Memorandum by Transport 2000 Cambs &
West Suffolk Branch (Bus 26)
THE BUS INDUSTRY
This response is written on behalf of Transport
2000 Cambs & W Suffolk branch. This is one of the local groups
of Transport 2000, the national environmental transport campaign.
Transport 2000's aim is to develop a society in which transport
serves the needs of the whole communityincluding non-motoristswithout
the negative effects of pollution, congestion, noise and danger
currently caused by over-reliance on cars, lorries and aircraft.
Note that within this response we refer to my personal response
to the Government's consultation on changes to the planning system;
this response was not submitted on behalf of Transport 2000 Cambs
& W Suffolk.
UK BUS INDUSTRY,
1.1 What has actually happened?
1.1.1 We believe that Rural Bus Challenge
has not been as much of a boon as it might, because benefits have
not been spread beyond the initial targeted areas; because local
transport authorities have tended to concentrate on villages within
their own areas; because local users have not been involved in
projects; and because of the lack of incentives for motorists
to switch to the improved bus services.
1.1.2 Bus subsidies (other than Rural Bus
Grant) have suffered because they, almost uniquely among transport
spending, are not ring fenced. This has led to over concentration
on infrastructure without the much more important improvement
to the services that actually use it. Or, worse, money is spent
on roads rather than public transport because of the problems
of putting together a package dependent on continued revenue spending.
1.1.3 Bus subsidies are also affected by
the Standard Spending Assessment system which penalises local
authorities who want better public services. This applies to all
services, but bus subsidies are particularly vulnerable because
of the short lead time required to withdraw a service as compared,
say, with closing a school.
1.2 What should be done?
1.2.1 We suggest that bus subsidies should
be allocated on a goals orientated basis. Local authorities should
be required, after public consultation, to compile a plan setting
out minimum standards for every community and corridor, and, if
these standards are accepted by the Government, should receive
a grant from the Government. (This might not cover the whole cost,
especially in the longer term. Local authorities could be encouraged
to tap other means of fund raising such as a tax on workplace
and other private non-residential parking, and contributions to
a Traffic Reduction Fund from developersthe last was mentioned
in my response to the Government's consultation on changes to
the planning system, see also 5.3 below.) However the support
from the Government should be conditional on the local authority
maintaining the system to the standards set out in its plan.
1.2.2 We also suggest that if the Government
wishes to be seen as supportive of high quality public services,
including transport, it should scrap the Standard Spending Assessment
clawback, and, preferably, replace it with matching funding for
discretionary local authority spending.
1.2.3 The consultation referred to above
might be undertaken through some kind of partnership in which
the local authorities would be joined by the operators, users
and other stakeholders. At present the users have no input into
the public transport system that is imposed on them apart from
consultation in the production of a bus strategy document that
is liable to confine itself to vague generalities.
2. THE RELATIVE
2.1 We do not believe that statutory Quality
Partnerships offer significant advantages over the non-statutory
type which gives local authorities more freedom.
2.2 We believe that the bus network can't
develop properly without Quality Contracts which allow local authorities
(or the local partnerships suggested in 1.2.3 above) to control
all aspects of a bus network, including the provision of services
to new developments; the setting of fares at competitive levels
with relevant through ticketing; the provision of adequate interchange
facilities and connections; public involvement in planning the
network; the use of bus priority routes; and comprehensive publicity
with nationally set changeover dates.
2.3 We do not believe that it is necessary
for the same operator to run all services within an area where
a Quality Contract system operates. We also believe that operators
should be allowed to improve on what they are required to provide,
subject to conditions like being forbidden from driving other
operators out of business.
2.4 A prime candidate for Quality Contracts
should be "strategic" bus routes, which form the public
transport equivalent of trunk and primary roads. In principle
the equivalent of trunk roads should be provided by rail, but
in practice this is far from the case. (If one defines a main
road as one where local communities have been by-passed, then,
going north from London west of the A1/East Coast Main Line, one
crosses no less than nine main roadsthe M25, A414, A505,
A507, A421, A14, A605, A47 and A43before meeting the first
railway.) We suggest that strategic routes should become the responsibility
of the Strategic Rail Authority and treated as part of the rail
networkalthough this should not be at the expense of any
through ticketing facilities with local buses.
3. THE IMPORTANCE
3.1 I am sceptical about the potential of
bus lanes for by-passing congestion. In practice one rarely encounters
the scenario of buses rushing past queues of cars. Either the
buses are held up elsewhere en route (by fare collection or diversions
to serve villages), or they get caught up in queues of traffic
waiting to enter the narrowed section of non-bus route, or congestion
spreads to areas with no bus lanes. We need to do more of the
following to create effective priorities:
3.1.1 Install transponders to ensure that
buses can get through traffic lights without delay.
3.1.2 Give priority to radial routes (with
lots of bus traffic) over orbital routes (with little bus traffic)
3.1.3 Create new bus-only links enabling
routes to serve villages without getting held up by road layouts
designed to discourage through traffic leaving the main road.
3.1.4 Create virtual stations allowing routes
to serve villages without leaving the main road. (We suggest that
the Highways Agency could be charged with a duty to pursue this).
3.2 It goes without saying that bus priority
measures have to be enforced if they are to work. If possible,
enforcementof this and other motoring regulationsshould
be organised on a self-financing basis, ie paid for by the fines
of offending motorists.
4.1 We regard regulation as less important
than where the decisions are taken. Some public sector bodyor
partnership as suggested in 1.2.3 aboveshould have a duty
to procure a basic network; operators would have the freedom to
improve on it. For the public sector body, existing local transport
authorities tend to cover too small an area (and in any case they
should be given a duty to cover cross-boundary travel), and there
is also a need to involve the public in decision making.
4.2 There are many ways in which the existing
system is over-regulated. In terms of safety, motoring causes
many times the number of casualties, but there are no driving
hours limits on motorists, and speed limits on motorways are higher
than for buses. Any safety benefits of bus regulation need to
be balanced against the consequent effect on the ability to finance
and staff a comprehensive network, with the consequent potential
to improve safety by reducing the number of cars on the road.
4.3 The clampdown by the Office of Fair
Trading on inter-operator agreements is even more unacceptable
and quite contrary to the spirit of integrated transport. We believe
that the fear of action by the OFT is inhibiting operators from
making even such agreements as might be accepted by the OFT. We
4.3.1 Operators should be allowed to make
any arrangements without fear of being fined. The worst they would
face would be a requirement to dismantle the agreement if a complaint
about it is upheld.
4.3.2 Third party operators should have
a right to participate in any agreement on equal terms, and to
lodge a complaint if they are denied this right.
4.3.3 Otherwise, the only legitimate complaint
against an agreement would be by users who felt they were being
disadvantaged. Before making a ruling, the OFT would be required
to allow other users to submit their views, so that they could
make a balanced judgement on whether the agreement helped or hurt
the public; only in the latter case would action be taken.
5. THE CONTRIBUTION
5.1 We see an integrated public transport
network as a basic human right to which the socially excluded,
like anyone else, would have access. We also need to ensure they
are used by people other than the socially excluded: apart from
the need for big reductions in the modal share of cars, which
are mainly used by the non-socially excluded, there is the aphorism
that services for the poor tend to become poor services.
5.2 The issue of fare levels is particularly
important in enabling public transport to reduce social exclusion,
and we believe it is also a significant factor in making public
transport competitive with cars.
5.3 By far the biggest factor in transport-related
social exclusion is the tendency, which has not yet been controlled
by planning policy guidance, for developers to choose locations
for new development purely on the basis of convenience to motorists.
If there is any consideration for public transport users (or walkers
and cyclists), it is relegated to an afterthought. It is for this
reason that my response to the Government's consultation on changes
to the planning system included a suggestion that all major development
proposals should be required to include a Non-Motorist Impact
Assessment to ensure that access issues for non-motorists are
considered from the outset. I also suggested that developments
not designed to minimise traffic generationand which would
therefore be more likely to offer access problems to the socially
excludedshould be required to contribute to a Traffic Reduction
Fund, the proceeds from which would be used to provide both capital
and revenue support to sustainable transport projects, including
Conclusion. We conclude by suggesting that the
needs of bus users are still not being taken seriously by the
Government. We would like to see a twin track policy whereby rail
and bus improvements went hand in hand with traffic reduction
policies and the abandonment of road schemes designed to cater
for ever higher traffic levels, and believe that a comprehensive
approach is needed for both rail and bus if it is to offer the
required alternative to the car. The development of such an approach
should be the Government's main aim as it seeks to overhaul the
administrative framework within which both rail and bus operate.
7 April 2002