Local transport authorities in the North of England have pledged to work together to improve public transport and secure its future, at a major conference held in York.
Ten local councils came together to stage the Total Transport North Conference 2015, inviting bus operators and health and ambulance authorities along to discuss the importance of joining forces to make bus journeys more efficient and focused on the needs of passengers.
The value of sharing bus journeys, crossing council boundaries, and finding out what passengers need in order to mould transport around them, were just some of the issues highlighted.
The Under Secretary of State for Transport, Andrew Jones MP, was the keynote speaker at the conference, which was held at the National Railway Museum on October 23, and was chaired by East Riding of Yorkshire Council.
The Minister discussed the importance of the government’s Total Transport Scheme - which involves coordinating different forms of public transport in each area, such as buses to schools, hospitals and work - commissioned by different agencies and run by different operators ¬¬- in order to manage them better, make journeys more efficient and make the most of the funding each area receives, during challenging financial times.
The Minister told the conference: “We believe this integration might improve passenger transport in isolated communities by allocating existing resources more efficiently.
“That could entail, for example, combining conventional bus services or dial-a-ride with hospital transport. It’s meeting individual transport needs that’s important, not what’s written on the side of the vehicle.”
The 10 councils holding the conference are all part of the Total Transport Scheme: East Riding of Yorkshire Council, North Yorkshire County Council, North Lincolnshire Council, North East Lincolnshire Council, Lincolnshire County Council, Northumberland County Council, Durham County Council, Cheshire East Council, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive and Transport for Greater Manchester.
All 10 authorities were successful in bidding for funding from the Department for Transport through its Total Transport Pilot Fund to improve transport links in more rural areas.
The Minister told the conference: “I am hugely encouraged by the way that local authorities and their stakeholders have embraced Total Transport up and down the country. This event is proof of that.
“Everyone here today needs to work collaboratively, sharing powers and resources. After all, you have a common aim – to provide people across the north with the improved transport services they need.”
The Minister also revealed that a Buses Bill, due before Parliament in the next few weeks, would help local authorities by giving them powers to franchise their local bus services and give all transport authorities access to new partnership powers.
Other improvement ideas discussed by delegates at the conference included gearing hospital clinics around geographical areas, relaxing the rules around data sharing between authorities to make working together easier, making better use of voluntary car schemes, and making Total Transport a one-stop shop so passengers can find all the information and services they need in one place.
They agreed that by working together, and working smarter, local authorities, bus operators, community transport operators, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), ambulance trusts and other public bodies can share and joint-commission some of the services and resources to deliver residents cost effective services.
David Boden, East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s group manager for transportation services, chaired the event. He said: “I’m extremely pleased with how the conference went. More than 100 people attended which shows there’s a very strong will to move things forward.
“We all face challenging financial times, and they could possibly get worse, but we all have a passion for delivering public transport to local people.
“We would urge all partners including our ambulance and CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) colleagues to work with us to make Total Transport work for everybody.”
Two representatives from the health services, Gill Bridgeland of NHS Gloucestershire CCG and Andy Jennings of NHS Wiltshire CCG, both spoke at the event about how Total Transport could work for everybody.
Under Secretary of State for NHS Productivity, Lord Prior, sent this message to delegates: “Total Transport is something both Trusts and commissioners should be actively considering with the local authority partners.
“The public will expect that the NHS strives to ensure it achieves value for money in everything it does and that includes transport services.
“I wish the Northern Group well in delivering innovative solutions for the public.”