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The Committees report also looked at the broader question of integrated ticketing, or having a single ticket to cover several legs of a journeyif not the
whole journey. Here we found a great difference between rail travel and bus travel. On rail, because of the Governments actions in ensuring that provision was made through the franchises, arrangements ensure through ticketing on the national network, and that is of great importance to passengers. However, wider concerns remain about the wider issue of ticketing, including the availability of tickets.
Closure or minimal staffing of ticket offices may force passengers to use the internet or ticket machines when they do not want to. Indeed, some tickets are available only on specific websites and machines do not operate for all ticket types. It is important that all passengers have access to all tickets and can get the best deal when they travel by train.
Since the report was completed, announcements have been made that fares, and the tickets that go with them, are to be simplified. It will be important to look at that in more detail. Simplification of the fare structure is to be welcomed, but concerns have been raised about whether the simplification will mask large price rises. That is a matter that we will need to look at in the future.
The situation with integrated ticketing on buses is highly unsatisfactory. Concerns about breaching competition law have impeded action in addressing the problem that several different tickets may be required for one journey. The Government must ensure that the new Local Transport Bill provides the means, perhaps through quality contracts, to resolve that. It is important that any measures introduced should be strong enough.
I am pleased to see in the Governments reply to the report that they will consider a recommendation that traffic commissioners have the power to arbitrate if local authorities and bus operators cannot agree on the pricing of multi-operation travel cards. More needs to be done on integrated ticketing on buses, and the Bill may help, but we must ensure that the problems are resolved. The Committee also noted that insufficient attention is given to travelling by coach. Many people travel by coach, yet there is little integrated ticketing and little attention is given to coach travel as a mode of transport.
We were told in one of our Committee sessions by the director of fares and ticketing at Transport for London that tickets were introduced in 1853 to prevent bus conductors from pocketing fares. He told us that 70 per cent. of revenues used to disappear and that was why tickets were introduced. It now appears that tickets are giving way to the plastic smartcard and, indeed, to other technologies. We looked at the successful Oyster card scheme in London and at other local smartcard schemes. TFL anticipates that the Oyster pay-as-you-go system will be linked to the national rail network in London by 2010. Indeed, we received evidence from many people who told us that they wanted the Oyster scheme to be linked more widely to the national network.
The Government should articulate a clearer strategy for integrated ticketing in general and smartcards in particular, but they must show the costs and the benefits of the high expenditure involved. Industry experts assess the costs of smartcards and rail franchises at £100 million per scheme and it costs £3,000 to equip a bus with equipment for the cards. Technology is important but the Government must show the benefits and how the cost is justified.
Tim Loughton: To go back to the subject of concessionary fares, and as the hon. Lady has been talking about trains, did her Committee consider the merits or otherwise of extending the concessionary fare scheme for pensioners to allow them to travel on trains, too? Obviously, train operators have expressed some concerns that they are losing out on some of their custom. Given her talk about integrated ticketing systems, does she think that the future for concessionary bus fares is that they will be extended to rail services, too?
Mrs. Ellman: We received some limited evidence on that issue. We felt that we were not in a position to make recommendations, but that it might well be considered in the future. We stated that it was very important for local additions to the national scheme to be considered locally.
We also looked at revenue protection and preventing fare dodging. We felt that that should have a much higher priority, particularly as fare evasion is often linked to antisocial behaviour. In 2006-07, there were 299 recorded attacks on staff connected with revenue collection in London stations alone. The Association of Train Operating Companies reported that 8 per cent. of revenuethat is, £400 millionis lost through passengers not paying fares. How much of that is deliberate evasion is unclear. It is clear that the availability of staffed ticket offices is important both to prevent fare evasions and to minimise aggressive behaviour, which has been reported when there are no staff in the area.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Should not the train operating companies and bus operators that allow off-duty police constables on their services for free be applauded? When fare evaders are caught, they can often cut up rough, and it is reassuring for passengers and revenue protection officers if off-duty police constables are encouraged to use public transport where appropriate.
Mrs. Ellman: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, we recommended that there should be additional staff involved and we were sorry that the Government did not accept some of our recommendations on that. We also called for a more independent appeals process for passengers who were accused of deliberate evasion. Again, we regretted that the Government did not feel able to support our cause. We hope that they will reconsider.
I praise the work that Passenger Focus, the national passengers group, has done to draw attention to the issue of penalty fares and how passengers are treated; the subject needs more attention from Government, and Passenger Focus has done very good work on it.
The Committees report welcomed the beginning of the new concessionary fare scheme. We looked to the future and suggested that concessionary schemes for young people could be considered. We decided to broaden the terms of reference of the inquiry that we are conducting on school transport to enable us to consider in more detail matters such as concessionary schemes for young people. I hope that we will receive appropriate evidence on the subject, because it is extremely important. All the issues that the Committee considered in its inquiryconcessionary fares, ticketing, revenue protection and integrationare important for passengers. They all contribute to the important task of making public transport accessible and attractive.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: The hon. Lady has not really touched on the issue of the complexity of buying the best value ticket. I am concerned about the elderly who need to use public transport, whether they travel by bus, coach or train. Is she concerned about the fact that elderly people, in particular, may not be getting value for money or a fair deal, because the system is so complicated that they do not understand how to go through it, and ticket sellers at bus stations or railway stations will not always give them the best-priced ticket?
Mrs. Ellman: The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise that point. The Committee conducted an inquiry on the issue, in which it drew attention to the problems that older people and other passengers had in accessing the best value tickets simply. Earlier this afternoon, I referred to people being forced to use the internet or machines, and mentioned the problems relating to that. The announcement that there are to be simpler fares and ticketing is to be welcomed, but the charges need to be looked into more fully.
The Government gave a full, considered reply to the Select Committee. Some of our recommendations have been accepted, some have been ruled out, and others are being considered. I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State that all the issues in the report are important. We welcome the Governments considered reply, but we look forward to action, and hope that it is taken very soon.
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) on the way in which she presented the report. The Transport Committee, of which I was a member for my first 18 months in Parliament, has a reputation for having formidable Chairmen, and I am sure that she will establish her credentials in that regard. First, I must declare a non-pecuniary interest: one of the largest employers in my constituency is the Plaxton coachworks, part of the Alexander Dennis group, which makes not only coaches but buses. Some 550 people in my constituency rely on the public taking buses and making coach journeys, so I certainly have a constituency interest in promoting the use of buses and coaches.
I am pleased that we have an opportunity to discuss concessionary fares, particularly the new national concessionary bus scheme introduced in April this year. Both the Government and the Opposition face problems in selecting subjects for such debates. In our case, we are spoiled for choice, having to choose from a long list of issues on which we wish to expose the Governments shortcomings. Conversely, the list of topics that could be considered relatively safe ground for the Government, which includes the topic that we are discussing, is rapidly dwindling.
Tim Loughton: My hon. Friend describes concessionary bus fares as a relatively safe topic, but he might like to know that the Minister for Local Government had to make himself available between Christmas and new year to deal with a very irate group of councillors and chief executives from councils in Sussex, who were protesting at the fact that our constituents will have to subsidise the scheme to the tune of more than £600,000 this year. Perhaps it is not as safe a topic of debate as he suggests.
Some people have described the concessionary scheme for the disabled and over-60s as a vote-catching gimmick. I reject that categorically, as to judge from the polls it has not caught many votes. I suspect that last month some of the voters of Crewe and Nantwich may even have used their concessionary tickets to go to the polling stations to vote Conservative for the first time. Eleven million people are now able to take advantage of their new right to off-peak bus travel across the borders of their travel concession authorities, whereas previously they could only use that concession locally. Our concern is about how the scheme may have been implemented and funded, and that is echoed by many of the points raised in the Select Committees report.
Since April, there has been a significant increase in the number and length of bus journeys made. Nationwide, the use of concessionary fares has increased by between 30 and 50 per cent., and by even more in some areasfor example, Gloucester and Cheltenham have experienced growth of 120 per cent. In Greater Manchester, passenger journeys have increased by more than 10 million since the introduction of free travel for the over-60s and disabled. That is in the context of falling bus ridership outside London.
The bill is picked up by the local authority where the trip originates. That has led to an increase in costs for some authorities, particularly in hot-spot destinations such as coastal towns and urban centres, where the share of the extra £212 million for this year has fallen short of the demand. Other local authorities in places such as Surrey have made a profit where resources have been over-allocated. Examples include Basildon, where a £500,000 shortfall was projected this year. In Blackpool, a £200,000 shortfall was projected. That does not cover the scheme that the council has had to introduce for its tramsbecause no one would use the trams when they had a concessionary ticket to use the buses, the authority has had to introduce a parallel scheme for the trams at additional cost to it. In Carlisle, a £272,000 shortfall has been projected. All the Essex authorities, including Chelmsford, Maldon
Mr. Goodwill: As my hon. Friend says, this debate is about scrutinising the Government. We are arguing not with the overall budget for the scheme but about its allocationsome local authorities have been allocated more money than they have used. The Government have patently failed to identify where the expenditure would be needed, and places such as coastal resorts and cities where people go shopping have borne the brunt.
Carlisle told us that it had a £272,000 shortfall. If the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) would like to dispute that figure, I would be pleased to hear his estimate, but the council tax payers of Carlisle are certainly picking up that bill.
Mr. Martlew: The hon. Gentleman is drawing me into this; I did not want that to happen. The reality is that the Conservative party in Carlisle said that it would cut the hours of the scheme to after 9.30 am, then changed it and said that the disabled could travel all the time, and then, three days before the local elections, found extra money to say that everybody could travel all the time. The idea that it had a shortage of money is absolute nonsense.
Mr. Goodwill: Perhaps I could run this one past the hon. Gentleman. If he thinks that I am mentioning only Conservative-controlled authorities, Barnsley metropolitan borough council, which is hardly a Conservative stronghold, told us:
I do feel our local authority is receiving inadequate compensation from Central Government for funding concessionary fares.
Tim Loughton: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the mention of Worthing. In fact, the figure for the Worthing and Adur authorities combined, which are in partnership, is about £624,000 for the current year. When I brought the deputy leader of Worthing council, Ann Barlow, and the leader of Adur council, Neil Parkin, to see the Minister, they said that they would rather the scheme were not funded through them. Why do local authorities need to control this scheme? They are losing money that will be made up by council tax payers, or by the cutting of local services. Why can the Government not fund what is supposedly a fully funded scheme and operate it themselves, rather than operate it through local authorities, which have to pick up the bill for what is, in our case, not a fully funded scheme?
Mr. Goodwill: I am sure that the Minister has had a number of suggestions about how the scheme could have been better funded. With regard to local authorities, it would be hard to think of a worse way of funding it. As the Select Committee report says:
The anomalies within, and disputes over, the distribution of concessionary travel grant to local authorities look set to continue, despite the generous
funding provided by the Government and the new funding formula.
Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the scheme is not functioning properly and that the financial arrangements are haphazard at best, but does he accept that local authoritieswe have done some work on the matter, as has his partyestimate that, overall, they are £60 million short of the money that they need just to break even, were the distribution correct? That is the case not least because of the massive increase in bus patronage that the scheme has generated. Would it not be more honest to say that the figure of £60 millionor whatever he thinks it isshould be met by extra money from the Treasury? If he does not pledge extra money, as my party has, the consequence will be that all local councils will be short of money.
Daniel Kawczynski: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving wayit will give him a chance to look at his notes. He mentioned a long list of areas that had lost out as a result of a lack of Government funding, but he did not mention Shropshire. Shropshire county councilrather the borough councilhas lost hundreds of thousands of pounds as a result of the shortfall, and I hope that my hon. Friend has those figures.
Again this government grabs the head lines giving out concessionary fares but do not fund it leaving councils to pick up the mess and move on.
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