Agenda item

Approval to re-tender the Locallink bus services - key decision

Report of Corporate Director for Growth and City Development


Mark Garlick, Public Transport Policy, presented the report seeking approval to undertake procurement for the Linkbus bus service contract.  He highlighted the following information:


a)  these services serve a high number of elderly and disabled residents and also provide access to jobs and education in areas of the City that are not served by the commercial bus network;


b)  an external review of the existing locallink services (by Integrated Transport Planning (ITP) Ltd), which included a consultation with users and employers along the routes, considered alternative timetables and operating models for the services, and provided cost estimates. The proposals (below) are in line with the review recommendations and ensure that best value will be achieved.


c)  The current fleet is a first generation electric bus fleet and due to the need to recharge the buses in the middle of the day during operational service and difficulty in sourcing replacement parts, the services currently have very poor reliability.  Between 21 November 2022 and 31 March 2023, electric vehicles were only available for 60% of the required time.  Due to the charging issues, eight vehicles are required to provide a service which would only require four with more conventional vehicles.  It has also become increasingly difficult to source major component part replacements for the vehicles due to parts becoming obsolete as the technology has evolved and also due to global supply chain issues. As the vehicles near the end of their lives, major component parts, including the batteries, now require replacement at significant cost in order to maintain the reliability of the vehicles. The majority of the buses are expected to require replacement batteries and other parts at a cost of at least circa £100,000, which is not affordable given current financial constraints;


d)  to ensure reliable services are provided, the re-tender would seek quotes for Euro VI diesel buses, or modern electric buses or minibuses, which would be supplied and maintained by the contractor. Prices for each option would be requested to assess affordability. Under the existing contract, electric buses are supplied by the Council for use by the contractor. Changing the mode of operation and responsibility for maintaining the bus fleet requires a re-tender to be undertaken, as this would constitute a material change to the existing (CPU3236) contract, awarded in September 2021 and due to end in September 2024;


e)  following feedback from the consultation, the opportunity will be taken to make some timetable changes, but without increasing the resources required to operate the services.


During discussion and in response to questions from Committee members, the following points were made:


f)  the reliability of these services is really important to its users, particularly those with mobility issues;


g)  ideally the bus fleet should be as ‘green’ as possible to support achievement of CN28 ambitions.




(1)  to undertake a procurement process for the Linkbus service contract for a period of 2+1+1 years at a total maximum cost of £3,600,000.


(2)  to delegate authority to the Corporate Director of Growth and City Development to award and sign contracts to the successful bidder following the outcome of the tendering process, subject to the costs being within the approved budget.


(Note: The precise specification of the services to be put out to tender may be changed from the recommendations in the report, based on the considered findings that are received in the public consultation. This would be done following consultation with Councillor Kandola as Portfolio Holder, and on the basis of no change to the level of resource and cost involved.)


Reasons for recommendations


·  To provide efficient and reliable services to employment and education sites, and to areas that would not have public transport services provided on a commercial basis.


·  Within the tender process, opportunities for efficiency savings in providing these services will be sought. The tender process will ensure that the best value provision of services will be achieved.


Other options considered


·  To continue to operate the current contract with the existing mode of operation.  However, the first generation electric buses are now close to life-expired and require regular expensive repairs.  The increased time to undertake the repairs also mean time out of service, leading to a less reliable service.  Therefore this option was rejected.


·  To withdraw the services due to rising costs. This option was rejected as it would lead to disruption for passengers and the removal of access to public transport for some residential and employment areas of the City, where commercial services would be more than 400m from residents.


·  To operate services with alternative timetables or operating models. Following a review by Integrated Transport Planning Ltd (ITP), the preferred timetable offers the best compromise between cost and providing a six-day per week service to those passengers who experienced the most significant changes to provision in October 2022. For alternative operating models, Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) in particular was considered in the ITP review, but there was resistance to DRT among Locallink users in the consultation, and coupled with the broadly equivalent vehicle requirement to provide an on-demand service, DRT is not recommended as the future operating model for this network.  Therefore this option was rejected.


·  To purchase new vehicles. New electric vehicles cost approximately £400,000, and the Department for Transport’s ZEBRA (Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas) scheme which funded the purchase of the first-generation electric buses operating the services is not available to replace them with new electric vehicles. This option is therefore unaffordable and was rejected. Having vehicles provided by operators is also likely to be more attractive to bidders, increasing competition for the contract.

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