Anthony Smith (AS) welcomed attendees to 2023 HATF Wider Forum, his first as Chair. Cllr Shantanu Rajawat (SR): welcomed attendees to Wider Forum located at Hounslow House acknowledged the strong links between Heathrow airport and Hounslow borough including employment and close transport links. He also stated support for Southern Rail Access as a tool for tackling both transport challenges and delivering regeneration. Seema Malhotra MP (SM): focussed on reducing impacts of the airport on local Hounslow residents, and how to make sure the opportunities and benefits of the airport were available to as many local people as possible. SM shared interest with Cllr Rajawat in delivering Southern Rail Access and the regeneration opportunities it could bring. SM supported the ULEZ mitigations HAL have brought in, and the importance of continuing with a green agenda.
2. Heathrow Update
Tim Leech (TL) provided a Heathrow update (please find additional detail within slide pack):
- Provided an update on Surface Access Strategy goals and progress towards them
- Highlighted mitigations that were implemented ahead of ULEZ
Anne Thorpe (AT): how are you approaching accessibility on the newly introduced buses? TL: Accessibility is included as part of the contracts awarded to operators.
3. Heathrow Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP)
Paul Millin (PM) provided a background to what a BSIP is and the reason for a Heathrow BSIP:
- A BSIP is plan for how we can better deliver bus services around and to the airport. It is also (potentially) a bidding document to take to government. The aim is to make buses the best option for local access and ultimately grow patronage
- A Heathrow focussed BSIP will help to define ambitions and priorities for Heathrow and the surrounding area and highlight the best areas for investment in terms of services and also infrastructure like bus priority. The final document should also help share the vast collective knowledge held across all the stakeholders operating in this space.
- Why are we developing a Heathrow BSIP: Heathrow is not in the heart of any existing BSIP, which are all focussed on individual local authorities. In addition, the airport also has differing needs for both passengers and commuters
Dan Phillips (DP) provided an update on BSIP development to date:
- Good time to produce a BSIP as the government is arguably more focussed on bus travel then has recently been the case
- Bus provides a vital role around the airport site, as not all locations are located close to the airport terminals
- DP set out process to complete BSIP and what it is planning to achieve, see slides for process
- Initial stakeholder engagement and data analysis has been undertaken:
- Stakeholder engagement – key challenges that have been identified and presentedin slides and include improved facilities such as central bus station, need to serve wider Campus, interchanges
- Data Analysis – looked at existing network to see where challenges lie and areas for improvement including employment demand, route performance and reliability, current bus catchment.
BSIP Panel Discussion (Richard Walker (RWa), Dan Philips (DP), Paul Millin (PM), Robert Williams (RWi)):
Key points discussed:
- RWa: Heathrow BSIP is a great idea as it gathers all bus plans into a single document and can influence existing enhanced partnerships and could plausibly help individual local authorities get funding. Ensure neighbouring areas such as Slough, Surrey are happy with it to go ahead. BSIPs are generally for local authorities though so direct money for Heathrow unlikely. A good BSIP will include facts, figures, maps and plans for location specific proposals and intentions instead of generic policies. Separate big ambitions from what is affordable and deliverable in 3-5 year time frame.
- RWi: it is hard to prioritise funding for one particular local authority area. A strong partnership, cross boundary, is incredibly helpful and makes a difference and would help with modal shift.
- DP: the need for a Heathrow BSIP is there, if the right type of services are delivered e.g. with the right type of interchanges and covering the entire Heathrow Campus. Noted that local authority boundaries issues do arise such as where a route stops. There will always be boundaries that bus routes need to overcome
- AS: what does TfL think about this? Shamal Ratnayaka: We support this as it is an opportunity to tackle challenges. If you need to solve such issues, TfL needs to be part of it, and we are keen to work with counterparts from outside of the GLA area.
- Gatwick Airport provides another similar national example. PM was involved in Fastway bus service which is a joint up project approach
- Seema Malhotra: how can BSIPs been joined up in National Strategy? RWa: one objective in BSIP guidance is that you have consulted with neighbouring authorities. Find pots of funding or best ways forward to ensure a joint up approach. RWi: BSIPs need to fit in with local geography bus routes.
- David Wilby: Can Heathrow have its own funded BSIP recognised by DfT, as it knows the area best such as routes, interchanges and colleague locations? RWa: a good idea but one for the future, the current process may get reformed. PM: This BSIP will be a collaborative work, to come up with a plan to pick up key points that already exist with the aim to increase growth and patronage.
- Anne Thorpe: space on some Heathrow busses do not allow turnage of some wheelchairs, especially as all wheelchairs are different sizes. RWi: a valid observation, all bus companies should follow government guidelines. RWa: DPTAC, disabled passengers advisory committee should look at such issues, especially on new bus stock.
- RWi: £2 bus fare cap has made fares much easier to understand, however a flat fare may not be favourable to everyone, depending on how far they travel. It was initially supposed to last for 3 months, but has since been extended. Early data has shown the current bus users using 3 buses more often, with few new users.. Transport costs for new employees just coming out of education are often a big barrier for new employees.
4. Better marketing coach links
Panel discussion (Simon Goff (SG), Graham Price (GP), Rebecca Mupita (RM)) covered how to increase use of coaches including what works, and what can be improved. In summary:
- Coaches are popular as they are direct, cheap and they aren’t what they used to be as they are convenient, reliable and they go where you need them to go – city centre to city centre in most cases. Passengers can talk to staff, which is especially useful at Central Bus Station (CBS) with international travellers, and those that need more help and reassurance
- Graham Price (GP) We know from insights done this year that due to rail strikes some people have been forced to use coach and they have then gone on to take a further journey with us on a non-strike day. Coaches provide a personal experience as there is someone there to help load luggage etc – we know this is important for many of our customers
- Simon Goff (SG) Rail Air shows people aren’t price sensitive and willing to pay premium for a good link and people like the presence of staff. The challenge is how do we get more people to use coach, which tends to be done via word of mouth and sharing positive experiences. Flexibility of turn up and go has helped attract more passengers whilst reliability continues to be the most important aspect, but when things do go wrong (such as motorway accident), passengers should have the flexibility to make alterative plans.
- The digital experience in coach industry is getting better, and this is linked to a better experience. Coach tracking is underutilised, but staff are on hand at some stops to help. At Heathrow, there are no staff specific to coach companies, so will have an independent view on passengers journeys. There is an independent ticket selling facility – We Know London, with kiosks selling tickets for the separate operators. Heathrow is relaunching the Heathrow journey planner Journey planner | Heathrow and aware of the need of marketing and working mobile display units at the central bus station with real-time information
- Word of mouth, review sites, affiliate marketing helps spread work. Competition is healthy including operators like Flix Bus coming in.
- Improvements at the Central Bus Station to allow more space will be welcomed, Heathrow are working on plans to expand the facility into Chapel Lane. Plans are currently going through governance process, but could start in Summer 2024
- Disruption does occur at central bus station such as peak times at mid-morning or when there are issues on M4. Some days the facility reaches full capacity.
- Peter Bradley: who can assist you to get close to the mode share target? SG: use of social media influencers, which has provided good results so far. GP: HAL to work with airlines, so customers can book coaches when they book flights (e.g. Dublin), currently coaches for Heathrow are booked 2 weeks out.
5. Southern Rail Link to Heathrow
Stephen Bennett (SB) provided on update of what has taken place with Southern Rail since 2022 HATF Wider Forum, please see slides for information, in summary:
- Following last year HATF Wider Forum an independent review of the Heathrow Southern Rail scheme has taken place, including: understanding in more detail what the scheme entails; how it could be privately funded and; engagement with stakeholders to understand level of support.
- By understanding risks and opportunities, it is concluded that HSPG and local stakeholders should collaborate to build strong consensus around a scheme. The concerns of any stakeholders who are not fully supportive should be acknowledged and addressed as far as practicable.
- Address Spelthorne objections through further engagement via HSPG, who are helping to gauge consensus and engagement generally with the scheme. HSPG should however have a plan B if the HSR scheme is no longer able to progress for whatever reason, which would most likely be a public sector approach instead of privately funded
- A collaborative approach across all parties could address outstanding concerns and issues due to the scheme being able to deliver significant environmental and economic benefits to the region.
- Arup report should be available by end of 2023
- Mark Livock (ML): HSR are ready to work with all stakeholders to meet mutual interests
- Heather Morgan (Spelthorne): Spelthorne have to put their residents needs first, and what is best for them. They are comfortable in their position as not currently supportive of HSR’s scheme and they have key principles including capacity, speed, connectivity, environmental impact, affordability and cost effectiveness. If the Heathrow Southern Rail proposals can demonstrate the same principles that Southern Light Rail can show, then Spelthorne are happy to listen.
- Rob Heslop (Hounslow): Hounslow continues the want to remove car trips from roads and want to get people onto public transport. Local connectivity will be key, and the potential addition of a station on Bedfont Road to the HSR proposal will be of benefit to local residents.
- Ruth Bagley (Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce): Southern and Western rail are not in competition and are keen on working together, WRLtH | Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce Western Link project is under a controlled pause following Covid, work to find a private sector financial model is due to take place, to be reported next year.
- Nick Wood-Dow (Spelthorne): We have been painted as the awkward stakeholder, which we are not. SB: we are not pointing you as the awkward ones and we recognise Spelthorne’s concerns. ML: we will continue to engage with Spelthorne and committed to work with you.
- Ben Amey (Slough): If Southern and Western rail come together, will there be viability issues when customers can use both? ML: yes, as passengers will have a choice, but we do not want to dilute the business case whilst providing passengers more choice. We are looking to work in a collaborative manor instead of direct competition. Financial modelling will show if it will be worth the financial investment.
- AS: where does Department of Transport sit with this? ML: we are engaging with DfT, and would seek endorsement for the rail scheme and DfT would be happy if we do not use their finances to fund the schemes.
6. Closing Remarks
AS thanked attendees for attending and useful contributions.