West Sussex County Council (17 011 215)

Category : Transport and highways > Public transport

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 16 May 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs D complains about the Council’s decision to remove bus stops near her home in 2017. The Ombudsman has not found evidence of fault by the Council. He has completed the investigation and not upheld the complaint.

The complaint

  1. The complainant (whom I refer to as Mrs D) is dissatisfied with the Council’s decision to remove two bus stops (north and southbound) near her home. She says that as a result her family have walk along a potentially dangerous major road.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints of injustice caused by maladministration and service failure. I have used the word fault to refer to these. The Ombudsman cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. He must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3))
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have spoken to Mrs D and considered the evidence she provided. I asked the Council questions and carefully assessed its response and supporting papers.
  2. I have shared my draft decision with both parties.

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What I found

  1. On 26 May 2017 Mrs D contacted the Council about the bus stops in question situated near her home. She requested the Council install a hardstanding area to allow the bus to deploy its ramp for better access for her daughter. The Council replied three weeks later that it was considering the request and would have to carry out a risk assessment of the site. In June the bus operator providing the bus service for the stops contacted the Council. It had representations from drivers regarding the safety of the stops.
  2. The bus operator reiterated its concerns to the Council at the end of August. The Council confirmed it would be carrying out an assessment of the sites soon. On 1 September a Traffic Engineer visited both stops and completed an assessment. He found the stops were not in safe positions, provided inadequate visibility for users and vehicles and the northbound stop had no footpath which was a “clear safety risk”. Both stops were “highly problematic” and posed a “safety risk to passengers and other motorists”.
  3. The Council emailed Mrs D on 29 September and explained about the assessment. It would need to suspend use of the stops because of the safety problems. It was aware this would be a cause for concern to residents and would look at whether there were other options to provide the stops at different sites. On 9 October a Safety Auditor carried out a specialist safety assessment of both stops. He found the evidence supported the original Traffic Engineer’s assessment and the decision to suspend the stops. He said it would be possible to reduce the risks by installing footbridges over the road and installing footpaths. This would cost up to £1,000,000 and so might not be viable. The Council could also look at relocating the stops but would need pedestrian waiting areas and new footpaths which would cost around £40,000.
  4. Mrs D lodged a formal complaint with the Council on 10 October. She was unhappy with the decision to close the stops. The Council replied ten days later. It set out why the assessments had been done and the serious safety issues it had found. The decision to suspend the stops had not been taken lightly but it could not use unsafe stops. The works proposed to rectify the problem could not be funded and it was looking at alternative solutions. It enclosed information about community transport services and that it was still looking at whether the southbound stop could be relocated to keep it in use. The Council suspended the stops on 29 October.
  5. The Council then investigated whether it could retain the southbound stop if changes were made to its position and additional works were funded. On 3 November the bus operator told the Council that it was looking at whether a relocated southbound stop was viable and had to check if buses could safely manoeuvre. It subsequently confirmed that tests had shown the relocated stop remained unsuitable as there was a safety risk including vehicles clipping the bus as it tried to manoeuvre out from the stop. Later that month the bus operator notified the Council that it would no longer use the stops if they were reopened because of driver’s safety concerns. The bus operator also contacted Mrs D and explained its decision. Mrs D subsequently made a further complaint to the Council which was not upheld.

What should have happened

  1. If a service user or the bus operator asks the Council to carry out improvements to a bus stop/ its associated infrastructure a Traffic Engineer will carry out a formal assessment. They complete a pro-forma when visiting the site to record whether there are any risks and safety issues. If the Traffic Engineer has significant concerns that a bus stop is unsafe the Council will then consider whether adaptations to the stop can help. A further assessment is completed by a Safety Advisor. The Officer will do a site visit and record whether there are any safety problems. The Officer may also propose possible remedies to the risks and approximate costings for the work.
  2. The Council will liaise with a bus operator where it finds serious safety risks with a bus stop. The Council will ask the operator for information about passenger numbers and its comments. The Council can decide to suspend a bus stop where it has found a high level of risk.
  3. If a bus operator decides it will no longer use a bus stop on safety grounds the Council cannot force the operator to change its mind. The Council is not obliged to provide alternative transport arrangements for people who would have previously used the bus stop. It also has no duty to carry out works (such as installing footways/ hard standings/ footbridges) if it considers the costs are disproportionate to the level of use.

Was there fault by the Council

  1. I do not see the Council is at fault in this case. The evidence shows that Officers acted in line with policies and procedures. When Mrs D requested a hard standing at the stop a Traffic Engineer carried out the required assessment. It was then apparent to the Council that both stops (north and southbound) had serious safety risks. The Council conducted a further specialist assessment which confirmed the original findings and clearly stated the stops were unsafe. As such, the Council had an obligation to suspend use of the stops until the safety concerns could be resolved.
  2. The Council then had a dialogue with the bus operator and tried to find a way to keep at least one stop in use. The bus operator decided that was not a viable proposition on safety grounds and made it clear that it would no longer use the stops. The only way to resolve the concerns of the safety assessments and the bus operator would be for the Council to carry major works which it estimates would cost £500,000 to £1,000,000. The Council took account of the low passenger numbers on the route using the stops and concluded this would not be a good use of public money. I appreciate Mrs D disagrees with the Council’s decision and feels there are other ways to make the stops useable. However I am satisfied the Council has acted without procedural fault and there is no basis for the Ombudsman to question the merits of the decisions reached in this case.

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Final decision

  1. I have not found evidence of fault by the Council and have completed the investigation and not upheld the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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