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

Supplementary memorandum by the National Federation of Bus Users (Bus 08A)


1.   In our experience bus users require above all that their services should be reliable and punctual

  A third of all the complaints we receive concern buses which are late or do not turn up at all. It is an issue that crops up at virtually every surgery and bus users meeting we organise. Passengers are also deeply concerned about service losses but the percentage of complaints is rather less at 12 per cent. In our view the most important problem to address is the failure to provide buses with the priority they must have over other traffic to deliver better standards of reliability.

2.   The urgent need for a better operating environment for buses

  There is little point in giving the traffic commissioners powers to penalise operators for not running 95 per cent of their services within a few minutes of scheduled time if buses have to face adverse traffic conditions which can vary from day to day and place to place. Moreover, if buses had more dedicated road space, fewer services would be cut or withdrawn because they had become commercially unsustainable or impossible to operate reliably.

  The Congestion Busters Campaign we carried out last year revealed the seriousness of the problem. As Professor David Begg of the CFIT has pointed out, the Government's targets for increasing bus use will not be met without a more serious attempt to provide a better operating environment for buses coupled with measures to restrain car use. Road charging for example could reduce congestion by a quarter but so far only London has had the courage to go for it.

  General congestion costs have been quantified for the national economy at a rate of several billion pounds. Clearly it has a specific cost for the public transport industry and the bus passenger. Individual bus companies have estimated that up to 10 per cent of their fleet are required simply to cope with the effects of congestion—this is quite probable when you consider that a route requiring 10 buses in a free traffic flow may well require at least one extra vehicle to maintain service frequencies, when journey times are slowed down by congestion. According to the most recent statistics there are 78,100 registered PSVs in the UK. Extrapolating from these figures would suggest that there are therefore 7,810 PSVs in the UK required to cope with congestion. Assuming an average operating cost of £70,000 per vehicle per annum this equates to nearly £550 million of public transport resources tied up in an inefficient way. While the precise figure may be debatable, this is a substantial cost. The introduction of extensive and effective bus priority would release these resources to provide either an increased level of service on existing corridors or an extension of network coverage, possibly meeting social exclusion objectives for the same cost. This would have a real effect in meeting the government's target of a model switch from the private car to more sustainable modes.

  We need real leadership from local and national government to take effective action in face of pockets of opposition from local car users and traders—the latest public attitude survey carried out by Mori for the CFIT will reveal that 82 per cent of the 1,725 people interviewed back park and ride schemes and 57 per cent support more bus lanes in town centres even though they leave less space for cars whilst 26 per cent of car users said they would travel by bus if journey times could be cut by half through bus priority measures.

3.   The need for more funding for supported services

  If councils can provide better operating conditions for buses then it would seem reasonable to expect operators to run more services which are only borderline commercial. However, the fact remains that more support is required for socially necessary services. It is no wonder that local authorities find it more and more difficult to fund essential but unremunerative services when at the current level Government support would need to increase by 30-40 per cent to reach the average of our European neighbours!

4.   More regulation not the answer

  We do not see how these problems of funding and bus priority will be addressed simply by subjecting the bus industry to the upheaval of more regulation and handing over control to local authorities. Indeed, we believe that local and national government are often failing to deliver their side of the partnership with bus operators.

A more sustained effort is needed on both sides to make partnership work

  For example we would like to see local authorities follow the example of Hampshire County Council, which has been trialling a less radical and more constructive solution for the provision of services, which are difficult to operate commercially. The Council is working with Stagecoach to develop a co-ordinated, efficient network to meet current needs for schools and social services transport as well as the many services, which are only just commercial. The Council believes that this scheme will be less expensive and easier to implement than a quality contract.

Dr C Cahm


5 June 2002

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