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


Memorandum by Central and West Lancashire Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Bus 23)

THE BUS INDUSTRY

  By way of background Central and West Lancashire Chamber of Commerce and Industry represents 1,200 business members in every industry sector and covering every size of company. The majority of these members are small businesses—the seedbed of the future prosperity of the United Kingdom. We are a fully Accredited Chamber of Commerce providing a core range of high quality business support services.

  Our response is detailed as follows:

1.  SUBSIDIES IN THE UK BUS INDUSTRY

  1.1  An effective and reliable public transport network is essential to help reduce urban traffic congestion. The Government has set a target of 10 per cent patronage. But how to achieve it? Through introducing congestion charging and car restraint measures or by subsidising usage. We believe that a combination of both measures needs to be applied.

  1.2  Government targets to encourage greater use of public transport can only be achieved if there is a realistic alternative to the car. This is particularly important given the complicated nature of many journeys (particularly to the workplace, as people tend to have more flexibility as to where they shop and spend their leisure time) and the difficulty of replicating these journeys by public transport.

  1.3  Public transport does not yet have the capacity or the perception of quality to make sure that motorists who are forced to change their behaviour have somewhere to go. The reliability and speed of public transport are key features for any regime to increase its attractiveness. Subsidies can help improve the effectiveness and reliability of non-viable bus services as well as bringing both economic and environmental benefits providing bus operators receive fair compensation.

  1.4  We believe that the previous rebate of duty payable on diesel used for local bus services should be increased as a percentage to reduce the cost of running services. This would reduce the pressure on fare increases and provide a clear indication of the Government's intention to promote the greater use of public transport and investment in service improvements. The current rate only covers 80 per cent of the full duty, which leaves passengers having to pay the remaining 20 per cent. This is inequitable and is effectively a tax on users of bus transport. By contrast rail users pay 0 per cent on electricity or 7 per cent on diesel.

  1.5  Special exceptions must be made to rural communities where public transport is not viable and where increased road costs could lead to severe social and economic difficulties. Restoring the fuel duty rebate to 100 per cent would directly benefit the less advantaged and socially excluded as this group use bus transport to a greater extent than rail.

  1.6  A study by Preston Borough Council revealed that 50 per cent of all road traffic within the town centre was made by vehicles travelling less than 4km. Road pricing will not remove these vehicles but an effective and sustained travel awareness campaign linked to a viable and efficient public transport system might!

2.  THE RELATIVE MERITS OF BUS QUALITY PARTNERSHIPS AND BUS QUALITY CONTRACTS

  2.1  We support the principle of Quality Partnerships but believe that additional resources must be made available to local authorities to enable further development of measures to increase park and ride, public transport schemes, and traffic calming as part of an overall package of measures.

  2.2  There needs to be some mechanism for co-ordinating the work of local partnerships and identifying examples of best practice that could be adopted throughout the country. This has to be co-ordinated at a national level.

3.  THE IMPORTANCE OF BUS PRIORITY MEASURES AND THEIR ENFORCEMENT

  3.1  Reliability and speed are key to improving the attractiveness of public transport. Improving journey speeds will help to reduce the differences with private car journeys. Implementing bus priority measures will improve the effectiveness and reliability of bus services and bring both economic and environmental benefits.

  3.2  We believe that an effective and reliable public transport network is essential to help reduce town centre congestion. It would be sensible to give public transport systems within urban areas priority use of road space and, therefore, priorities within town centres must be to increase the public transport network at the expense of non-essential traffic.

  3.3  The Government has announced that revenue from local congestion charges and workplace parking can be ploughed back into local transport schemes. The decriminalisation of traffic offences has also provided local authorities with an opportunity to ring fence income for expenditure on transport improvement schemes.

  3.4  Metropolitan centres do well retail wise, despite limited parking and high parking charges. These centres also work well when they have excellent public transport. However, many local authorities fear that if they progress independently on bus priority issues they will merely encourage car users to go to other towns with better or equivalent retail facilities. We need to ensure that local authorities covering rural or semi-urban areas do not become involved in sterile and destructive competition between themselves when seeking to introduce bus transport management policies.

  3.5  It should be recognised that shoppers are as likely to be tempted by lower or non-existent parking charges to travel to more distant retail destinations regardless of the additional fuel cost as they are by improved public transport. We would wish to avoid a situation whereby local retail centres compete against one another by providing a higher number of parking spaces as opposed to improved bus priority measures.

  3.6  Local authorities are often too small to deal with some of the big strategic planning and transportation issues. The solution inevitably requires a regional understanding of the general direction of transport and planning policies on which the Government should give a clear lead. The Government's commitment to regional decision-making and co-ordination should be recognised as a natural touchstone for the development and enhancement of the strategic transport networks.

  3.7  We believe that park and ride is workable when properly resourced and has an appropriate frequency of services and destinations. We would also like to see a reference to the security of park and ride facilities. These should be staffed to encourage people to leave their cars some distance from their destination.

  3.8  There should be a clear commitment within local transport plans that public transport systems should be given priority use of road space in all new highway schemes.

4.  REGULATION OF THE BUS INDUSTRY

  4.1  The Government's stated aim in its 10-Year Transport Plan is to deliver an integrated and sustainable transport system which delivers real choice across different modes of transport. We believe that government measures to improve co-ordination between modes of transport are being stifled by the Competition Act. One of the stated aims of the Act is to reward consumers with lower prices, higher quality, and wider choice. However we believe that the Act is stifling consumer choice for a number of reasons:

    The Act is stifling integration of ticketing because it makes integration of rail and bus services impossible if the rail company is owned by a competing bus operator.

    Transport operators who operate bus and rail services can integrate both the services they operate. However they cannot talk to other operators about the integration of their services.

    Bus operators cannot accept return or multi journey tickets issued by other operators on the same route as this would be seen as collusion over fares even if it was to the benefit of the passengers.

  Steps must be taken to ensure that the Competition Act does not have the perverse effect of stifling moves towards improved public transport integration by local authorities and operators, particularly in respect of simplified joint ticketing and sensible timetable co-ordination where this is clearly to the benefit of the public (for example service connections, maximising potential joint operator frequencies etc).

  We agree that some regulation is required but it should be sensible and the Competition Act in its present form is not.

  4.2  One of the reasons why London has retained bus patronage is through the TravelCard system where one good value ticket gives access to all buses and trains. Elsewhere in the United Kingdom the lack of a fully co-ordinated system can be seen as a major deterrent to bus patronage. For example getting information about public transport services that involve a number of different transport operators requires considerable effort and, for a new and complex journey, may be virtually insurmountable. By contrast navigation for motorists is much simpler.

  4.3  The role of the Government must be to take the lead role in defining and co-ordinating overall transport policy for all sectors of the transport network. This cannot be left to market forces alone.

5.  THE CONTRIBUTION OF BUS SERVICES TO REDUCING SOCIAL EXCLUSION

  5.1  The lack of public transport solutions for work journeys is a major reason for social exclusion in rural areas. Special exceptions must be made to rural communities where public transport is not viable where increased road costs could lead to severe social and economic difficulties. But local authorities do not have enough money revenue to fund non-profitable routes. Government needs to allocate more money ring fenced for such routes.

  5.2  The Government should undertake a national public awareness and schools education programme, similar to those that discourage smoking and drink driving in order to promote the benefits of adopting a sustainable transport strategy and the means to achieve it. At the same time it must explain the likely social, economic, and environmental consequences of not doing so. Bus awareness campaigns should be co-ordinated nationally in a similar manner to the approach adopted with road safety.

  5.3  Local transport plans should maintain a full commitment to subsidising transport services that do not generate enough income to make them self-financing where such services meet an essential social need.

Hugh Evans

Friday 12 April 2002


 
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