Stagecoach concern at fewer passengers since the parking fee

park_ride_bus07:06 Wednesday 12th November 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: Parking charges are to be introduced at the two park and ride sites along the Guided Busway. Do you agree? The £1 all-day parking fee was brought in at the five other sites in Cambridge in the summer, and now county councillors have voted to bring in the same fee on the sites at St Ives and Longstanton. My producer Katharine Park has more details. Just tell us the background Katharine.
KATHARINE PARK: It was earlier this year, as you said, that councillors voted to bring in the £1 charge at the five park and ride sites around Cambridge. Those are the ones at Milton, Madingley, Trumpington Road, Newmarket Road and Babraham Road. The Council said they had to bring in the charges to help pay for the running of the sites. Those charges were brought in in July this year, and according to Stagecoach which runs the bus services, passenger numbers have dropped approximately 10% compared to the same time last year.
CHRIS MANN: So why are they being introduced along the Guided Busway route now?
KATHARINE PARK: Well initially when councillors discussed introducing the charges, they didn’t look at the Guided Busway route. However at a later stage they decided they would, and this is the result of that process, which led to yesterday’s vote on introducing the changes at Longstanton and St Ives. Reading through the Council papers, they say running the Guided Busway and the two park and ride sites is cost-neutral, because they recoup the money from the bus companies. However they say that it’s the concessionary fares that are costing them money. So for example, if somebody has a bus pass and can use the bus for free, the Council are losing money there. And they say they need to make the money back, or will have to make cuts to vital services elsewhere.
CHRIS MANN: So how much money could they make?
KATHARINE PARK: Well the St Ives site can hold up to 1000 vehicles, whilst Longstanton can hold 300. So in theory the Council could make up to £1,300 a day. In reality though the Council tell us there are about 600 to 700 vehicles using the site each day, so if those people paid to pay, that’s between £600 and £700 a day. Calculate that over a year and that would add up to £200,000.
CHRIS MANN: It’s a pretty contentious issue, even though it’s only £1 we’re talking about. So what’s the reaction been to the news Katharine?
KATHARINE PARK: As you say there’s been a very mixed reaction to the news of this £1 charge. You’ll be talking in just a few moments time to Stagecoach who run the majority of the services along the route. BBC Radio Cambridgeshire has spoken to Whippet Coaches who run some of the services. They’ve told us they do have concerns that the charges will affect passenger numbers. They point out that they have to pay a charge to the Council to run routes along the Busway, and need to attract more passengers to make services viable. They also point out that when they first tendered to run the service along the route, the new town of Northstowe was an integral part of the plan. And as you know, that’s now been delayed, and with the service being relatively new, it’s only been going for three years, they say they’re still working to increase passenger numbers. ..
CHRIS MANN: When will the charges be introduced?
KATHARINE PARK: Well the Council says it will take them a little time to order machines, put them in place and get them running, and it’s anticipated that the charges will be brought in at some time early next year. But obviously if they’re not, then cuts need to be made elsewhere.
CHRIS MANN: Katharine thank you. That’s our producer Katharine Park. Well joining me in the studio now is Andy Campbell, who is the Managing Director of Stagecoach in Cambridge. Andy, good morning to you.
ANDY CAMPBELL: Good morning.
CHRIS MANN: And your connection to all this is you run the buses.
ANDY CAMPBELL: We run the majority of the buses on the Busway.
CHRIS MANN: But you don’t run the park and rides. ..
ANDY CAMPBELL: No we don’t actually manage the car parks. No. But we do pay for that in the access charge.
CHRIS MANN: So what do you think of the charges?

ANDY CAMPBELL: Well I think it’s a mistake, and obviously we’re disappointed that that decision has been taken. We’ve seen a 10% cut in customers on the city park and rides. If we see that on the Busway, that’s 350,000 customers that we’re going to lose.
CHRIS MANN: And that affects your bottom line.
ANDY CAMPBELL: It does affect the bottom line. yes.
CHRIS MANN: So are you paying for the right to run this service?
ANDY CAMPBELL: We have been, and when we agreed to the access charges there was no mention of charging for people to park their cars.
CHRIS MANN: Or the likelihood of them.
ANDY CAMPBELL: No. It wasn’t even discussed.
CHRIS MANN: So this has been a volte face by the Council, a complete change of direction.
ANDY CAMPBELL: Well to be fair we knew it was coming when they introduced the park and ride one. It was only a matter of time before they included Busway. But we expressed our concerns. I suppose the only positive that can come out of it is that I was listening to Graham Hughes last night, and he’s admitted that there were mistakes made in getting that message across to customers.
CHRIS MANN: The Director of Operations at the County Council. He was on the Drivetime programme last night talking to Jozef.
CHRIS MANN: He’s admitted a mistake.
ANDY CAMPBELL: Well he’s said that they could have handled things better and got the information out better. And hopefully they’ll do that this time.
CHRIS MANN: Because even just £1, £1 a day, £1 each way, whatever way you look at it, people will protest.
ANDY CAMPBELL: People will protest, and it’s not just the £1. I think a lot of the reason that we’ve had the decline in the park and ride services is the complicated system that’s been adopted. So hopefully this will be much easier to use.
CHRIS MANN: You mean the system of paying.
CHRIS MANN: OK. On the other hand, it’s a tough world out there, and the County councillors are concerned about shrinking budgets. They’re going to have to cut other services or this. It might be a choice between the two. Would you accept that?
ANDY CAMPBELL: I do accept that, and I think the Council need to adopt more of a commercial attitude in how they employ people, what they do with the money, and they need to spend that money better. What I would say is that the economic prosperity of the city depends on the transport infrastructure. And if you start messing with the transport infrastructure, you may then lose the economic growth that Cambridge seeks.
CHRIS MANN: That’s a big warning. That’s a big danger.
CHRIS MANN: You’re a commercial man. Stagecoach is a company that needs to make profits. Could you do this better than the Council?
ANDY CAMPBELL: I think there are better ways to do it.
CHRIS MANN: That’s a yes, is it? I remember you before offering to run it for them. Do you want to make that offer again?
ANDY CAMPBELL: Well I think we have to look at all the costs, but I think we could certainly do it in a more cost-effective way, and I think there are better ways than introducing the £1 charge.
CHRIS MANN: So here and now, are you offering to the Council to run it for them?
ANDY CAMPBELL: I’m offering to have discussions, to see if we can find a better way of doing it.
CHRIS MANN: Because you’re confident you could do it better.
CHRIS MANN: And what about those passenger numbers? Could you get them back up again?
ANDY CAMPBELL: I think you could get the passenger numbers back up. Whether you’ll get them to where they were .. but you can certainly get some of the people back, in terms of the 10% lost.
CHRIS MANN: Andy Campbell. Thank you very much indeed for joining us. Appreciate that. The Managing Director of Stagecoach Cambridge.