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

Memorandum by the Local Government Association, the Confederation of Passenger Transport, the National Federation of Bus Users, Age Concern, the British Chambers of Commerce, the National Society for Clean Air, Transport 2000 and the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers (Bus 07)


  1.  Two thirds of public transport journeys are made by bus and improving bus services offers the greatest potential for quickly improving public transport at the local level. Bus services are particularly important for people on low incomes and poor local transport can exacerbate the problems experienced by socially excluded groups. Improving bus services is a crucial element in discouraging car use to reduce congestion and improve air quality.

  2.  As part of a wider LGA initiative launched last summer, a group of Pathfinder local councils have been working with local bus companies and other partners to develop a range of innovative ideas to improve the quality of local bus services. The aim is to "pilot" new ideas in specific areas to test whether they work. Proposals include speeding up buses in Birmingham by strictly enforcing bus lanes; increasing bus use in Lancashire to reduce urban congestion; and re-planning bus services in Hampshire to address social needs in rural areas.

  3.  However, the major problem facing these pilot projects is central government red tape. A number of experiments have been hampered by government regulations that are preventing local partners from working together effectively. One of the main problems is that competition regulations designed to prevent anti-competitive practices such as price-fixing by operators are hampering partnerships between local authorities and local bus companies to improve services.

  4.  For example, regulations have the effect of requiring two operators on the same route to have different fare structures to prevent uncompetitive collusion. This means that passengers may be charged different fares for exactly the same journey and there may be problems about the inter-availability of return tickets. These requirements make no sense to passengers and only serve to create the impression of an unintegrated and badly-planned transport service. More details of the practical problems being faced by local partnerships are given in Paragraphs 7-11.

  5.  In the recent White Paper on Local Government strong local leadership, quality public services the government made a commitment to freeing local government from unnecessary Whitehall bureaucracy to allow it to deliver high quality public services. The Local Government Association, the Confederation of Passenger Transport, the National Federation of Bus Users, the NHS Confederation, Age Concern, the National Society for Clean Air, Transport 2000 and the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers are calling on the Government to make this commitment a reality. By cutting the red tape to allow local experiments the Government would give local councils, bus operators, other local agencies and the communities they serve an opportunity to try truly innovative approaches to improving local bus services.

  6.  Paragraphs 12-22 set out some "bus facts" which demonstrate the importance of local bus services, particularly to socially excluded groups and the widespread public support for the improvement of bus services.


  7.  South Ribble, Lancashire provides a practical example of the kinds of issues that bus partnerships seek to address. Residents in the area experience real difficulty in getting to and from hospitals because journeys often involve the use of services provided by more than one operator. A journey which might take 20 minutes by car can take over two hours by public transport simply as a result of lack of timetable co-ordination between operators in what, to the public, would appear to be one network. If operators could work together with local authorities then it is likely that this would lead to the best use of available vehicles for the benefit of the wider community and it would create a coherent network for an area.

  8.  The East Leeds Guided Bus Scheme is a quality partnership between local authorities and bus operators but illustrates how competition regulations cause difficulties if more than one operator serves a particular route. In East Leeds two major operators have made very significant contribution to the costs of infrastructure and operate high quality vehicles, yet because of the competition regulations charge different fares for similar journeys. This does not make sense to the passenger and only serves to create an adverse impression of the public transport system.

  9.  In Lancashire, bus operators have expressed concern at the problems caused by the competition regulations and recognise that it is damaging to the perception of public transport in its efforts to compete against the private car. If freed from the excessive restrictions imposed by the Competition Act, the operators say they would be amenable to working together to improve local bus services.

  10.  Birmingham is looking at improving highway conditions for bus operators to reduce congestion and speed up bus journeys. The council applied to the Government for powers to use cameras to catch drivers using bus lanes illegally last summer but is still waiting for government action.

  11.  In Hampshire, the County Council is working closely with the single commercial bus operator in the Andover area to try to improve the public transport network with the aim of increasing usage. A number of improvements to service patterns and bus frequencies have been identified. To move forward on these ideas the local authority needs to negotiate with the commercial service operator to agree funding for the improvements. The difficulty is that the local authority is only allowed to reach an agreement with the operator up to certain fixed financial limits, which are currently set at a very low level. This constrains innovation and the council would like the freedom to agree an overall package with the operator, without limits, subject to the process being transparent and audited to ensure that the Council is achieving best value from its actions.


  12.  Local buses are the dominant form of public transport, carrying over twice as many passengers as rail in Great Britain: 4.3 billion passenger journeys were made by bus in 2000-01, compared to 2.1 billion journeys by rail (DTLR, Bulletin of Transport Statistics, 2001).

  13.  68 per cent of all public transport journeys are by bus (DTLR, Bulletin of Transport Statistics, 2001).

  14.  There are over 80 million bus journeys a week (DTLR, Bulletin of Transport Statistics, 2001).

  15.  Around three in 10 bus trips are for shopping: but amongst the elderly, this rises to over a half (DTLR, Bulletin of Transport Statistics, 2001).

  16.  Unsurprisingly, bus use is heavily influenced by a person's access to a car. People in households without cars made 20 per cent of their trips by bus compared with 3 per cent in households with one or more cars (DTLR, Personal Travel Factsheet 8: Bus Use in Great Britain, 2001).

  17.  Women use buses more than men: during the survey week 19 per cent of men and 29 per cent of women in the National Travel Survey (NTS) sample had used a local bus at least once (DTLR, Personal Travel Factsheet 8: Bus Use in Great Britain, 2001).

  18.  Bus use is greatest amongst those aged 16-20, where men made 130 trips per year and women 149 compared with the average of 48 and 70 respectively for all age groups (DTLR, Personal Travel Factsheet 8: Bus Use in Great Britain, 2001).

  19.  People in low-income groups made most bus trips. On average, people living in the lowest income quintile households made 97 bus trips a year (11 per cent of all trips made by these people). The lowest use was recorded by those in the highest income quintile, 29 trips a year (2 per cent of all trips) (DTLR, Personal Travel Factsheet 8: Bus Use in Great Britain, 2001).

  20.  For Great Britain as a whole, 87 per cent of households have reasonable access to a bus service (within 13 minutes walk of a bus stop with a service of at least once an hour). In rural areas the proportion of households with this level of service has risen from 35 per cent in 1985-86 to 42 per cent in 1997-99 (DTLR, Personal Travel Factsheet 8: Bus Use in Great Britain, 2001).

  21.  90 per cent of the general public say they support a policy of maintaining and improving bus services (CfIT, Public Attitudes to Transport in England, 2000).

  22.  82 per cent of the general public support a policy of more bus services (CfIT, Public Attitudes to Transport in England, 2000).

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