Local buses to be 're-regulated'

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Mojo

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BBCNews said:
Labour has pledged to give local authorities more control over deregulated bus services.

Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said he wants to end the "free-for-all" situation in some areas of the UK.

"Certainly in some places like Brighton and York the public and private sectors work well together. But in too many communities they don't," he said.

"I want to see bus services work in every community," he told Labour's annual conference in Manchester.

He said he planned to "bring forward proposals to change the way buses are run in this country".

"To ensure the private sector delivers the bus services our communities demand I will act to give the local transport authorities that need them real powers to make a real difference.

"This means local solutions designed for local needs."
TheTimes said:
STAGECOACH has threatened to pull out of bus operations in major British cities if the Government proceeds with plans to give local authorities sweeping new powers over services.

Brian Souter, the bus and rail company’s chief executive, has told industry colleagues and politicians that he would prefer to sell his bus depots to developers for housing or supermarkets than allow councils to dictate how he should run his business.

Douglas Alexander, the Transport Secretary, promised yesterday to end the “free for all” among private bus operators. Bus passenger numbers are declining in every large city apart from London, the only area where services remain under public control.

Mr Alexander told the Labour Party conference: “I will act to give the local transport authorities that need them real powers to make a real difference.”

The Government is understood to be looking at making it much easier for local authorities to introduce “quality contracts” under which they can specify bus routes, frequency and fares.

Quality contracts are similar to the system of franchising in London, where bus companies do not take revenue risk and earn much lower margins than on their deregulated services in the regions.

Stagecoach, Britain’s second-biggest bus company, sold its London bus franchises last month to concentrate on markets where it has freedom to innovate and set fare levels.

Roy Wicks, chairman of the Passenger Transport Executive Group, which represents local authorities in Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle, Leeds, Birmingham and Glasgow, said Mr Souter had made clear he would sell his bus operations if he lost control over how the business was run.
Economist said:
“A MAN who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself a failure.” So Margaret Thatcher is reputed to have said in 1986, the year her government privatised and deregulated Britain's bus networks. Officially, at least, the Labour government disagrees with such sentiments: in 2000, it pledged to increase passenger numbers across Britain's bus networks by 12% by 2010.

A report published this week by the Passenger Transport Executive Group, an association of local transport officials, reveals the scale of the government's failure. Overall passenger numbers are up slightly, but that modest good news masks big falls both in the shires and the cities, where numbers have fallen by a tenth and a fifth over the past decade (see chart). Only in London have numbers risen, by over 50%. The capital's network carries 6m people every week on 700 different routes. That, says Transport for London (TfL), which runs the system, makes it one of the world's biggest.

Part of this success is down to the fact that London is a big, congested city. Gridlock on the capital's roads makes car travel unattractive. The Tube is one alternative, but many lines are stuffed to capacity. Relief will not come for several years, and there are large bits of the city that the network does not serve. For many commuters, buses are the only alternative.

But congestion is common in other cities, too. A more important reason for London's exceptionalism is that, unlike in the rest of the country, services in the capital were never deregulated. That means TfL can specify every detail of a particular route—length, frequency, fares and even the colour of the buses. Private firms then bid to run these routes, many of which are only profitable thanks to public subsidy.

Outside London, companies can set up and run any routes they like. Local authorities can fill gaps in the private networks, but only if they decide, on rather nebulous social grounds, that the service is inadequate. That causes problems, says John Dodgson, the report's author. In pursuit of more passengers, private firms may refuse to offer tickets that work on other forms of transport, or to co-ordinate their services with, say, the railways.

In the capital, by contrast, Ken Livingstone has great power over transport. His flagship congestion-charging scheme, introduced in 2003, makes driving in London's crowded centre even less attractive. It prods drivers onto buses and makes space for them on the roads. Mr Livingstone has made expanding London's bus network a priority, and has backed that pledge with taxpayers' cash. London's buses received £783m of public money in 2004-05, almost a threefold increase since 2000-01. Passenger numbers during that period have surged. Fares in London are roughly the same in real terms as ten years ago: in other big cities they have risen by an average of 86%, while the cost of motoring has hardly changed.

All that suggests that if the government is serious about getting more people onto buses, it needs to give local authorities control over routes, and to fund them generously. On the first point, Tony Travers, a transport expert at the London School of Economics, is cautiously optimistic. Two big reviews due later this year—one into transport, the other into local government finance—may point in that direction, he believes. The funding question is tougher. Ministers are already embarrassed about the vast amounts of public money consumed by the newly popular railways. A similarly big cheque for the bus industry would be a hard sell.
 
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Nick W

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I can see a simple solution here.

The Government buys out Stagecoach, form a non-profit company and call it NetworkBus.

The Government could then franchise ex-Stagecoach bus routes, and regulate First and other bus companies.
 

Dennis

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re declining bus ridership; hardly surprising given that car ownership has (and continues to) increased. Which is more convinient, walking for 10 minutes in the piddling rain to catch a bus only to find that you won't be able to get back because the service finishes at 4.30 or jumping straight into the Ford Mondeo which is parked out on the drive and being able to travel when you want to?

Until motoring becomes prohibitively expensive and time consuming (as in London) and bus services run where and when the demand exists, the number of bus passengers will continue to fall.

One pertinent observation however, why are buses full of OAP's? Nothing to do with free bus travel surely?
 
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