Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 09 Feb 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There was no fault in the way the Council reached its decision to make changes to a bus service, or in the way it carried out its consultation.
- Mrs Y complains about changes to her local bus service. She also complains about the Council’s procedure and consultation process.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- In reaching my decision I considered documents provided by Mrs Y and the Council, and asked questions of the Council.
- I looked at the relevant guidance and policies.
- Mrs Y and the Council had the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
What I found
- Section 63(1)(a) of the Transport Act 1985 states that:
“it shall be the duty of the county council to secure the provision of such public passenger transport services as the council consider it appropriate, to secure to meet any public transport requirements within the county which would not in their view be met apart from any action taken by them for that purpose.”
- The Act sets out the criteria by which a council should make its decisions having regard, for example to a combination of economy, efficiency and effectiveness.
- In 2016/17 the Council commissioned consultants to research transport use in Rutland, as part of a Department for Transport initiative.
- This research showed that use of the service was low in the early morning and late afternoon. On an average week day, the service was carrying around 8 passengers before 9am and 13 after 4pm.
- The consultant’s report recommended the Council review the service.
- The Council did further research using four weeks of passenger data, provided by the operator of the service. This showed that most passengers, 69%, travelled between 9am and 3pm.
- The Council proposed an amended service, removing parts of the route that were poorly used or served by alternative bus routes. It also reduced the timetable to cover the busiest periods.
- The Council released the proposed route for a four-week consultation period, which ran from 19 June to 14 July 2017, which it considered acceptable for the changes it wanted to make.
- It advertised the consultation in several ways: publication in three newspapers, notices at bus stops and on buses and information on the Council’s website. Council staff travelled on the service for two days in July 2017 to discuss the changes with passengers. Finally, it briefed the customer services team on the proposals so they could discuss them with callers.
- The Council received 35 responses to the consultation, which was low given the number of trips taken on the service each year, around 44,000.
- The data showed that 90% of users held English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) passes, indicating most passengers were older people. Comments received during the consultation reinforced this and suggested there was a potential impact on older and disabled residents.
- The Council considered this and decided the impact would be limited as it was planning to reduce the service, not to remove it.
- There are a lot of older residents living near a bus stop which the Council had proposed to remove from the new route. Following the consultation, the Council decided this should be retained to minimise the impact on those residents.
- The Council decided that the removal of another stop would go ahead. This meant the route would avoid 13 speed bumps that had been reported as causing discomfort to older passengers and had damaged buses.
- The new service started operating in August 2017.
- In September 2017 Mrs Y called the Council to complain about the changes to the service and to ask if an Equalities Impact Assessment had been carried out.
- Mrs Y was unhappy with the response and complained through the Council’s complaints procedure. She felt there had been lack of consideration for the elderly and disabled. She also stated that residents had been unaware of the consultation.
- The Council does not have an adopted policy on public consultation, however it states that it is carried out in line with both legal requirements and best practice.
- The Council advertised the consultation in several places, including on buses and bus stops. I find no fault in the way the consultation was carried out.
- Similarly, the Council has no policy on the use of Equalities Impact Assessments (EIA) in relation to public transport. Its Equality and Diversity statement states that it will carry out EIA screening at the start of the development process for any ‘new policy or service’. This was an amendment and not a new service, so the Council is not at fault for not doing an Equalities Impact Assessment.
- The Council did not do a formal assessment; however, it looked at the needs of older and disabled residents when considering the consultation responses. It decided to retain a bus stop in an area with a lot of older residents, and to remove part of the route where the speed bumps could cause them discomfort.
- The Ombudsman cannot question a council’s decision if it is taken without fault. The Council carried out appropriate consultation and properly considered the needs of residents when it decided to amend a bus service. As there was no fault in the process followed I cannot question the Council’s decision to amend the bus service.
- I have completed my investigation and found no fault in the way the Council decided to reduce this bus service or with the consultation process.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman