I had the great fortune recently to meet a really inspiring man, he is a legend in both the transport sector and the world of academia, whose contribution has been rightly recognised by the nation when he was made a CBE or Commander of the British Empire. There are not many people who achieve this award and it is a testimony to his work not only in his beloved Wales, but also for the UK Government and indeed his extensive work across Europe and indeed worldwide, that has rightly seen him applauded by many Governments, Universities and Transport Operators across many disciplines.
I talk of Professor Stuart Cole CBE the Emeritus Professor of Transport at Glamorgan University, his CBE citation in 2012 recognised his significant contribution to the work of not only the world of academia but also equally important transport policy a subject in which he is not only an accomplished author but also a high profile expert on the world’s media. He has also done significant work for Government’s of the UK, but also for nations of the EU, both East and West. He has carved out an enviable reputation as an academic, and he is also regularly in demand by the world’s media, and is often called upon by the likes of the BBC and LBC, amongst many others.Truly a man with many talents.
However, what really impressed me was what he has instigated and achieved with the TrawsCymru network, this is a network of 8 longer distance bus services that stretch across rural parts of Wales connecting towns and communities with one another. This also supplies a core route into which other services are attached in deep, rural, market towns. What I really like is the fact that at long last these struggling communities who have been so hard hit over the last few decades, as a result of industrial reform since Thatcher’s eighties and the systematic destruction of the coal and other industries, are at last getting real help and support after the destruction of much of the Welsh bus network.
However, this network apart from offering social inclusion for the smaller communities, also offers three services that operate into two of the major urban cities of Swansea and Cardiff. What I also like is that the whole brand and network are owned by the Welsh Government. The whole process is effectively similar to the National Express Coach model, in that the brand and image is uniform but the service is supplied by a network of operator partners who like NX operate under strict contract criteria.
The project gets even better as the Welsh Assembly have set both Primary and Secondary objectives, the most exciting of which is the impact of offering free or discounted travel on TrawsCymru services. This would supply real evidence based answers to three key questions;
First, would this encourage new or occasional bus users to use the network outside of the times of the free trial.? Second, would this stimulate more travel sustained modal shift to public transport over the longer term. Third what is the real impact on the economic impact on rural communities and businesses from increased spending on local services by people travelling on free public transport as part of the trial.
The evidence that the free trial pilot generated was very impressive with demand up across the network by 58% and on one route alone, the T3 Wrexham to Barmouth rising to 124%, as if that was not enough it also doubled adult passenger journeys from 54,999 to 105,169 from 2016 to 2017, amazing numbers that only get better. 94% of passengers would recommend the network, with 57% saying that they would travel by bus more often.
So, what are we to learn from this worthy project. For me it shows that if you create the right vision, harness the right partners, and irrespective of offering free travel or not stimulate economic growth and social inclusion then that can in my view only be a great result. But these rare projects need strong and clear leadership and vision, and that is where Professor Stuart Cole steps up to the plate. His reputation and access has allowed him access to all key players, he has been able to persuade, cajole and occasionally where needed bang heads together. He is an achiever, as well as being a charming, funny and engaging man.