Milton Keynes Council has voiced alarm about deteriorating bus service performance in the area.
There has been a “considerable deterioration of service punctuality and reliability over recent months”, head of transport Steve Hayes and strategic lead for passenger transport Adele Wearing told councillors last week.
“A number of operators are struggling to maintain timetables in Milton Keynes and while a couple of the smaller operators maintain good reliability, the issues are widespread and significant,” they said.
“Almost no operator is meeting the Traffic Commissioner’s requirement of 95 per cent of services arriving no more than five minutes late.
“Given Arriva’s market dominance, their decline in performance has been particularly concerning, with council data showing punctuality falling below 70 per cent in October 2019. This means that, across all [Arriva] routes, less than seven out of ten buses depart within five minutes of their scheduled departure time.”
The Traffic Commissioner’s office had been made aware of the problems, said Hayes and Wearing, and council officers recently met with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), which is reviewing a recent spike in complaints about bus services in Milton Keynes.
Hayes and Wearing acknowledged there are problems with congestion at some points on the network, particularly around Station Square and The Point entertainment complex.
“We are working with operators to address some of these pinch-points through projects such as the proposed urban traffic management system; however, none of these are new developments so they do not explain such a significant decline.”
Arriva’s local business had experienced a number of managerial changes over recent months, they said.
“The area managing director has kept council officers advised of some of the difficulties the company have been facing and agreed some actions to address the issues. However, at the time of writing there is little sign of improvement.”
Arriva had reported that a number of Polish drivers returned to Poland last spring because of Brexit, they said. “The company have been undertaking a recruitment drive to address this but it has taken time to fill the vacancies and train new drivers to the required standards.”
Currently the council can only take action on services that are operated under contract.
“We will be looking at the tools available to us from the Bus Services Act to assess how the powers within it may enable us to better hold bus operators to account for poor service delivery,” Hayes told LTT this week.
The council issued warning letters to operators in December. “Operators not meeting expected standards have been required to submit a performance improvement plan and if there is no notable improvement within three months contracts can be terminated,” Hayes and Wearing told councillors.
All of Milton Keynes Council’s existing bus service contracts end in October this year. “Following a review of best practice contract management in other authorities, officers are proposing a more rigorous contract management regime that will enable action to be taken much more quickly if services do not met required standards, including financial penalties and contract termination,” said Hayes and Wearing.
Simon Finnie, area managing director at Arriva Midlands, told LTT that congestion was the main problem affecting the company’s Milton Keynes services.
“We are aware of the recent drop in punctuality that all operators have experienced in the Milton Keynes area, which can be attributed to ongoing roadworks across the region and significantly increased congestion.
“We are working closely with Milton Keynes Council to improve punctuality across the majority of our services by reviewing infrastructure and discussing bus priority measures along key routes.”
Finnie said Arriva had recently experienced some driver shortages across all of its operating areas in the Midlands.
“Although some of our European drivers have decided not to return to the UK this has not impacted our services significantly. We are now in a position where we have recruited a considerable number of new drivers in Milton Keynes to ensure our services run as timetabled.”
He said the company had a number of service changes planned over the coming months to improve the punctuality and reliability of its services.
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