Just arrived at Paddington….

Going to be a long day today… early start to do R5 Live (see below) and then back at the flat, was just tidying up, packing my suitcase for the week ahead and wondering why I could still make the 10.30am train if I got my skates on, when the phone rang. It was Alison Seabeck, Chair of the South West Regional Committee, telling me that all the trains had been cancelled because of a fatality at Reading, so she couldn’t get to Bristol for the 10.30am start of the Select Committee hearing and seeing as I wouldn’t be able to get to London, could I sub for her? Technically I’m still a member of the Committee although I was meant to come off it when I was appointed a whip, and as it’s technically still a standing committee rather than a Select Committee (because you can’t set up a new Select Committee till the start of the new parliamentary session) I am technically allowed to attend… So, technicalities sorted, I made it to @Bristol just in time for the start. Fortunately the session was about transport, which meant I got to quiz the West of England Partnership, Sustrans, Friends of the Earth, the Bristol/Bath Campaign for Better Transport, and of course First Bus.

Usual round of questions – do current plans go anywhere near meeting the projected demand for rail services in the region (no), would we be better off with an Integrated Transport Authority (yes), are people going to get out of their cars and start using the buses when the fares are so high and buses so unreliable (er…no). As usual First Group said that the problem in Bristol is that there’s so much congestion, traffic speeds are so slow, that they can’t run as good a service as elsewhere – and the West of England Partnership said the showcase bus routes would go some way towards addressing this. I spoke to a couple of the First Group people afterwards and they said they’re pioneering a ‘Two for the Price of One’ service on the A420 Showcase Bus Route in the evenings, which I hadn’t spotted.

The West of England Partnership also said that they’d be looking at entering a Quality Partnership with First; I need to look into this. Does this tie us into having First as the virtual monopoly provider of bus services in Bristol for years to come, or do we still have the ultimate option of going for a Quality Contract instead if/when we finally lose patience with them? (And yes, I know for many that time has long since passed!)

As an aside, there was a few minutes break as one set of witnesses took the places of the previous set and so I tweeted I was about to quiz First – within seconds I got half a dozen replies, all urging me to ‘give them hell’. I think this validates what I was saying about Twitter earlier. It didn’t in anyway disrupt the committee proceedings or detract from my ability to question them, in fact it added a little ‘oomph’ to my questioning! I quoted First’s response to the Committee’s call for evidence back at them: “Commercial operators such as First provide a level of bus service provision across the region that meets current levels of demand… This competitive market for customers offers value for money and cost effective delivery of public transport to both the customer and tax payer”. Can’t let them get away with that, can we?!

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