Park and ride review confirms large drop in patronage but no real answers to the problem
28 May 2024

I have written a few times about the problems that the Council is having with the Truro park and ride service, see First give notice August 2023, Council kicks can down road January 2024, Council invites tenders for service May 2024.

The Council has undertaken a review of the service and, as is usual practice within the Council, instead of carrying out the review in-house, they commissioned outside consultants, in this case Mott Macdonald, to undertake the review. What this cost has not been disclosed but I suspect a figure of £10-20,000 would be par for the course. I asked Richard Williams-Pears, portfolio holder for transport, if I could see a copy of the review but I received no reply to my email. I therefore had to make an FOI request, following which I did receive a copy of the report, albeit redacted in several places. A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

The actual patronage figures for the past few years have been redacted from the report. (I have requested a review of the decision to redact certain information in the released document and await a response from the Council on this.) However, the fact that current passenger numbers are 38% below pre-pandemic levels (page 4 of the report) was not redacted. This is a significant reduction and shows why the Council should be worried about how they are going to maintain the service particularly when the cost of running the service has gone up thanks to First giving notice last year and then securing an uplift on the price of the contract in order for the service to continue.

An extract from the executive summary of the report says, "The opportunities identified are shown below, those recommended for adoption in the short term are highlighted in bold:

• Adapt current service provision to:
Introduce later Hospital Shuttle journeys.
Work with Treliske Hospital to promote new service.
– Realign current Saturday service provision with demand.
– Extend Monday to Saturday operating hours to 22:00.
– Keep introduction of a Sunday service open as a longer-term option.

• Encourage patronage growth by:
– Seizing the opportunity to influence travel behaviour whilst parking at Royal Cornwall Hospital, Treliske is difficult during construction work.
– Including patronage and performance incentives for the operator in the new P&R contract.
– Increasing the discount offered to customers purchasing multi-journey tickets.
– Increased and more effective targeted marketing and promotion of the service.
– Developing a dedicated Park for Truro website.

• Generate additional revenue by:
Phasing out or withdrawing the current 50% discount on day tickets on Saturdays to increase revenue.
Adopt a basket of fares approach rather than inflation-linked increase for all ticket- types.
Exploring the viability of introducing a coffee machine concession at sites.
Installing 6-sheet advertising poster sites in the P&R terminal buildings and high footfall areas around bus boarding points to generate additional advertising revenue.
Hire of the meeting room at the Tregurra site to organisations and community groups on a similar basis to the meeting rooms at Truro Library.
– Increasing the cost of parking in Truro relative to P&R fares.

• Align with wider policy objectives:
– Introduce electric buses at next fleet renewal to deliver decarbonisation of the service, local air quality benefits in the Truro Air Quality Management Area and reduce vehicle operating and maintenance costs.
– Include enhanced accessibility standards in the specification for future new P&R vehicles.
– Refresh the parking strategy for Truro to support sustainable transport modes over private cars.
– Align future development of the service with planned development at Langarth Garden Village.”

Most of the recommendations seem at first sight fairly sensible. However, they are unlikely to achieve more than a minimal improvement in the finances of the service. My analysis of the proposals is as follows.

Realign current Saturday service provision with demand. This is the proposal to make the Saturday timetable at 15 minute intervals throughout the day. This makes a saving on bus provision as a result of doing away with the 10 minute frequency that had been in place for some of the day and reduces the number of vehicles required. This has been implemented as from 1 April.

Remove the 50% discount on fares on Saturdays. This discount never made much sense and the change has been implemented from 1 April.

Exploring the viability of introducing a coffee machine concession at sites. Given that the maximum wait at the park and ride termini is rarely more than 10-15 minutes, it seems unlikely that many passengers will be tempted to buy a coffee there rather than waiting until they have reached their destination whether that is in the city or at their place of work. The report also acknowledges that there is an issue with this proposal in that taking drinks on to the park and ride buses is currently prohibited and this prohibition is rigorously enforced by the drivers. The potential income from this proposal is likely to be minimal and the chances are that no provider will see it being worthwhile to install machines and to service them and respond to any issues that arise.

Hire of the meeting room at Tregurra. Whilst this room is very underused, letting it out on a commercial basis would require a member of staff to be available to monitor the users and to respond to any issues. I cannot see this as being feasible or worthwhile.

Developing a dedicated Park for Truro website. There seems no point in doing this. The Council and the bus operators have been totally incapable of making the Transport for Cornwall website a useful source of information on bus services. It frequently carries incorrect or out of date information and nobody seems to know who really looks after it. A park and ride website would undoubtedly go the same way.

Increasing the cost of parking in Truro relative to P&R fares. In the past few years, the Council’s policy on car park fares in the city centre has gone the other way with the implementation of the JustPark pre-paid discounts making it easy for motorists to purchase parking in the Council car parks in Truro at bargain basement rates, see cut price parking. Although the prices were raised by 5% from 1 April (see sneaky rises in car park charges), it still only costs £2.63 to park all day in Truro. It is little wonder that so many people have deserted the park and ride service and are driving into Truro. Mott Macdonald are correct to say that parking charges in Truro should be increased relative to P&R fares, but there is no political will in the Council to do this because of the timidity of officers and councillors to confront the motoring lobby that is always demanding cheap parking.

The one proposal that does not make it into Mott Macdonald recommendations is what to do about ensuring that more County Hall officers and councillors use the park and ride. On page 27 of the report, they say, "The current potential to increase the number of Council staff using P&R is limited by the capacity available for staff to park on site. However, the plans to increase the number of Council staff working at New County Hall and to provide more public-facing services from this location will create opportunities to implement Travel Plan measures to increase the number of Council staff and visitors using P&R for travel to New County Hall.” This is a bizarre way of phrasing the issue. There is so much free parking currently available to staff at County Hall that virtually nobody working there uses the park and ride service. As with parking charges in the city’s car parks, there is political cowardice on tackling this issue and Mott Macdonald themselves were afraid to include a recommendation that the Council should charge for parking at County Hall. It is ironic that there is a recommendation of "Seizing the opportunity to influence travel behaviour whilst parking at Royal Cornwall Hospital, Treliske is difficult during construction work” but there is no recommendation to do anything about the farcical situation where council officers and councillors are the people who use the park and ride the least.

Overall, the Mott Macdonald report is a sad indictment of political failure within County Hall. What was, at its inception, a bold and visionary project to encourage motorists not to drive into the city has been allowed to run down and be vulnerable to further degradation because of a lack of courage on the part of officers and councillors.

Update
28 May 2024
Shortly after posting the above story, I came across the letter that Bert Biscoe, Truro City Councillor, had written to the Mayor of Truro asking her to put pressure on Cornwall Council to remedy the issue with Moorfields car park in the city centre where a few floors of the multi-storey structure have been closed off because of structural safety concerns. In his letter to the current mayor, he added: “I am writing to you to ask that you write in the strongest possible terms to the leader and CEO of Cornwall Council to demand that a mitigation plan be put in place, at Cornwall Council’s expense, to replace lost capacity, to remove punitive penalty tariffs and to support the town in counteracting the brand-negative messages caused by its recent actions. We should not accept efforts to placate us by talk of redirecting people to the park and ride. Truro relies upon a flexible combination of provision.” Unfortunately, this exemplifies the attitude amongst many councillors that denigrates the park and ride instead of actively supporting it.