In May this year, Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State for Transport, illustrated how sustained investment and innovation can deliver better public transport. The first ‘Futurebus’ service in Yorkshire, fitted with satellite technology, and offering modern ticketing facilities and real time passenger information, he said, is “an excellent example of what can be achieved when a local authority and the bus industry work together to deliver better services for local passengers”. While such innovations can help increase bus patronage and need to happen right across the country if government growth targets are to be realised, in this report we show there are other factors however that neither the government nor transport operators can influence very much at all.
The government claims they want more people to choose public transport, and believe people will switch from their cars if buses, for example, offer the kind of service that fits in with their busy lives. While there is strong support for better facilities, as well as radical solutions to our transport problems such as congestion charging and traffic calming, there is also a strong message that there are some clear drivers of usage of transport services and satisfaction with transport provision which are outside local authorities’ control.
With the next round of Best Value Performance Indicator surveys (BVPIs) beginning in 2006, this report builds on MORI’s earlier work Frontiers of Performance in Local Government1 and Frontiers of Performance in the NHS2, examining the data collected in 2003/4 for the impact of place on perceptions of transport provision. A key differentiating aspect of our analysis is the consideration of a number of exogenous factors at work, such as deprivation, which we know has a strong effect on residents’ views. We link this data to findings on transport services from the 2003/4 Best Value General User Satisfaction Survey dataset in which every local authority in England features.
In addition, our analysis assesses whether councils are meeting their potential in relation to transport services. We provide a picture of relative performance suggesting that some apparently under-performing councils are actually doing very well given local conditions, while some top-performing local authorities are benefiting from operating under relatively easy conditions. In short, we can identify a frontier of performance for local authorities, and say how satisfied we can reasonably expect residents to be with their transport service overall. While there is always room for improvement, the results presented here do highlight the need for assessing overall performance in context of local conditions, rather than a level playing field.
We show that, by looking beneath headline figures and being sensitive to local factors, it is possible to put perceptions of transport services in context and to recognise that excellence looks different in different parts of the country.
Our Frontiers work is even more salient, given that user focus now forms a key part of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA).3 Local authorities therefore need to show their understanding of resident and service user views and to demonstrate that they are acting on them. Performance indicators are also becoming increasingly important not only as a measure of success but also as targets for improvement, and often subsequent funding or indeed financial penalties. Understanding relative performance is therefore crucial to determining improvement targets that are both realistic and at the same time challenging.