Capitals for cyclists need contracts for safety

Cycling a London bus route, on a quiet day! Photo flckr creative commons credit Tim Snell
Transport for London today announced the launch of a new bus safety programme, including a plan to incentivise safety in its contracts. With further promises of more transparency in collision investigations, and the UK’s first incident support service for those injured in collisions, is a public authority finally listening to the voice of campaigners and independent report recommendations?

Capital’s new safety programme

Transport for London (TfL) announced this morning the launch of their new ‘World Leading Bus Safety Programme’, designed to improve safety across the London bus network and help achieve the Mayor’s target of reducing the number of people killed or seriously injured (KSI) on the capital’s roads by 2020.

Tfl refers specifically to a greater focus on safety and the need to keep vulnerable road users safe, however their six point programme also has significance both beyond London and, indeed, beyond public transport, not least because of the acceptance that their own commercial contracts affect the number of KSI on the roads.

Safety incentives and cultural change

Last week, CTC’s Road Safety and Legal Campaigns Officer Duncan Dollimore wrote about how corporate social responsibility directly impacted upon cyclists’ safety, arguing that a cultural change in both public and private sector approaches to time-based performance targets was a road safety imperative because they influence driver behaviour on the roads. TfL has now acknowledged this with its decision to update its bus contracts to include new safety incentives.

As CTC reported last week and previously ,TfL’s bus operation currently involves companies such as Stagecoach and Arriva contracting with TfL to provide bus services, setting targets and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for those contractors based upon service delivery times. Excess Waiting Time (EWT) targets , which have been described as a system perfectly aligned to kill and injure, are the main KPI, and significantly influence both the payments bus contractors receive from TfL and the bonuses TfL management receive.

The system, known as ‘Headway’ , requires drivers to keep specific and regular time gaps between buses to avoid EWT penalties, which can mean their employer is fined 10% of the contract price for the route if ‘Headway’ is not maintained.

The concern with EWT is that bus drivers feel under pressure to ‘make Headway’ by speeding up and taking risks, and that the system’s contractual incentives and penalties intrinsically promote punctuality over safety. Today’s announcement that TfL will now update their contracts to incentivise safety compliance and performance is therefore welcomed by CTC as a major step towards putting safety before time and profit targets when public authorities contract for road transport services.

Public funding and priorities

Whilst the detail concerning these safety incentives is awaited, the recognition that those applying public funds, whether as public authorities or private companies undertaking publicly funded contracts, need to prioritise the safety of vulnerable road users when contracting for public transport services, is of crucial importance in improving road safety. The same principal equally applies to contracts with construction companies, haulage and delivery services, and whenever their commercial decisions place vehicles and drivers on the roads.

CTC therefore hopes that the safety incentives TfL proposes in respect of the bus network will apply both to bus contractors and TfL management, who currently benefit financially from buses being on time, but not from a safe bus network - a system which has the potential to distort priorities.

Incentives for safety and the cost of complacency

In a separate press release this morning, the British Safety Council (BSC) welcomed the new guidelines for sentencing Health and Safety offences, including corporate manslaughter, introduced today by the Sentencing Council . The new guidelines recommend tougher penalties where employers disregard the safety of either employees or the public, particularly where the consequences of their actions cause significant harm.

CTC has recently written to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regarding their unwillingness to prosecute where an employer's health and safety failings concerning their drivers, and the systems they operate, lead to cyclist casualties on public roads. As outlined earlier this month by CTC’s Duncan Dollimore, the cost of doing nothing to hold employers to account for corporate negligence on the highway is counted in lives.

Whilst the new sentencing guidelines concern the punishment only if and when the HSE take action, the BSC are predicting they will lead to increased penalties. Coming simultaneously with the news that a major employer and contractor such as TfL appears to be recognising the safety risks inherent within its own contracts, and the need to incentivise safety first,  CTC supports the new guidelines and hopes they will be widely publicised to warn that the corporate cost of complacency just went up.

A more transparent TfL

Amongst the other measures Tfl  have identified to improve safety is a promise to provide greater transparency regarding investigations into fatal and serious injury collisions on the bus network. 

CTC has previously commented on last year’s Transport Safety Commission Inquiry Report, ‘Who should be responsible for Road Safety’, which made various road safety recommendations, most of which have not been implemented. Amongst those were recommendations for improved arrangements in incident investigation, and the creation of an advisory body for road safety. In essence, the report says that lessons needed to be learned through a more open and transparent investigatory process, with the aim of avoiding repetition of the same mistakes.

The Transport Safety Commission's (TSC) proposals, which are designed to replicate the successful models for investigation and danger reduction that exist in the rail and aviation sectors, have not thus far been adopted by the Government. TfL’s promise to improve transparency regarding investigations and collision data, and to publish reports regarding the investigation and outcome of fatal and serious collisions, falls short of the TSC recommendations. It is, however, more than others have done to embrace TSC’s report and learn from the approach different sectors of the transport industry take comparatively successfully towards transparency and open investigation.

The persistent pedestrian

Publishing information about collisions and learning from past mistakes has been the message shouted loudly and continuously by pedestrian campaigner Tom Kearney since he found himself in a coma after being hit by a London Bus in 2009. The programme announced by TfL this morning reflects many of the improvements and changes Tom has campaigned for and relentlessly blogged about. He may ask why TfL took so long to listen, but their programme suggests they have.     

UK’s first incident support service

Perhaps the most innovative proposal from TfL is to establish what they describe as the UK’s first incident support service for those affected by incidents leading to people being killed or seriously injured on the transport network. TfL’s customer service team will be providing this service from April 2016, which will include emotional and practical support and a single named point of contact at TfL.

The failure to adequately meet the needs of victims, share information and fully involve them in any process has been a constant theme within CTC’s Road Justice Campaign. Accordingly, with a cautionary note, CTC enthusiastically endorses TfL’s aim to improve the service those affected by serious incidents on the roads experience, at a time when they are most vulnerable.

The cautionary note relates to the role and remit of the named point of contact. It should not be to mediate between a victim and a bus contractor, who may be legally liable for that victim’s injuries. Supporting victims and mediating disputes are not the same, but if the requirements of the role are made clear this service could potentially provide a template for a positive and wider extension of incident support services for those injured on the roads.  

Training and safety standards

TfL’s programme also refers to further training regarding vulnerable road users, safe vehicle design developments and related matters. Without the detail CTC is unable to comment further, save to say that reviewing such matters is certainly welcome, and required.

Perhaps 2016 will be a year of road safety change?