LTA partnerships are crucial, says First Bus MD

Janette Bell
First Bus MD Janette Bell believes much can be achieved through partnership without huge funds

First Bus Managing Director Janette Bell has stressed the importance of local transport authorities (LTA) working with bus operators to form partnerships.

Ms Bell was speaking at last Tuesday’s launch of First Leicester’s electric network, which has benefited from government funding after Leicester City Council (LCC) set up an Enhanced Partnership (EP). In total, the city’s zero-emissions aims have been boosted by £22 million  from the government’s Zero Emission Buses Regional Areas (ZEBRA).

Even before all of Leicester’s bus companies – Arriva, First Bus, Kinchbus, Stagecoach, Centrebus and Roberts Travel Group – came together to form the Leicester Buses EP, the partnership was operating less formally with positive results. The partnership has led to standardised and integrated multi-operator ticketing with discounts and fare caps. It brings together 400 electric buses, 30 frequent lines and 1000 real-time displays.

Leicester was not among the 31 Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) bids selected for funding as part of the National Bus Strategy, but its success shows the value of working in partnership.

Ms Bell said: “The very first time I met the officers and leaders at the LCC it was really clear they had a very clear vision. There was already a strong spirit of partnership and I think what’s happened is we’ve focused on not only the decarbonisation agenda but also driving the multi-operator tap-on, tap-on, which was another first.

“I think there’s been a real will from all parties to make things happen. I always think there’s a will there’s a way and I just think that’s embodied in what happens in Leicester.

“Clearly investment is required but equally there are things that don’t need investment and it’s about how you work together to get that day-in, day-out service and it’s about making sure we’ve got it right the customer in Leicester.

“I fundamentally believe in partnership working. I can’t see any other way that you can bring a privately owned public service. It has to be done in partnership with a focus on the customer and what’s what we’re lining up to do at First Bus and I think Leicester is an example of how that comes together and you can see it working on multiple levels.”

The Leicester Bus Partnership aims to have half of the city’s overall bus network converted to zero-emission operation by 2025 and the transition complete by 2030. The unveiling of the Wrightbus GB Kite Electroliner single-decker at First Leicester’s depot last week was a significant step as 18 more were also put on order to add to the 86 already on their way.

Ambition is key

Daniel Pearman, City Transport Director for LCC, admits funding could be a barrier to those aims. “We know with the state of funding at the moment, it’s going to be multiple pots that we’re going to have to pull together,” he says. “We’re not going to suddenly have a massive lump sum that we need. We know there will be funding come on stream from various sources, whether it be government or local.”

However, he says much can be achieved via partnership without vast funds. “I think what we’ve shown is that funding doesn’t need to be a barrier,” he adds. “It’s a big one to the speed of delivery but the key thing is having that ambition.

“If the ambition is there, the willingness is there then the delivery will follow. It may have to take a different pathway and it may have to follow a different timescale but we’ve shown we’ve been able to do it and other LTAs should be able to do it and we’d always be happy to guide them through the same way that we did.”