How Can You Estimate the Value of a Bus Service? Evaluating Buses in Tourist Areas
J Guiver, University of Central Lancashire, UK
This paper reports ESRC-funded research to investigate the impacts of bus services in ten tourist areas in the UK.
Buses fulfil a number of functions for different sections of society. For passengers they provide a means of transport to reach destinations, for businesses they bring customers to their premises and for society they may help reduce carbon emissions, congestion and social exclusion. Yet, these benefits are rarely evaluated against the costs of subsidising services, even when decisions are made to support or cut services.
This paper reports ESRC-funded research to investigate the impacts of bus services in ten tourist areas in the UK. Passenger surveys provided information about how bus services are used and whether passengers would have used a car, stayed at home or visited another destination had the service not been available. Information about amounts and types of spending were also collected along with details of physical activity and impressions of the service provided. The analysis of alternative actions if the bus service had not been available allows a calculation of the loss of spending to the destination, the number of extra car journeys which would have been generated and the reduction in social inclusion. It also gives an indication of the reduction in physical activity and well-being which might result from withdrawal of the bus service.
This information forms a base for assessing the value of such service for different types of funders. With information about the spending generated by bus passengers, local authorities and National Parks can approach local businesses to help support or underwrite the services, as has happened in the New Forest National Park in southern England. National Parks are also responsible for ensuring access to nationally funded preserved areas of natural beauty and recreation. The findings from the surveys provide them with indicators of the success of the public transport in their areas in granting access to people without cars and for reducing the number of cars within the National Park. Other potential funders include health authorities promoting physical activity to boost health and well-being.
In practice however, decisions to support or cut services often depend on political expediency rather than value for money. Even if evaluations are conducted, the relative importance of different benefits varies with the remit of the funding agency. The paper discusses the results of an exercise conducted with groups of experts from local authorities, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Community Transport, Academics, Consultants and Bus Companies which showed very different priorities for different groups.
The paper explains how the costs of the survey were minimised through the use of an Excel programme allowing easy inputting and automatic data analysis. It discusses the potential for extrapolating the data by using additional information about passenger loadings and ticket information, using a similar programme and whether such an approach could be used for other types of bus service. It considers the potential of the approach to help compare the benefits of different kinds of public spending such as tourist information and marketing. The limitations of the method are discussed and the need for further data from other sources to allow valid comparisons of costs and benefits.
Association for European Transport