44.1 Paul Martin, Commercial Director and David Jordan, Marketing Manager for First Eastern Buses gave an update on the Ipswich Park and Ride Service. Aidan Dunn, Interim Corporate Director for Growth Highways and Infrastructure and Councillor Paul West, Cabinet Member for Ipswich of Suffolk County Council were both in attendance. Councillor P Smart, Portfolio Holder for Environment & Transport and Michael Newsham, Integrated Transport Officer at IBC were also both in attendance.
44.2 Mr Martin said that following First Eastern’s previous attendance at the Overview & Scrutiny Committee they were now in a position to compare the passenger figures which showed an increase although traffic congestion continued to be the main impact on services. First Eastern Ltd were keen to work with IBC and Suffolk County Council to promote the use of the Park & Ride Service as often the journey from the London Road site to the town centre could be as little as 10 minutes, while this time could quite easily be the time spent queuing to get into a town centre car park.
44.3 Mr Jordan said that local businesses had been approached who could offer up to a 75% discount for staff using the Park & Ride Service. A successful bid had been submitted to Highways England to improve the infrastructure on parts of the Park & Ride network including the signs on the arterial roads advertising the sites.
44.4 Councillor Holmes asked whether statistics for individual shoppers or commuters were recorded or just cars entering the Park & Ride sites? Mr Martin said that the sites were traditionally used for shoppers but there was capacity for student use and also employee use for a working day and dialogue with a range of different companies was taking place.
44.5 Councillor Harsant asked whether commuters to London used the Park & Ride service and Mr Martin said that the first bus of the day was at 7.00am but analysis had shown that few passengers alighted the bus at Ipswich Railway Station and by the evening, the service had reduced in frequency so commuters were not considered to be a target market.
44.6 Councillor Leeder requested that IBC were notified when a timetable change was made in line with the Suffolk County Council 70 day’s requirement notice? Suffolk County Councillor said that this seemed reasonable and could be considered.
44.7 Mr Dunn said that Suffolk County Council (SCC) were pleased with the Park & Ride Service and that the resource incurred no subsidy from the taxpayer. SCC staff were encouraged to use it when the SCC car park was full and the service was being promoted to other major employers in the town. Councillor West said that work continued with First Eastern to assist and improve the service further.
44.8 Councillor P Smart said that Mid Suffolk and Babergh District Councils were also encouraged to use the service since their employees had moved to Endeavour House and this would benefit the passenger figures. In relation to commuters, even if the Park & Ride started earlier they could park at the station with no added journey time as congestion only increased at peak travel times. A car park study was to be built into the Local Plan and would be a principal planning document and he urged all to comment on the proposed zones within the Local Plan when it was available for consultation. Pop-up car parks were not encouraged by IBC but when sites were not being developed it was opportune to use these for revenue.
44.9 Councillor Smart said that IBC would be investing in a Variable Messaging System (VMS) for car parks, SCC had been approached for a contribution and although this would exclude pop-up car parks, it was hoped that this would be available by the end of the financial year for the main car parks in Ipswich. Mr Martin asked whether the VMS would be available on routes into the town or just within the town as if the number of places available at the Park & Ride were to be listed then travellers would have the option of whether to continue into town or not? Councillor Smart said that the option of adding more car parks to the VMS was an option but more signs would be required the further out from town they were placed and signage outside of the IBC area would require SCC permission.
44.10 In response to a question about First Eastern’s travel plans during the four live music concerts planned for August 2019, Mr Martin said that there would be no issue with extending the hours of the Park & Ride facility and that although no contact had been made with the organisers as yet, it was hoped that discussions would take place.
44.11 Discussion took place about commercial financial information being disclosed and First Eastern said that passenger numbers were in line with expectations in order to make the service sustainable. Mr Martin reiterated that congestion was the biggest single issue that faced all bus services. Mr Dunn said that previously there had been different ways of counting passenger numbers, from cars entering the Park & Ride areas to the number of stops used but First Eastern now had clear data about the number of passengers using the First Eastern service. No subsidies were being given to the service and on hearing that the service was commercially viable, these were the success criteria to consider. Suffolk County Councillor West said that the increase in passenger usage could be linked to the other authorities locating to Endeavour House or a better economy but it was reassuring that no subsidies made the service viable but more could always be done to improve the service re: pinch points on the routes.
44.12 Councillor Smart said that he recognised that the situation re: passenger numbers was more accurate now than when tickets had been bought which could have included up to 5 passengers per ticket and incentives through the Green Travel Plan gave a more taxable benefit. Councillor Goonan questioned whether tangible evidence existed to back up the increase in passenger numbers statement and Mr Jordan said that commercially sensitive information such as this could not be released but there had been no drop in passenger numbers as had been anticipated at the start and the increased frequency of buses had seen an increase in numbers.
44.13 Councillor C Smart asked whether First Eastern buses operated the Variable Message System elsewhere in the country as if information was given on the outskirts of the town, this information could be out of date by the time the car park had been reached? Mr Jordan said that VMS signage for Park & Ride services operated in Portsmouth where it was expensive to park but it did not operate at times for commuters.
44.14 Councillor Allen asked how the Park & Ride Service was promoted to employees at Ipswich Hospital and Mr Martin said that discussions were still being held with Ipswich Hospital to roll out a discounted deal to both staff and visitors.
44.15 Discussions took place about reopening the Bury Road Park & Ride site and Mr Martin said that if the two other sites reached capacity then this would be a logical view.
44.16 In response to a question about subsidies and the money from the Suffolk County Council car park being used to support the service, Mr Dunn confirmed that since the offer had been started, SCC employees paid into a Green Travel Fund via their salaries and this was used to subsidise train and bus services, not taxpayers money. The Chair thanked Mr Martin, Mr Jordan, Mr Dunn and SCC Councillor West for their attendance. Also she thanked Councillor P Smart and Michael Newsham for their attendance.