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Proposals for an improved public transport system

Posted: 6th July 2020

Changes to the way we travel around the Capital could be introduced through the reform of Edinburgh’s transport companies, creating a better integrated and more efficient public transport system, according to proposals published today (Friday, 3 July).

Recommendations in the Reform of Transport Arm’s Length External Organisations report, which will be considered by Policy and Sustainability Committee on Thursday, 9 July, recognise the need to encourage the use of public transport to and around the city and region by making it as accessible and joined-up as possible. A shift from car to sustainable public transport alternatives will help Edinburgh achieve its ambitious carbon neutral goals by 2030, managing the impact of rapid population growth and aligning with local and national sustainable travel policies.

Three options for the future operation of Lothian BusesEdinburgh Trams and Transport for Edinburgh are explored in the report, ranging from a ‘do nothing’ scenario to the creation of a single company to deliver all functions. Once a preferred option has been agreed upon by councillors, the plan will be consulted on through discussion with the existing companies, the other councils in the Lothians and trade unions, alongside robust legal analysis.

The report notes that Edinburgh, like other cities, will experience significant change to employment, leisure, and wider activity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and new approaches to public transport will be central to the overall adaptation and renewal process.

The recommendations aim to improve governance structures, collaboration and, importantly for the travelling public, integration across the transport network.

The report acknowledges the ongoing success of the companies in providing high quality, award-winning transport services which are greatly valued by the public and predicts a growth in transport provision across the city. It is intended to retain and capitalise on the valued Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams brands while eliminating unnecessary competition between the two, particularly as the Trams to Newhaven project progresses.

Council Leader Adam McVey said:

“This is about creating a sustainable, accessible and joined-up public transport system that is fit for the future. As we’ve experienced over recent months, and will continue to do so, our city, like others, is undergoing a significant period of change as a result of COVID-19, and we must adapt in response. We simply must change the way we move around the city if we are to meet our ambitious goals to become carbon neutral by 2030 and to create a fairer, more inclusive environment.

“We wholeheartedly appreciate the roles of both Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams in providing high quality, award-winning public transport and excellent customer service, and will always do everything we can to help our companies achieve that.”

Depute Leader Cammy Day said:

“For the many employees across these companies who play such an important role in delivering essential services, particularly during the current COVID outbreak, I want to reassure them that these changes will not negatively impact on their jobs. Rather, as we lead the charge toward a zero-carbon future, we want to increase reliance on sustainable public transport, and as bus and tram use continues to grow, we’ll need more drivers and staff to run the companies.

“However, we can’t move forward with these aspirations as it stands – we know that the current structure has led to inefficiencies. Of course this will take time and a great deal of engagement and planning, but by driving better integration, ensuring improved governance and putting the needs of the public at the centre of public transport delivery, I know we can provide a system that future generations will thank us for.”

Transport for Edinburgh Limited was formed by the Council in 2014 as parent company, with a wholly owned subsidiary Edinburgh Trams Limited and a 91% ownership of Lothian Buses Limited, where East Lothian, West Lothian and Midlothian are minority shareholders. This model was intended to achieve maximum integration between transport companies.

As Edinburgh continues to grow, so too does the need for seamless, reliable and environmentally friendly public transport as an attractive alternative to private car journeys, helping to reduce congestion, drive down air pollution and limit carbon emissions.

The report acknowledges that the current structure of ownership – shareholding, parent company and group of companies, all responsible for delivery of different aspects of the transport network – has led to inefficiencies and a lack of collaboration, hindering aspirations to provide joined-up travel options. Efficient and effective public transport is a key driver of several emerging national and local policies for sustainability and mobility; in Edinburgh this includes the City Mobility PlanCity PlanEdinburgh City Centre Transformation (ECCT) and Low Emission Zone policy development and implementation.

In order to improve upon the current model, officers have undertaken an analysis of the outcomes required from a public transport company structure and in light of these have considered three options. These are:

• Do nothing: Leaving the existing corporate structure and agreements in place but looking to strengthen existing relationships between companies and the Council to deliver change

• Do minimum: Retaining existing corporate structure or parts of it but reviewing Shareholder Agreements and Memorandum and Articles of Association to promote transport priorities of the Council and improve integration

• Single company model: Creating a single company to deliver an integrated transport system. Owners of the company would provide strategic direction as well as exercising shareholder power to ensure accountability

The third option, to create a single company, is being put forward as the preferred option, allowing the ongoing delivery of high-quality public transport with no negative impact on the travelling public or frontline staff. It is proposed that existing bus and tram services, as well as the city’s cycle hire scheme, would be maintained as separately branded divisions, while integrated back office functions would be delivered, along with potential senior management savings.

A single company would require a new shareholder agreement between the owners and the company, with the new structure to be developed in consultation with the minority shareholders. The needs of partner councils, both from a transport policy and financial perspective, must be fully addressed.

Before a final preferred option is confirmed, a further report will be brought back to Committee for decision. This will follow discussions with the public transport companies, minority shareholders and trade unions to gather views on proposals and will set out any changes required on the shareholder side.

Read the full report, Reform of Transport Arm’s Length External Organisations, on the Council website. This will be discussed by Policy and Sustainability Committee on Thursday, 9 July – watch the webcast of the meeting online.

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