think it’s a fair criticism. I think there’s a lot more behind it. Some of their concern is fair, about the way the bus services haven’t been designed around the exemptions, and that is something that the local authorities and us need to look at. “

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