A new contract to run park and ride services from Bath’s three sites to the city centre is being considered by Bath & North East Somerset councillors.
A report before the cabinet which meets on May 5 sets out options for the service because the current contract, set up ten years ago, is due to expire in August.
Over the past ten years demand for the park and ride service has been strong carrying millions of passengers into the city and helping avoid additional traffic and congestion in the city centre and residential streets. However, the impact of Covid and changes to working and leisure patterns has recently seen passenger numbers at 78 per cent of 2019-20 levels.
The report notes that the pandemic has also had a significant impact on the national bus market, reducing patronage and resulting in the need for Central Government grants to ensure service continuity, with around £2 billion made available to more than 160 operators nationally. This has affected the levels of risk that operators are willing to accept on contracts nationally and may have been reflected through the tender responses received.
However, despite the current usage being below the historical trends the overall long-term forecast for the service is considered to be positive and demand is anticipated to grow. This is because of a number of local, regional and national policy interventions encouraging more sustainable transport options.
Against this backdrop cabinet members will consider awarding a contract to a preferred bidder on a ‘gross’ cost basis.
Under a gross cost contract option, all income would be retained by the council which would have the ability to be more flexible about prices and operating hours in the future as patronage recovers. However, the council would also retain all of the risk for the contract if patronage drops.
Under the gross contract option fares, from September, would be set at £3.60 per return adult fare on all days (rather than £3.60 Monday-Friday and £3.00 weekends); all group ticket options currently available would be maintained and the hours of operation would remain the same but with an option to revisit the service such as times the buses run depending on the income generated by the service as patronage recovers.
The report recommends finance reviews at six-monthly intervals to compare the actual income against the model and, subject to income levels make further investment such as extending the hours of operation and/or reducing the fares and/or site improvements
And it sets out a parking charge on the Park & Ride site for all or some users to offset the increased costs of the operation of the sites and the bus service and ensure that the service remains viable in the long term.