Labour’s bus regulation plans under fire

Labour leader, Ed Miliband’s, call for more regulation over the country’s buses has come under fire by the industry. He suggested cities and counties should be able to set bus fares and routes, as well as have the powers to integrate them with local train and tram services.

A CPT spokesperson said, ‘We should be talking about working together to further improve services for passengers, not arguing about control. We should be building on recent successes, not making statements likely to dent confidence in the industry going forward. The London system is seen as a success in the Capital but this does not mean that simply transplanting it to other major towns and cities is the answer. Bus passengers in the biggest towns and cities outside London are already benefitting from smart and integrated ticketing, new ways of purchasing tickets, high investment by commercial operators in bus fleets, and more choices for passengers.’

‘It is important to recognise the benefits of the commercial market which has stemmed the decline in bus patronage and provided the most important people, our passengers, with greater choice. Time and again the evidence shows that where bus services are under the control of cash strapped local authorities, fares are higher (the most expensive urban weekly bus ticket in the country is sold in London), the market is less stable, services are being lost and passenger satisfaction rates are lower. Delivering high quality bus services is a shared responsibility. When operators and local authorities work together in partnership, real benefits for the passenger are achieved.’

‘But the final word has to come from passengers, the people who actually use the buses. A survey by Passenger Focus of 20,000 bus users from outside London gave an overall satisfaction score of 88%, a figure any business would aspire to achieve. The latest figure for London is 83%. This is a clear demonstration that passengers are more satisfied when their services and fares are not controlled by a public authority.’

Stagecoach Group Chief Executive, Martin Griffiths, said, ‘This uncosted and unnecessary plan would land people in England’s biggest city regions overnight with a tax bill running to hundreds of millions of pounds, as well as leading to higher bus fares. Britain’s bus operators provide extensive, integrated and high quality bus networks which are central to regional economies and local communities in England’s biggest city regions.’

‘Stagecoach and other major operators are already working on extensive plans to deliver better buses and stronger city regions. Our plans will provide even better transport integration, more local political engagement and a greater voice for customers. At the same time, they will offer even better taxpayer value. To make that happen, we need supportive central and local government policies that make a practical difference for bus passengers, rather than talk about costly and unnecessary structural change.’

FirstGroup’s UK Bus MD, Giles Fearnley, said, ‘Private sector bus operators have delivered results for passengers and local authorities, for instance, the five major operators have invested more than £1.4bn over the last five years in commercial bus services across the UK. Replicating London’s bus system elsewhere isn’t feasible since the capital has atypically low car ownership, a growing population and, above all, a high level of public spending at more than £500m every year or £75 per Londoner in 2012/13, compared to just £19 per person in England’s other metropolitan cities. The most effective way to deliver the best bus services for passengers is through operators and local authorities working together in partnership, and FirstGroup is doing just that with our partnerships in cities such as Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester and Bristol.’

However, Miliband’s plans have their supporters too. Chair of PTEG, Cllr James Lewis, said, ‘To have the leader of a political party making bus regulation front and centre of their devolution policy is a breakthrough moment for bus users in the city regions. We have been arguing long and hard that what is good enough for London on buses is good enough for our cities too. If the powers are simplified so that we can regulate bus services in the same way that London does then we can bring in Oyster-style smart, simple and integrated ticketing. We can give guarantees on service quality and reward those bus companies that deliver, and penalise those that don’t. We can make sure buses connect rather than compete with each other, and that bus, trains and trams are part of single networks accountable to users through better consumer rights, proper consultation and via their elected representatives. We can also put a stop to the abuse of local monopolies by bus companies to make excessive profits and we can fix what is a broken market to provide far better value for money for taxpayers.’

Campaign for Better Transport Chief Executive, Stephen Joseph, said, ‘We have long campaigned for integrated public transport and particularly multi-modal, multi-operator tickets as part of giving people fairer fares. While there are some examples out there already, anything that spreads and strengthens this has to be welcomed. Labour’s proposals are hugely significant and put this issue at the front of politics, we want other parties to come up with their own proposals for giving people the fairer fares they need. This policy needs to be backed by ring fenced funding for transport, as in London, to give authorities and operators a proper long term investment framework.’




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