Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Transport 2000 Cambs & West Suffolk Branch (Bus 26)



  This response is written on behalf of Transport 2000 Cambs & W Suffolk branch. This is one of the local groups of Transport 2000, the national environmental transport campaign. Transport 2000's aim is to develop a society in which transport serves the needs of the whole community—including non-motorists—without the negative effects of pollution, congestion, noise and danger currently caused by over-reliance on cars, lorries and aircraft. Note that within this response we refer to my personal response to the Government's consultation on changes to the planning system; this response was not submitted on behalf of Transport 2000 Cambs & W Suffolk.


  1.1  What has actually happened?

  1.1.1  We believe that Rural Bus Challenge has not been as much of a boon as it might, because benefits have not been spread beyond the initial targeted areas; because local transport authorities have tended to concentrate on villages within their own areas; because local users have not been involved in projects; and because of the lack of incentives for motorists to switch to the improved bus services.

  1.1.2  Bus subsidies (other than Rural Bus Grant) have suffered because they, almost uniquely among transport spending, are not ring fenced. This has led to over concentration on infrastructure without the much more important improvement to the services that actually use it. Or, worse, money is spent on roads rather than public transport because of the problems of putting together a package dependent on continued revenue spending.

  1.1.3  Bus subsidies are also affected by the Standard Spending Assessment system which penalises local authorities who want better public services. This applies to all services, but bus subsidies are particularly vulnerable because of the short lead time required to withdraw a service as compared, say, with closing a school.

  1.2  What should be done?

  1.2.1  We suggest that bus subsidies should be allocated on a goals orientated basis. Local authorities should be required, after public consultation, to compile a plan setting out minimum standards for every community and corridor, and, if these standards are accepted by the Government, should receive a grant from the Government. (This might not cover the whole cost, especially in the longer term. Local authorities could be encouraged to tap other means of fund raising such as a tax on workplace and other private non-residential parking, and contributions to a Traffic Reduction Fund from developers—the last was mentioned in my response to the Government's consultation on changes to the planning system, see also 5.3 below.) However the support from the Government should be conditional on the local authority maintaining the system to the standards set out in its plan.

  1.2.2  We also suggest that if the Government wishes to be seen as supportive of high quality public services, including transport, it should scrap the Standard Spending Assessment clawback, and, preferably, replace it with matching funding for discretionary local authority spending.

  1.2.3  The consultation referred to above might be undertaken through some kind of partnership in which the local authorities would be joined by the operators, users and other stakeholders. At present the users have no input into the public transport system that is imposed on them apart from consultation in the production of a bus strategy document that is liable to confine itself to vague generalities.


  2.1  We do not believe that statutory Quality Partnerships offer significant advantages over the non-statutory type which gives local authorities more freedom.

  2.2  We believe that the bus network can't develop properly without Quality Contracts which allow local authorities (or the local partnerships suggested in 1.2.3 above) to control all aspects of a bus network, including the provision of services to new developments; the setting of fares at competitive levels with relevant through ticketing; the provision of adequate interchange facilities and connections; public involvement in planning the network; the use of bus priority routes; and comprehensive publicity with nationally set changeover dates.

  2.3  We do not believe that it is necessary for the same operator to run all services within an area where a Quality Contract system operates. We also believe that operators should be allowed to improve on what they are required to provide, subject to conditions like being forbidden from driving other operators out of business.

  2.4  A prime candidate for Quality Contracts should be "strategic" bus routes, which form the public transport equivalent of trunk and primary roads. In principle the equivalent of trunk roads should be provided by rail, but in practice this is far from the case. (If one defines a main road as one where local communities have been by-passed, then, going north from London west of the A1/East Coast Main Line, one crosses no less than nine main roads—the M25, A414, A505, A507, A421, A14, A605, A47 and A43—before meeting the first railway.) We suggest that strategic routes should become the responsibility of the Strategic Rail Authority and treated as part of the rail network—although this should not be at the expense of any through ticketing facilities with local buses.


  3.1  I am sceptical about the potential of bus lanes for by-passing congestion. In practice one rarely encounters the scenario of buses rushing past queues of cars. Either the buses are held up elsewhere en route (by fare collection or diversions to serve villages), or they get caught up in queues of traffic waiting to enter the narrowed section of non-bus route, or congestion spreads to areas with no bus lanes. We need to do more of the following to create effective priorities:

  3.1.1  Install transponders to ensure that buses can get through traffic lights without delay.

  3.1.2  Give priority to radial routes (with lots of bus traffic) over orbital routes (with little bus traffic) at intersections.

  3.1.3  Create new bus-only links enabling routes to serve villages without getting held up by road layouts designed to discourage through traffic leaving the main road.

  3.1.4  Create virtual stations allowing routes to serve villages without leaving the main road. (We suggest that the Highways Agency could be charged with a duty to pursue this).

  3.2  It goes without saying that bus priority measures have to be enforced if they are to work. If possible, enforcement—of this and other motoring regulations—should be organised on a self-financing basis, ie paid for by the fines of offending motorists.


  4.1  We regard regulation as less important than where the decisions are taken. Some public sector body—or partnership as suggested in 1.2.3 above—should have a duty to procure a basic network; operators would have the freedom to improve on it. For the public sector body, existing local transport authorities tend to cover too small an area (and in any case they should be given a duty to cover cross-boundary travel), and there is also a need to involve the public in decision making.

  4.2  There are many ways in which the existing system is over-regulated. In terms of safety, motoring causes many times the number of casualties, but there are no driving hours limits on motorists, and speed limits on motorways are higher than for buses. Any safety benefits of bus regulation need to be balanced against the consequent effect on the ability to finance and staff a comprehensive network, with the consequent potential to improve safety by reducing the number of cars on the road.

  4.3  The clampdown by the Office of Fair Trading on inter-operator agreements is even more unacceptable and quite contrary to the spirit of integrated transport. We believe that the fear of action by the OFT is inhibiting operators from making even such agreements as might be accepted by the OFT. We suggest that:

  4.3.1  Operators should be allowed to make any arrangements without fear of being fined. The worst they would face would be a requirement to dismantle the agreement if a complaint about it is upheld.

  4.3.2  Third party operators should have a right to participate in any agreement on equal terms, and to lodge a complaint if they are denied this right.

  4.3.3  Otherwise, the only legitimate complaint against an agreement would be by users who felt they were being disadvantaged. Before making a ruling, the OFT would be required to allow other users to submit their views, so that they could make a balanced judgement on whether the agreement helped or hurt the public; only in the latter case would action be taken.


  5.1  We see an integrated public transport network as a basic human right to which the socially excluded, like anyone else, would have access. We also need to ensure they are used by people other than the socially excluded: apart from the need for big reductions in the modal share of cars, which are mainly used by the non-socially excluded, there is the aphorism that services for the poor tend to become poor services.

  5.2  The issue of fare levels is particularly important in enabling public transport to reduce social exclusion, and we believe it is also a significant factor in making public transport competitive with cars.

  5.3  By far the biggest factor in transport-related social exclusion is the tendency, which has not yet been controlled by planning policy guidance, for developers to choose locations for new development purely on the basis of convenience to motorists. If there is any consideration for public transport users (or walkers and cyclists), it is relegated to an afterthought. It is for this reason that my response to the Government's consultation on changes to the planning system included a suggestion that all major development proposals should be required to include a Non-Motorist Impact Assessment to ensure that access issues for non-motorists are considered from the outset. I also suggested that developments not designed to minimise traffic generation—and which would therefore be more likely to offer access problems to the socially excluded—should be required to contribute to a Traffic Reduction Fund, the proceeds from which would be used to provide both capital and revenue support to sustainable transport projects, including buses.

  Conclusion. We conclude by suggesting that the needs of bus users are still not being taken seriously by the Government. We would like to see a twin track policy whereby rail and bus improvements went hand in hand with traffic reduction policies and the abandonment of road schemes designed to cater for ever higher traffic levels, and believe that a comprehensive approach is needed for both rail and bus if it is to offer the required alternative to the car. The development of such an approach should be the Government's main aim as it seeks to overhaul the administrative framework within which both rail and bus operate.

Simon Norton

7 April 2002

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