The future of the government-backed Cardiff Airport Express bus service is already in under review after the Transport Minister confirmed a noted transport expert would report on its performance - just five months after it was launched.
Edwina Hart confirmed in a written answer to Welsh Conservative Shadow Transport Minister Byron Davies that she had commissioned transport expert Professor Stuart Cole, from the University of South Wales, to report this month on the performance of the T9 express service, which launched in August last year.
The Welsh Government has already confirmed the service, funded by the Welsh Government and developed together with the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff councils, has an estimated annual cost of just under half a million pounds (£470,000).
Mrs Hart said: “I have asked Professor Stuart Cole of the University of Glamorgan [sic] to review the Cardiff Airport Express T9 bus service, and report back to me in January with an objective assessment on how successful the service has been.”
The review comes after the T9 service came under onerous criticism for low passenger numbers and the scale of public subsidy in the first months of its operation, with the subsidy calculated to around £1,284 a day - and £2.73 per passenger.
The Cole review - which is expected at the end of the month - would be likely to examine passenger numbers and money spent, while it could look at similar express bus and airport link services in other parts of the UK such as Dublin or Edinburgh.
Given the short lifespan of the T9 route - which runs from the Cardiff Bus terminal on Wood Street through Cardiff Bay to the Rhoose hub - it’s unlikely the report would represent an immediate threat to the service.
But the Welsh Conservatives urged Prof Cole to consider reforming the “unsustainable” route, including opening the service up to local residents - rather than operating, at present, as an exclusive airport route.
However, studies of other airport routes, including Dublin, suggest a shared service between airport and non-airport bound passengers leads to a downturn in numbers heading to the hub.
The service currently runs every 20 minutes between the airport in the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff city centre from early morning until late at night.
Tory leader Andrew RT Davies said: “The fact that Professor Cole has been summoned to undertake a review of the T9 service tells you a lot about how the Minister feels it is performing.
“As a local resident I regularly see this bus, invariably empty except for the driver. At almost half a million in Welsh Labour Government subsidy that’s an exceptionally expensive service to support and on current passenger numbers is simply unsustainable.
“I would urge Professor Cole to look into ways of making this bus available to local residents who are currently barred from using it.
“Many routes servicing the Vale have disappeared following Welsh Government cuts to operator grants and it must be distressing to see those routes withdrawn whilst this publicly funded ghost train keeps on swallowing cash.
“Reliable transport links are integral to the success of Cardiff Airport, but at present this route simply isn’t providing value for money.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “It was always the intention to review the service after it had been operational for a few months and the Minister has asked Professor Stuart Cole to examine whether any revisions to the current service are required without compromising its principal objectives as an express service.
They don’t need to commission anyone to do anything. I can tell them right now that it’s a massive overprovision. Surely they must have realised this when the timetable was put together?! But that’s the whole point. Without a massive overprovision it’s not going to be a usable service. It needs sustaining until (a) numbers start coming through the airport which justify its continuation, at which point carry on, or (b) we get ‘x’ years hence with no substantial increase in numbers through the airport, at which point the service should be reviewed and trimmed to more appropriately meet the airport’s cloth. ‘X’ being a number of years which should have been agreed at the start of this over which the airport has a reasonable amount of time to show some growth.
I must admit I assumed the whole point of this service was to help break out of the vicious cycle where the airport is seen as inaccessible – people don’t use it – flight loads are low – airlines leave – fewer people use it. To cut it back in any substantial way before the airport has been given a reasonably chance to attract flights and grow a bit makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. THAT would be the waste of money. The service at the moment I see as investing for the future.
I emailed the airport last week to tell them to change the duff lightbulb which is in the bus shelter at the airport.I had arrived from Paris the other night only to stand in the pitch dark trying to read the timetable. Needless to say, I was the only passenger on the bus - but it was a bloody good service.
I've been waiting for the inevitable verbal assaults on the 'ghost bus' to commence. To be honest, anyone with a bit of common sense at WG should have foreseen this. Without any flights there aren't going to be any bus passengers.
I reckon that a service every 20 minutes really is asking for empty seats when you consider how few flights depart from the airport. They could make it every 30mins with no-one even noticing a reduction, or even once every 40 minutes . Reliability is the key rather than frequency.
I agree that the service needs to continue, and OK every 40 minutes probably wouldn't be that bad.
There is a feeling that in the past few weeks the airport has slowly begun to pick up and I would echo DaiB's comment that it needs to continue until the airport improves further. That isn't going to happen over night. Part of the problem is changing people's perception of the airport and while some people argue that they would use the airport if the flights they wanted were there, I sometimes think they would still rather go to Bristol etc for the sake of not supporting the WGor the management in any way. Cutting off one's nose.
Whilst we can all moan about the work being carried out (including the bus service), the people directly involved with the airport (the board) are experts and I believe that the effort being put in is, albeit slowly, starting to show signs of success.
470k a year for a service that most of us here could say wa s going to be underperforming for some time, that money could easily be used elsewhere.
don't defend it is its not defensible. its not a non story, while stu cole may believe it, other transport experts not so keen, it needs questions asked.
I want to see some facts or figures on who does or will use it?
do people from Cardiff actually use it? unless you live smack in the centre you need a bus or taxi to get you to town to catch a bus which is not that quick. A pre booked airport taxi for me costs £15 £20 and is quick home to airport and no luggage hassle. More but not a lot to remove a lot of hassle.
or of course I get dropped off or drive, as do most people in the wider south wales area.
so who will use the bus? those travelling inwards, do we get a lot through Cardiff, what are those figures?
I just don't see it.
May as well subsidise the airport taxis to visitors to wales and get them dropped at their hotels.
CARDIFFWALESMAP - FORUM