Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 21 Dec 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains about the location of a bus stop and shelter outside his home and disturbance from people waiting there. He has asked both the London Borough of Lambeth and Transport for London to move the bus stop away from his home. The Ombudsman has found no fault on the part of Lambeth but considers that TfL failed to respond properly to Mr X’s request. TfL has agreed to apologise and pay Mr X £200 for his time and trouble and frustration and remind officers of the correct procedures. The Ombudsman has found no fault in their joint decision not to move the bus stop.
- Mr X complains about a bus shelter situated near his home. He says its use has increased, and he is disturbed by buses stopping outside his home 24 hours a day and not turning off their engines while waiting. He is also disturbed by: passengers arriving; people waiting outside his lounge window and looking into his home; people urinating onto the wall outside his home; and littering.
- He has asked both the London Borough of Lambeth (Lambeth) and Transport for London (TfL) if the bus stop can be moved; he considers that there is a suitable alternative site next to a nearby petrol station. However, both authorities suggest that it is the other’s authority’s responsibility to consider this, so he had been unable to get a clear response to his request.
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 must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as “injustice”. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- We cannot question whether a 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 body’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
- I have considered Mr X’s written complaint and supporting correspondence and discussed his complaint with him. I have made enquiries of Lambeth and TfL and considered their responses and supporting papers. I have had regard to relevant legislation. I have also sent Mr X, Lambeth, and TfL a draft decision and considered their comments.
What I found
Legal and administrative background
- Chapter V of Part IV of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (GLA Act 1999) sets out the legal framework for regulation of bus services in Greater London. Section 183 deals with changes to the London bus network. The decision whether or not to vary an existing London bus service, including the location of bus stops, rests with TfL. Before making a decision on any proposal to vary a service, TfL must consult the relevant local authority, the police, the London Transport Users’ Committee, and any other person considered appropriate.
- Mr X lives in a ground-floor flat in a block situated on a main road in Lambeth. In late August 2019, Mr X complained to Lambeth about a bus shelter located outside his home. He said its use had increased in recent years since new housing development took place. He said the buses create noise and pollution when collecting passengers. He also complained about litter and noise and disturbance from drunks and people looking into his home.
- Lambeth responded in early October 2019 and explained that it could not move the bus stop because the asset owner was TfL. Although it could raise the issues with TfL, TfL would have to make any decision to move the bus stop. As to the littering and people urinating near Mr X’s home, it would make the enforcement team aware of this so that this could be monitored on the existing CCTV.
- Mr X complained to the Ombudsman about Lambeth’s response. The Ombudsman declined to investigate his complaint because we found that the responsibility for the location of bus stops on its routes lay with TfL.
- In December 2019, Mr X contacted TfL to ask it to move the bus stop. He advised that he was happy to pay for the bus stop to be moved. TfL advised him to report any antisocial behaviour directly to the police. It explained that, as the road is not on a TfL Road Network Area (commonly known as Red Routes), he should contact Lambeth directly to ask it to find a safe alternative location for the bus stop. TfL explained that the cost of moving a bus stop and get a new power supply installed would be in the region of £10,000.
- Mr X contacted the Ombudsman again who directed him back to TfL. As TfL continued to direct him back to Lambeth, he then complained to the Ombudsman about TfL. The Ombudsman contacted TfL to advise that we were investigating the complaint.
- TfL responded to both Mr X and the Ombudsman in January 2020 and explained that, as the bus stop was not on a red route, Mr X would need to contact Lambeth, as the local highway authority is responsible for the location of bus stops and shelters on its routes, and ask it to find a suitable alternative location for the bus stop. Lambeth would then contact TfL to arrange a site meeting to discuss the potential repositioning.
- Lambeth, however, maintained that they needed TfL to contact them to request a “safe location” for the move.
- Matters were then on hold pending the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic after which TfL repeated its view to the Ombudsman that it had correctly referred Mr X to Lambeth to consider the request. TfL said that, if Lambeth considered that the stop could be relocated, Lambeth would then contact TfL to start discussions. The cost of relocation would need to be borne by either Lambeth or Mr X.
- The Ombudsman requested comments from both TfL and Lambeth on their respective roles in this matter.
- TfL and Lambeth explained their roles as follows:
- TfL explained that Section 183(2) of the GLA Act 1999 applies to any request to re-site a bus stop. When asked to relocate a stop, TfL will carry out an initial inspection to determine whether there is a site that is suitable both physically and operationally and also suitable from the perspective of the person requiring the move. There is no service level agreement with London Boroughs, but they are aware of this procedure.
- Lambeth explained that the guidance states that bus stops should be placed where they are visible and accessible. TfL is the owner of the bus stop and shelter. Lambeth is the highway authority and responsible for positioning and maintaining of “bus cage” markings on the highway. Therefore, all requests need to be assessed by both TfL and the relevant highway authority.
- suitable locations were heavily restricted due to mature trees and existing street furniture;
- TfL confirmed that the only suitable location to relocate the stop was just 18m from the existing stop (24m away from the existing shelter), so this would just mean moving the bus stop to a location outside other flats in the same block;
- it would cost around £15,000 in all to relocate the stop and shelter, install power, and change the road markings, but this would not achieve any significant benefits;
- Lambeth has some funding for bus stop relocation, but this largely depends on TfL funding which was suspended due to COVID-19;
- in its place, there is limited Government funding to promote recovery relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Lambeth has received some TfL funding towards its COVID-19 responsive programme but, for the present, Lambeth cannot progress projects outside the defined programme unless an urgent and safety-critical need is identified.
- It has been a frustrating process for Mr X to get a clear response to his request to move the bus stop from outside his flat. Both Lambeth and TfL have advised Mr X that he needs to contact the other party to start the process.
- It is clear that this decision involves both Lambeth, as the highway authority and TfL. However, TfL is the owner of the bus stop and shelter. The law also makes it clear that the decision whether to vary any existing bus service, including bus stop locations, and the requirement to consult relevant parties rests with TfL.
- TfL has now explained that when it receives such a request, the first stage is for it to undertake an inspection to assess the physical and operational suitability of a move. But, when Mr X contacted TfL, this did not happen. Instead, it told Mr X, and continued to tell him, that he needed to contact the local authority to start the process. That was fault on the part of TfL and caused Mr X unnecessary time and trouble and frustration. I consider that this warrants an apology and financial remedy. I also consider that TfL needs to take steps to ensure that relevant staff are made aware of the correct procedures in such cases.
- I do not consider that there was fault by Lambeth. Although Lambeth could itself request the move of a bus stop, the assets themselves are owned by TfL and TfL must approve any changes to the location. I therefore consider that it was reasonable for Lambeth to advise Mr X to contact TfL directly.
- As to the response to Mr X’s request to move the bus stop, the two authorities have now considered the situation together. Lambeth has explained that there is no current funding for such works, though Mr X has offered to pay for the works. However, in any event, in the view of TfL and Lambeth, there is no suitable location to which the bus stop could be moved other than a short distance further along the block of flats, and such a move would serve little purpose.
- I appreciate that this is a frustrating outcome to a lengthy process for Mr X. However, I do not see fault in the way that TfL and Lambeth have now considered this matter, so it is not for the Ombudsman to question the decision not to move the bus stop.
- TfL has agreed to the Ombudsman’s recommendation that, within one month of this decision, it:
- apologise to Mr X and pay him £100 for his time and trouble, and £100 for the frustration caused by failing to respond to his request and complaint; and
- remind relevant officers of the correct procedures where TfL receive a request to move a bus stop.
- I have closed my investigation into Mr X’s complaint as I have found no fault by Lambeth, and I consider the above actions agreed by TfL are a suitable remedy for the injustice resulting from its actions.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman