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).

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.