What we can learn from Prof Stuart Cole’s review of the Airport Express bus

After a lack of take-up of the Airport Express bus service the Welsh Government commissioned Prof Stuart Cole to undertake a review, the results of which have recently been released:

The Cardiff airport shuttle service is sustainable, as long as air passenger numbers increase as forecast, a report for Welsh ministers has concluded.

Prof Stuart Cole from the University of South Wales was asked to review the bus service that was introduced in April.

He says eight passengers per journey are needed to make a profit, but the average is currently less than four.

Welsh ministers said they were considering the report while the Tories said it raised “serious questions”.

Funded by the Welsh government at a cost of £242,691 so far, the bus runs every 20 minutes from the airport at Rhoose, in the Vale of Glamorgan, to the centre of Cardiff.

The service has very quickly established a high profile and strong identity”

It also suggests cutting the number of journeys at the start and end of the day when demand is lower. [...]

Cardiff Airport shuttle bus averages four passengers a journey 6th Feb 2014
Airport shuttle sustainable if air passengers increase, review concludes 7th Feb 2014

This new report from Prof Stuart Cole finds that not many people choose public transport as their method to go to the Airport. This vindicates what we have always said at the Stop the Spur – Protect The Vale Line campaign: demand for public transport to the Airport is low.

“While a bus service is expensive, it’s a lot less expensive than building a new piece of railway. Welsh Government is quite right to question the cost effectiveness of even this modest bus service but it certainly isn’t worth spending £45 million (at today’s prices) on a direct rail link – with all of the disruption and damage that the work would entail – to the Airport. Why? There just wouldn’t be the passenger demand for it.”

Regular readers of this blog will remember this infographic produced in March 2012 and no less useful now:

The £15m in our round logo is the rough cost of only one mile of flat simple track. However the true cost is nearer £45m, made up of:

  • 1.6 miles of track (£24m for a start!),
  • a new junction and new signalling next to the viaduct,
  • a 900-metre cutting through one hillside,
  • earth works and dam to across Whitelands Brook,
  • a further 400m cutting and earthworks, leading to
  • two tunnels- one under the Port Road and one under the Airport Access Road, AND
  • a completely new station plus signalling at the Airport.

If we could be so bold as to add an addendum to Prof Stuart Cole’s analysis it would contain the following:

  1. RECOMMENDATION: Protect the Vale line. Keep the services for local residents. Increase the frequency of services to help commuters choose rail instead road.
  2. RECOMMENDATION: Publicise the bus service that meets every train and goes to the Airport. Those asking for a a rail connection are ignoring the fact that we already have one. The rail connection already exists! Rhoose Cardiff International Airport is the name of the station and the cost of the short trip is £1 (one pound).

“Airport City” and the missing “Masterplan”: Questions abound for Rhoose residents…

As the Vale of Glamorgan Local Development Plan (LDP) consultation (deadline 20th December) continues, serious implications for residents of Rhoose remain hidden within a “Masterplan” that no one has seen or is able to comment on.

The “Masterplan”, which the Vale council LDP refers to as a Welsh Government document, although the First Minister insists is a Cardiff Airport Board document, contains a reference to an “Airport City”. On page 70, paragraph 6.62 of the LDP, the document says:

airport city reference in LDP
This reference to the Airport City Masterplan can be found in the Local Development Plan on pages 70 – 71

The Masterplan, which we are told will contain details of proposals for this Airport City, including the following elements;

  • “Safeguarding the route” of the railway Spur from the Vale line to the airport.
  • An ‘energy centre’, described as a combined heat and power plant.
  • Employment land to the south of Port Road, which currently comprises the best agricultural land on Model Farm, which Gethin and Rhys Jenkins‘ family has been farming for four generations.
  • An extension to Porthkerry Country Park, by land being transferred from Legal and General, the Landowners (who will see an huge increase in the overall value of their land from its reclassification from Agricultural to Employment land) to the Vale of Glamorgan Council.

The inclusion of this Masterplan within the LDP leaves many questions for us residents of the local area, which you might want to ask local councillors and planners:

  1. Why are the Council, who received our petition opposing the rail spur during the last LDP, still insisting on having this proposal in the new LDP?
  2. How can the council justify tucking way in a reference on page 71 ”safeguarding the route of the rail spur”, and then only in a reference to a “Masterplan” that no one has seen nor can comment on?
  3. Why does the Council feel that it needs to allocate more land to the employment zone for this “Airport City” south of Port Road, when there is plenty of employment land already allocated north of the road which hasn’t yet been developed, despite being available for the last 15 years?
  4. How can the council justify rendering Model Farm economically unviable, thereby ending the farm that four generations of tenant farmers have been looking after and from which they have produced high quality food for Wales? Especially while employment land north of Port Road remains undeveloped and unused?
  5. How much disruption will be caused to local residents using Port Road to commute to Barry and Cardiff, in building this power plant and the development (if it ever happens) of the employment land south of the road, and what will happen to the iconic view across the fields to the viaduct, the Bristol channel and beyond from the road?
  6. While the extension to Porthkerry Country park seems positive for the Vale, has the Council looked fully into the financial implications of managing all this extra land? At present, the land is tended by the farmers at Model farm, at no cost to the taxpayer.

    And perhaps most urgently…

  7. Who is responsible for the creation of this “Masterplan”? When will it be published? Will it be open to public consultation?

Confusion about who is writing the Masterplan

The Vale of Glamorgan Council Local Development plan states clearly that the “Masterplan” is being prepared by the Welsh Government on page 70:

WelshGovMasterplan

But Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales, has said equally clearly in the Senedd that it is NOT a Welsh Government document, but the Cardiff Airport Board are preparing it:

What questions do you want answered about these plans? If you’re a resident of Rhoose, how do you feel about these plans for your local area being developed without consultation with the public? Do you feel that the “Spur” idea is still a threat to our rail services on the Vale line?

Questioning the holes in the Vale of Glamorgan LDP

Our local Assembly member Eluned Parrott has recently questioned the so-called ‘master plan’ in the Vale of Glamorgan’s LDP.

ASSEMBLY Member for South Wales Central, Eluned Parrott, has challenged the First Minister to publish his Master Plan for Cardiff Airport, which the Vale of Glamorgan’s Local Development Plan states is being produced by the Welsh Labour Government.

The Local Development Plan (LDP) sets out how land within the Vale of Glamorgan will be used between 2011 and 2026, and allocates significant areas of land in the Rhoose area to developments that form part of a Cardiff Airport Master Plan.

When asked if and when the Airport Master Plan would be published, the First Minister replied that he would liaise with Cardiff Airport’s Board but claimed that it was their plan and not the Welsh Government’s.

Eluned Parrott said: “In the Vale of Glamorgan Local Development Plan, several pieces of land have been allocated for the development of an Airport Master Plan, but no-one seems to know what that plan is, nor who is driving it. The LDP specifically states that the Welsh Government are developing these plans, and yet the First Minister categorically denied it today.

“This is a shambles. If the Vale Council are able to set aside specific parcels of land to deliver the Master Plan, they must at least know in outline form what developments are planned.

“Local residents are now extremely concerned that they can’t effectively respond to the Draft LDP consultation if the information it is based on isn’t in the public domain.

“We need to see the Airport Master Plan before the LDP consultation closes. Local residents deserve the facts, so they’re not left responding in the dark.”

If you’d like to see the relevant sections, the LDP is available as a PDF file from the Vale Council’s website. From pages 70 and 71 of the LDP:

6.62 This site is not allocated to meet local market demand for general industrial or office uses, but rather to accommodate business and employment uses catering specifically for the needs of the aerospace industry and high tech manufacturing. There are plans to create an ‘airport city’, taking the form of a business destination for local and international businesses including quality office accommodation, specialist education, training facilities and leisure developments. [...]

6.63. In order to deliver a high quality, comprehensive and sustainable development on this strategically important site, a Masterplan must be produced to include the following elements:

[...]

c. The provision of an energy centre, such as a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Plant, to ensure the development has high sustainable credentials.

Now that the LDP is under consultation, residents of the Vale of Glamorgan may want to have more detail on these proposals – preferably before the deadline for responses which is on 20th December 2013.

What exactly is the airport city? What kind of energy plant are we talking about here?

Who exactly is responsible for the master plan? Is it appropriate that this consultation is taking place while we remain in the dark about the master plan, in effect while the LDP has this huge hole in it?

This part is especially unsettling for Vale residents:

d. Safeguarding of a route for a potential rail link to Cardiff Airport across the site to ensure the development does not compromise future proposals to enhance sustainable access to the airport.

As we’ve shown before, a spur would not be ‘sustainable’ – it would have a detrimental impact on Vale line services. The mass of local opinion against the spur and FOR the Vale line, as evidenced by the 481 signatories to the Stop the Spur – Protect the Vale Line petition, plus the extraordinary costs of such little-needed infrastructure, have been reason enough for the planners to drop the spur entirely from all plans and concentrate on improvements to road networks, and to the bus service to the Airport.

The Airport Express bus service is so much more cost effective and immediate than building a costly railway line – even though initial teething problems including levels of use have needed to be addressed.

Now all it takes is for the airport to get cracking and partner with airlines in order to produce the customer numbers needed to make it viable. The bus service has a relatively modest subsidy cost from the Welsh Government, at ‘only’ £470k compared to a conservative estimate of £15m for a rail spur, not to mention the damage to the commuter services to/from Rhoose and Llantwit Major. At least the Vale line remains intact. If and when we get the half-hourly service it will finally start to be a good commuter service for our communities.

A closer look at the Vale LDP: The spur is still in there…

On closer examination, the rail spur from the Vale line into Cardiff Airport is still a part of the Vale of Glamorgan’s thinking, if not their immediate plans.

In our previous post. we reported that the rail spur had been taken out of the Vale Council’s immediate plans for development in the county, but now that we’ve had the chance to take a closer look at the Local Development Plan, we’ve noticed that they hold out the possibility of building the rail spur at some (unspecified) time in the future, to support the Enterprise Zone at Cardiff Airport.

spursnippet

Reference to the Cardiff Airport Rail Spur in the Vale of Glamorgan’s Local Development Plan (page 71)

The reference comes in a section that deals with the Cardiff Airport Enterprise Zone on pages 70 – 71. the enterprise zone is an initiative to create employment opportunities in the aerospace and defence sectors, and is located at the Aerospace business park in St Athan and the land adjacent to Cardiff Airport and Port Road.

The LDP says that a “Masterplan” is being prepared by the Welsh Government, and will inform part of the future planning and development of the land, and will address a number of issues including the development of the land for employment, the provision of an energy centre and “Safeguarding of a route for a potential rail link to Cardiff Airport across the site…”.

In order to “Safeguard a route”, the Welsh Government will need to identify that route, and this prompts questions about where it will go, what habitats it might disturb and the impact that it may have on the Vale line. As we have shown before, a spur from the Vale line to the airport will disrupt the important commuter connection from Llantwit Major and Rhoose into Cardiff, just as the electrification of the line is announced.

So could Vale commuters see their Vale line increase to half hourly trains only to be quickly pegged back to the existing (and inadequate) hourly service? How will this “Masterplan” will be put together, including crucially, will the people of the Vale have a democratic opportunity to respond to the plan while it is still in a draft form?

New Vale LDP – Spur dropped, Vale line to be electrified

The Labour controlled Vale of Glamorgan Council has just released a new Local Development Plan (LDP) after it scrapped the previous version shortly after winning the council elections in 2012.

On first glance, the most significant news for supporters of the Stop the Spur campaign are:

  1. The railway spur from the Vale line to Cardiff Airport that was proposed in the Conservative led council’s LDP in 2012 has been scrapped, and no longer appears in the council’s plans.
  2. There is a proposal, backed by Central government plans, to electrify the entire Vale of Glamorgan rail line.

The removal of the Spur track from the Vale of Glamorgan line into Cardiff airport is clearly a sign that common sense has prevailed within the council. We have written extensively on why this proposal would have been a terrible waste of money, would not have been well used, and would have throttled services for local residents using the Vale line.

The other bit of good news for local people who use the Vale line to get in and out of Cardiff from Llantwit Major, Rhoose and the surrounding area, is that the line is to be electrified, opening up the possibility of more frequent services on the line, something that residents are especially concerned about, and have been expecting for some years. The LDP states that this work will be completed by 2018.

We are taking a close look at the proposals and will updates you with any more interesting news that affects the campaign in due course. You can check out the LDP for yourself here.

Many thanks to all of you who have supported this campaign and helped it to be such a success, to the council, who have seen sense, and in particular, to Councillor Lis Burnett, who is responsible for preparing and publishing the LDP.

Examining the Airport Express bus and public transport in the Vale of Glamorgan

South Wales Echo have raised the issue of lack of demand for the new Airport Express bus service running from Cardiff to Cardiff Airport.

[...]The Echo rode the Airport Express – which runs every 20 minutes, seven days a week between 5am and 11.40pm – several times last week, right during the peak holiday season.

On half of the journeys we made the bus was empty, while on the other occasions our reporter travelled with just one or two passengers.

In total, out of our six journeys, only four people used the service. This equates to an average of 0.66 passengers per journey. [...]

The bus service is less than a fortnight old. As local Assembly Member Eluned Parrott points out in the South Wales Echo piece, it was speedily introduced and has not been widely promoted as yet. Word is only just starting to get out about its existence. Holidaymakers using the Airport this month will have already made their local transport choices and plans. It’s therefore possibly a little premature to be assessing the long-term value of the bus to holidaymakers.

But while we at the campaign to Stop The Spur and Protect The Vale Line wish the Airport Express bus all the very best, this lack of demand is not a shock. The tough reality is that the Airport itself doesn’t generate the passenger numbers to merit any form of local public transport support. Research has shown that it is only new routes and services that are likely to revive the Airport.

In terms of usage, this bus is still a better bet than the rail spur – as proposed in the defunct LDP from the previous council administration. Imagine the gargantuan cost that that would have involved for these low levels of demand, levels which we predicted on this website in March 2012.

What does need support and resource – and we’ve been saying this for a while – are the local commuter services, which include buses and of course the Vale of Glamorgan line services. The commuter trains are already very full.

So when will the Vale line begin to run half-hourly services, we wonder?

All aboard the Cardiff Airport express bus – from today

Earlier this year various people, most notably Assembly Member Eluned Parrott, began calling again for an express bus service between Cardiff city centre and Cardiff Airport.

Well the brand new Cardiff Airport express bus launches today, 1st August 2013. Here’s the official press release from earlier this week. Kudos to Edwina Hart, Transport Minister at the Welsh Government, for sanctioning this and enabling it to happen – along with the councils of Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff.

According to the press release there is a ’20-minute service frequency, seven days a week, from early morning to late at night’. In addition we get ‘coach-style leather seating, climate control, WiFi, extra luggage space and improved on-board information’.

Similar airport express bus services such as those of Edinburgh and Bristol have been very successful.

At the Stop The Spur campaign we are particularly happy that this decision has also preserved Vale of Glamorgan railway line services for commuters.

August launch for express bus service from Cardiff to the Airport

Some good news from WalesOnline yesterday:

An express bus service running every 20 minutes almost round the clock between the city centre and Cardiff Airport is to launch next month, under new plans.

The Vale of Glamorgan council is inviting bus operators to bid to run the service, which comes four months after the Welsh Government’s £52m takeover of the Rhoose terminal.

It will be scheduled to run approximately every 20 minutes between 4am and midnight, 363 days a year, according to the contract notice.

The notice does not provide details on the exact route or the location of stops, but describes it as a “high profile, quality, limited stop, express local bus service”. [...]

Read the story in full.

After some murmurings it appears this express bus is now confirmed. This looks like a sustainable good transport option which should make local travel more convenient for airport users.

Importantly for people who live in the Vale of Glamorgan it would also have no impact on Vale railway line services, which are already squeezed.

Cardiff Airport: Carwyn Jones to encourage new routes with operators?

This is from Sunday’s news:

The first minister has confirmed he has met commercial operators with an interest in buying a stake in the struggling Cardiff airport.

Carwyn Jones said a “medium to long term” strategy has been discussed with potential investors.

The Welsh government stepped in and bought the airport in March after passenger numbers slumped.

But Mr Jones told The Wales Report with Huw Edwards they wanted someone to share the running of the airport.

He said: “What we are looking at is for a commercial operator to come in to run the airport, perhaps come into partnership with us – maybe buy half of the airport if I can put it so crudely – so the money comes back quickly.

“There’s interest out there – I have met with large operators who have that interest.” [...]

You can watch the interview with the First Minister at the beginning of The Wales Report on iPlayer.

Good relationships with operators are vital to the success of Cardiff Airport. The figures will only have a chance of dramatically picking up if there are a range of better routes on offer. Routes, routes, routes! To be clear, local fiddling with improvements to transport links will not boost the demand. We’ve stated this before on this website. Here’s a video clip explaining why:

And here’s a transcript of the video.

Express bus service from Cardiff Centre to Airport – from August

It’s superb to see this South Wales Evening Post report:

An express bus service from Cardiff to Cardiff Airport is due to get up and running in August, the First Minister has said.

A commitment to such a service was first set out by the Welsh Government in 2009, according to the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
Lib Dem AM Eluned Parrott said she was pleased to hear the August start time but expressed disappointment at how long it had been on the cards.

She said 1.6 million passengers used Cardiff Airport in 2009, but last year that number dipped under the million mark. [...]

You can read the full story here.

We haven’t been able to find any other references to this announcement yet, let alone any details of the frequency of services.

But if it does happen, this will more than make up for the withdrawal of the Cardiff Bus service on Sundays.

Indeed, considering all of the ideas that have been mooted for local transport to the airport, the express bus is a relatively inexpensive investment with benefits that will be seen almost straightaway.

Even with regular services, it won’t be a panacea for the airport’s problems. But it is a very good – and perhaps overdue – idea which will help to improve the experience of using Cardiff Airport for many.