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Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Transport 2000

Has deregulation worked? Are services better, more frequent, meeting passenger need? Are bus services sufficiently co-ordinated with other forms of public transport; are buses clean, safe, efficient? If not, can deregulation be made to work? How?

  The reality is that in many areas (outside of London and selected areas such as Brighton and Oxford) bus services are disappearing or in decline, passenger numbers are either declining or stable and passengers' needs are not being met. On the other hand, in Northern Ireland buses are regulated, but still bus services and use are in decline due, for example, to problems of congestion and plentiful car parking. This, coupled with the growth and success in bus services in areas (outside of London) where regulation is absent, shows that (re)regulation is not necessarily the solution.

  Transport 2000 believes that to improve bus services, and make them more competitive, attractive and widely used, the following steps need to be taken by Government:

    —  pro-bus policies at local level focusing on bus priority measures, tackling congestion and enforcing traffic law;

    —  increased, guaranteed and sustained public funding to extend bus networks to serve more people and areas currently without any or many services;

    —  properly monitored experiments into different types of partnerships and contracts between operators and local authorities as a way forward to increasing bus ridership;

    —  a new role for the Traffic Commissioners: more sensible regulation in the interests of passengers by beefing up the role of the Traffic Commissioners; and

    —  a proper, statutory voice for bus users which currently doesn't exist but is sorely needed.

Is statutory regulation compromising the provision of high quality bus services?

  The role of the Office of Fair Trading and competition policy does seem to inhibit co-operation between operators for the public interest and can mean that the role of the Traffic Commissioners is also compromised.

Are priority measures having a beneficial effect? What is best practice?

  Priorities measures where they exist and are, moreover, properly enforced, are most beneficial, but more than this, they are vital for a reliable and quality bus service. Bus priority, however, needs to be taken seriously across the country as a priority.

  There are two ways forward that we strongly recommend. Firstly, bus priority needs to be much more widespread and, better enforced where and when it does exist, than it is currently. Local authorities need to retain or implement and properly enforce bus priority in conjunction with measures to tackle congestion and better enforced traffic law. It is up to Government to set pro-bus policies at local level accordingly.

  Secondly, to have full effect, bus priority measures must be combined with good marketing, which is the key to successful bus services. There is much evidence to show that marketing is important and whatever strategy is adopted in aiming to improve bus services, be it quality contracts, quality partnerships or otherwise, will be unsuccessful without it—and without bus priority on the roads. There a number of examples where bus operators using direct marketing techniques, have been able to increase patronage on previously declining bus routes, particularly in combination with improving services and vehicles, and with bus priority. Amid the general decline in bus use outside London, there a number of places where bus operators and local authorities working in partnership have been able to increase bus use through combinations of marketing with other improvements. These have included places with relatively high car ownership and roads, such as Telford and Aylesbury.

Is financing and funding for local community services sufficient and targeted in the right way?

  Without long-term, sustained and ring-fenced revenue funding, local community services, though well-intended and where they currently exist, will be threatened by the risk of closure. This is particularly the case in rural areas. Innovative services funded by Rural Bus Challenge and by the Countryside Agency through rural transport partnerships, have been disappearing as that funding has finished.

Concessionary fares—what are the problems with the current approach? Does the Government's proposal to introduce free local bus travel across the UK for disabled people and the over 60s from 2008 stand up to scrutiny? Should there be a nationwide version of London's Freedom Pass—giving free or discounted travel on all forms of public transport?

  There are two key problems. Firstly, inadequate funding—whilst free fares are commendable any benefits are lost if the result is that buses are withdrawn. We are aware that with the introduction of free bus travel for over-60 year olds, Nexus have had to withdraw certain services and further discounts (for 16-18 year olds) due to the per-capita led funding assessment which left them with a deficit of £5.4 million. A "no better no worse" formula means that the operators receive funding, give concessionary fares and are no worse than they would have been previously.

  Secondly, concessionary bus fares could lead to an undesirable significant modal shift from local rail and train services. We advocate that the London freedom pass which includes bus and rail be adopted across the country where Intercity travel is excluded but local, particularly community transport is included.

Why are there no Quality Contracts?

  We do not feel suitably qualified to answer this question but recommend that it is worth carrying out properly monitored experiments in different types of partnerships and contracts between operators and local authorities to see what models bring the highest increase in bus ridership and the best outcomes in terms of tackling traffic congestion, modal shift and in reducing social exclusion. In some areas nearly all bus services are tendered out and could be let out tenders in blocks rather than route by route

Are the powers of the Traffic Commissioners relevant; are they adequately deploying the powers and resources that they currently have? Do they have enough support from Government and local authorities?

  The powers of the Traffic Commissioners are too limited. To make best use of their role, we would like to see them given new, formal powers allowing them to:

    —  consider the full range of problems affecting operators, including traffic congestion;

    —  raise entry standards into the industry so that operators have to meet certain quality criteria; and

    —  investigate and report on Local Authority action over buses.

Is London a sound model for the rest of the UK?

  There is no doubting the success of buses and dramatic growth in passengers in London where buses are regulated by Transport for London. However, the solution is not as simple as using London as a blueprint, since London is not representative of other areas and there are factors unique to its success:

    —  having a captive market, high population density, low levels of parking and many no-car households;

    —  congestion charging;

    —  red-route bus priority lanes;

    —  no on-road competition;

    —  from a passenger's perspective, better service levels, frequencies and some aspects of information provision than in other cities or areas;

    —  the level of investment—London bus spend is six times as much per capita as the rest of Britain;

    —  an official users watchdog—Transport for London;

    —  strong transport policy; and

    —  strong political leadership and delivery on the ground.

  With this in mind, there are transferable lessons and ingredients comprising London's success for example: planning of the network, integration, quality incentives, competition for the market, the importance of funding, and the value of congestion charging (for appropriate areas).

  Examples of good practice outside London are worth learning from. There are successful bus services in some areas, such as Oxford, York, Brighton and Hove.

  In Brighton and Hove, a successful partnership between the city council and bus operator has led to an average 5% increase in use each year since 1993. The secrets of its success include:

    —  Running the most popular routes more often.

    —  A simple fares system offering good value.

    —  Investment in new easy-to-board buses, with kerbs to match the low-level platforms.

    —  Bus priority lanes and improvements on the roads to help buses get through some of the worst traffic hot spots.

    —  Better arrangements at bus stops, including the hugely popular real-time information system via satellite tracking, to show when buses are due.

What is the future for the bus? Should metropolitan areas outside London be able to develop their own form of regulated competition? Would this boost passenger numbers? If not, what would? Does the bus have a future? In addressing rural railways, the Secretary of State has said that we "cannot be in the business of carting fresh air around the country"; is the same true for buses?

Bus services

  For buses and bus services to have a stable future, and to boost passenger numbers, they need to be:

    —  of a high enough quality that is sustained to attract people out of their cars and dispel the myth that buses are a second-rate and "poor man's" mode of transport;

    —  targeted to address demand, draw in patronage and marketed effectively (which means there would be no need to cart fresh air around);

    —  socially inclusive, accessible and affordable, and get people without access to a car to jobs and training;

    —  a core part of the solution to reduce and manage car use, and tackle congestion, alongside walking, cycling and rail use; and

    —  properly integrated with other modes of public transport, including interchanges with rail and provisions for walking and cycling, to enable a seamless and attractive door-to-door travel. This means greater emphasis on information, interchanges, accessibility and intelligent fares, and joint bus and rail tickets/smart cards.

Bus policy

  Central government need to treat and make visible buses as a national priority, on the one hand, and to apply pressure on local authorities to implement, enforce and increase pro-bus policies, such as bus priority measures, on the other.

  They also need to implement widespread road user charging or similar measures, depending on the area, to tackle road congestion.

A PASSENGER-FOCUSED REGULATOR AND A STATUTORY VOICE FOR USERS

  We believe that there is a need for a passenger-focused regulator whose responsibilities are separated from those of regulating maintenance and safety, and who would adopt the DfT's economic role, and would regulate this on behalf of the bus industry, and would adopt the powers of the Office of Fair Trading. The Traffic Commissioners are the obvious candidate for such a role.

  A statutory voice for bus users, equivalent to TfL for London and Passenger Focus for rail, is also missing and the new role we are proposing would incorporate this.

PROACTIVE LOCAL AUTHORITIES AND BUS OPERATORS

  Bus operators need to be much more forthcoming in approaching local authorities in order to develop genuine partnerships. Political risky deals, such as Quality Partnerships, will bring results.

  Without commitment from local authorities to serious pro-bus policies, road priority such as through parking and road user charging, and without proper marketing, regulation or other measures, such as Quality Partnerships, will, simply have no effect.

  Increased, guaranteed and sustained public funding is crucial to support, improve and maintain bus services. Many areas are seeing commercial services reduced or withdrawn, and our research suggests that this is down to underlying cost increases, notably with insurance, and traffic congestion. These reductions and cost increases have in turn put severe local pressure on local authorities who are faced both with cost increases in the services they already support and pressure to take over funding for the commercial services being withdrawn. The result is that a number of areas are suffering service reductions or significant fares increases.

MARKETING

  Efficient marketing of bus services—at the least that they exist, their routes, timetable and beyond this, steps to attract people to use buses—is fundamental to the success and future of buses.





 
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