Agenda item

Thurrock Supported Bus Services


The Strategic Transport Manager introduced the report and outlined the three subsidised bus services currently operating within Thurrock, which were the 11, 265 and 374. He stated that the 11 service ran Monday through Friday between 7am and 7pm every two hours and covered areas such as Purfleet, Aveley, Grays, Chadwell St Mary, Horndon-on-the-Hill and Basildon Hospital. He added that the 265 operated Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the 374 operated Monday through Friday at 90-minute intervals and every three hours on a Saturday. He commented that some rural areas did not have any other public transport links such as Fobbing, Bulphan and Horndon-on-the-Hill, and the contract had been operated by Nibs since 2019. He stated that Nibs currently had a three-year contract for the services with a two-year extension option. The Strategic Transport Manager added that the current contract had come to an end in March 2022, but had been extended for a year. He stated that bus services had been affected by the pandemic as in 2019 there had been approximately 89,000 journeys compared to only 30,758 journeys in 2020 and 65,008 journeys in 2021. He explained that the service cost approximately £454,318 per year to run, but this could change due to the number of bank holidays in a year.

The Strategic Transport Manager explained that approximately 60% of service users had concessionary passes and therefore did not pay for the bus service, although this percentage was higher in some areas such as Bulphan. He stated that 40% of bus users were paying for the service and this had increased since the start of the pandemic. He mentioned that Nibs had maintained the bus services in Thurrock, but costs were expected to rise by approximately £100,000 per year due to fuel costs, driver shortages, maintenance, and tyre costs. He stated that the purpose of the report was to seek approval and endorsement to review the services to ensure they continued to provide value for money and were needed by residents, either in their current guise or at all. He added that Thurrock Council did not have a statutory duty to provide bus routes and had managed to partly subsidise these services through a £50,000 Covid grant from the Department of Transport. He explained that Nibs also received some grants from Essex County Council as the bus services partly operated in Essex County Council’s area. The Strategic Transport Manager summarised and stated that the report set out the process for consultation, which would be approximately 12 weeks and would run alongside a Community Equality Impact Assessment and user profiling. He stated that a report outlining consultation responses and other work undertaken would be brought back to the Committee in December 2022.

The Chair thanked officers for the report and questioned how removing public transport links would help the Council move towards its aims for sustainable and greener travel. The Strategic Transport Manager replied that the consultation would review how the service was provided, for example if big buses were needed for lower occupancy routes, or if smaller buses could be used. He added that if some routes were being under-utilised this added to Thurrock’s carbon footprint, so it might prove more sustainable to remove some routes. He explained that the team would consider all consultation responses and how services were being used to ensure journeys were sustainable. The Chair sought reassurance that the team would be undertaking thorough research and investigation into how much services cost to run and how much they were being utilised to ensure accurate figures. The Strategic Transport Manager replied that although the transport team was small, it contained one officer who was an expert in the bus industry and had a good working relationship with Nibs. He explained that the officer had worked his entire life on buses, as a driver and operator, and provided the Council with invaluable guidance and expertise.

Councillor Allen queried if the proposal considered the Local Plan, which would increase the number of homes in the borough, as this may increase the number of bus users. He also questioned how the consultation would be undertaken. The Strategic Transport Manager stated that the consultation would be undertaken through both digital and in-person channels. He explained that he would work with the community engagement team to ensure that surveys were distributed to those people in harder to reach communities or those who did not have access to the internet, for example those in rural areas. He added that the consultation would also piggyback off the ‘Your Place, Your Voice’ Local Plan consultation events to ensure the team could have conversations with residents and understand how the service was being used.

Councillor Watson thanked officers for their report and felt that the 2020 and 2021 journey figures were not a true representation of usage due to the pandemic, and asked if figures could be provided for 2022. She stated that the three bus services stopped regularly at Orsett Hospital and Basildon Hospital and users of these services could be elderly or disabled. She asked if the team would ensure that these people still had access to the hospitals if the bus services were ended. She stated that some people in rural villages only had access to these public transport services and asked officers to wait until the Local Plan was finalised before considering stopping services. The Strategic Transport Manager responded that the team were using the 2019 journey figures as a baseline, as this was the last year that data was not affected by the pandemic. He stated that it was important for the team to consider how buses were used and why to ensure they could understand the reasons for use. The Assistant Director Planning, Transport and Public Protection added that the Local Plan would include the Transport Strategy, which would outline how to improve sustainable travel within Thurrock. He explained that the both the Local Plan consultation and bus service consultation would happen at the same time, so would piggyback off each other and ensure bus services were considered as part of the wider Local Plan picture. He stated that the team would work to ensure that the consultation captured any unintended consequences if the bus route was stopped.

Councillor Carter queried if Thurrock Council had any control over the number of concessionary pass holders. He felt that £5.10 per journey was expensive per passenger and felt it was good to consult users and begin the conversation to ensure taxpayer value for money. The Strategic Transport Manager explained that the concessionary pass scheme was central government led, and Thurrock had little control over who received a pass. He added that Thurrock did allow concessionary pass holders free travel at 9am, compared to government guidelines which suggested free travel should start at 9.30am, and Thurrock also allowed carers free travel which was not outlined by central government. He stated that central government provided Councils with a grant for the concessionary pass, which was then recompensed to bus operators using a complex formula. Councillor Allen felt concerned for elderly and disabled residents if the bus services were stopped and sought clarification on how much the service cost could increase. He asked if the Council could investigate alternative provision for elderly and vulnerable residents. The Strategic Transport Manager stated that the service cost could increase by approximately £100,000 per year, which would mean the service would cost approximately £500,000 per year. He added that although the Council did not have a statutory duty to provide these bus services, under the Transport Act 1985, Council’s did have to show consideration for services. He added that the team would be looking into alternative transport methods, other service providers, and new ways of operating services.

Councillor Snell highlighted that the 89,000 journeys were spread across the three routes and did not indicate the number of passengers using each service. He added that the £5.10 cost per journey was not spread evenly across all passengers, as 60% of passengers were concessionary pass holders, so only 40% of users paid for the service. He asked if the team could investigate how many people used the bus services, rather than how many trips they were making. He also asked if the bus operator had tried to provide cost savings already, and if alternatives had been considered. The Strategic Transport Manager stated that the team would be looking into more detailed figures after the consultation, and this could be shared with the Committee at that point. He explained that the bus operator had small profit margins and it was therefore difficult to find cost savings, particularly with increased future costs and lack of bus price increases for the past three years. Councillor Raper highlighted section 3.3 of the report and asked if the team had the manpower to conduct a thorough in-person consultation across Thurrock, as some residents struggled to access online consultations. The Strategic Transport Manager replied that they would work with the communities’ team to look at how the consultation could be promoted, for example posters, drop-off centres and through bus drivers themselves. He stated that the team would work with bus operators to promote the consultation and would organise postal consultations too.

The Chair thanked officers for their report and asked if the report scheduled for December could contain figures regarding the cost per passenger, rather than cost per journey, and the number of passengers on each service.


1. That the Committee agreed to endorse the commencement of consultation within the community for a period of no less than 12 weeks on the need and impact of the three bus services supported by Thurrock Council.

2. That the Committee noted that during the consultation period any necessary profiling of user groups is to be undertaken together with a Community Equalities Impact Assessment.

3. That a further report scheduled for December 2022 will be presented to the Committee to be made aware of the outcome of the consultation, the Community Equalities Impact Assessment and recommended options for future service provision into 2023 and beyond.

Supporting documents: