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

Memorandum by the South East Forum for Sustainability (Bus 30)


  1.  My name is Nigel Rose. I represent the South East Forum for Sustainability—Transport Group-Thames Valley on the Thames Valley Multi-Modal Study Steering Group. SEFS itself represents the interests of a number of environmental groups (including Transport 2000, CPRE, FoE, RSPB, Railfuture, Wildlife Trusts etc) at a regional level. I am also an Independent elected member of Wokingham Unitary District Council and have been involved in matters relating to transport at a local level for some 20 years.

  2.  It goes without saying that the bus should form a key part of the transport network at a local level. However, failure to integrate with rail and metro services and a general neglect to consider the passenger's total needs have led to a steady decline in patronage outside London and one or two specific towns.

  3.  If modal shift is to be achieved then the bus has to be an attractive alternative to the private car in terms of the total journey experience. This will require:

    —  priority use of road space by properly joined up and enforced bus lanes, priority at and through traffic lights, etc so that actual road speeds can be competitive;

    —  new housing developments designed to be bus friendly (particularly for school buses) by using looped layouts and bus gates etc;

    —  real time information systems at bus stops and via mobile phones, internet etc (this can be particularly important in areas where services are less frequent and the (potential) passenger does not know whether the bus went early, is late or is not running at all on that occasion);

    —  changes in revenue support for school buses and the scrapping of the current two mile and three mile rules which decide whether pupils are entitled to transport—these distances are completely outdated and encourage the school run;

    —  more revenue support for services in the evening and at weekends—we no longer have a nine to five economy and leisure (window) shopping journeys are as significant a generator of congestion as work journeys—even nine to five workers have to stay late and will not use the bus if there is a risk they cannot get home;

    —  ticketing systems should provide discounts for regular use over a half year, but need to move away from the season ticket approach that assumes five journeys in a week—working at home and away from a regular base remove the benefits—smart cards or similar could provide the solution.

  4.  There are effective examples of bus priority measures in the greater Reading area where Park & Ride buses utilise the hard shoulder of the A3290 "motorway" and then have priority at traffic lights when joining the A4, bypassing queuing cars; bus lanes in both directions on the eastern approaches to the town centre; traffic light priority on the A329 corridor and at a major crossroads in Twyford. However, the total effectiveness is reduced by abuse of the bus lanes by non-authorised users and parking, particularly by "white vans". Speedy action is needed to provide the necessary enforcement legislation, currently restricted to London.

  5.  There is one piece of legislation which currently goes totally against an integrated joined up network of routes and the achievement of government transport policy—the competition policy operated by the DTI and the Office of Fair Trading. The situation is obviously proving frustrating to the DTLR as much as it is locally, judging by recent correspondence.

  6.  The Transport Act 1985 deregulated the bus industry, outside London, with the laudable aim of developing new, innovative services. However, the very strict interpretation of the rules on competition between operators is now working against best service to passengers and is having the opposite effect to government transport policy, by driving frustrated passengers back into cars.

  7.  All the surveys done locally by Councils and others indicate a desire for integration of services and co-operation between operators to deliver through-ticketing and comprehensive "joined-up", preferably clock-face, timetables. However, based on best legal advice, the operators cannot contemplate considering this approach. The Transport Act 2000 (135 to 138) provides for local authorities to make a ticketing scheme, but again legal advice means that operators refuse to take part because it is viewed to be illegal under competition legislation.

  8.  There are many examples around the country where co-operation between operators would be in the best interests of passengers—for example First Group and Stagecoach would like, I understand, to provide a Greater Manchester Travel Card, providing the opportunity for cross-city journeys, lost when GMPTE services were privatised. This has been blocked by the OFT.

  9.  On the other hand, London Transport, with its Travelcards developed to give through ticketing between suburban trains, buses and tubes, was specifically excluded from the legislation and is able to provide an integrated system—something of much benefit to residents across the south-east when travelling to London, but not available to them locally.

  10.  The problem was brought to a head in Wokingham Unitary District last autumn. Until November, all services on one of the main local corridors across the area from Reading out to Twyford were operated by Reading Transport. Residents of villages could take any one of several RT services to Reading. Between them there was a roughly half-hour frequency, even though some individual services only ran two hourly. They could make savings of 30p to 50p with return tickets and, in the case of the villages within the Reading designated "urban area", residents could also use the Reading "Busabout" £2 ticket for the day enabling, for example, pensioners to make through journeys across Reading, at no extra cost, to a hospital to visit relations, despite changing buses in the town centre.

  11.  Reading Transport withdrew one of their longer routes for legitimate commercial reasons, but this formed a major component of the overall frequency of services. Fortunately, Arriva stepped in to take over from their High Wycombe base, which has kept the overall service frequencies about the same—BUT they will not accept Reading return and "Busabout" tickets because of their legal concerns. They cannot issue the latter so residents wanting to go to the hospital across town cannot take the Arriva bus without a major cost penalty of £1 or potentially a two hour wait in Reading for the "right" bus back home. Similarly, Reading Buses cannot accept Arriva returns. Passengers have to buy single tickets to ensure flexibility. They are returning to their cars out of frustration, unless, having no car, they have no option but to wait or pay.

  12.  The operators would like to co-operate but dare not. A little local indiscretion could lead to a fine of 10 per cent of total group turnover. For companies like Arriva or Stagecoach, who run trains and buses across the country, the numbers could be huge—millions of pounds. Competition regulation is making public transport less competitive with its real competition—the private car—and frustrating government transport policy.

  13.  The OFT also appear to think that it is better for two operators to each run an hourly service within five minutes of each other rather than be sensible and deliver an overall frequency of 30 minutes. This may give theoretical competition on fares, but the only competitor that wins is the private car!

  14.  The DTLR have reminded us of the Order made in 2001 exempting multi-operator ticketing schemes from having to be notified individually to the OFT. However, DTLR have acknowledged that "bus operators and local authorities have expressed considerable concern about the terms of the ticketing scheme block exemption. Bus operators are bound to take the Competition Act very seriously and, mindful of the sanctions, are understandably extremely wary of breaching any of its provisions. It is clearly unsatisfactory that operators should either feel compelled to abandon existing worthwhile initiatives, or be deterred from developing new ones" (letter from DTLR to Wokingham District Council—February 2002).

  15.  In the same letter, in relation to "joined-up" timetables, DTLR said ".....the Director General of Fair Trading takes the view that an agreement between bus operators to operate at agreed minutes past the hour amounts to a market sharing agreement. As such it is prohibited under the terms of the Competition Act 1998. Clearly there are obvious potential advantages to passengers in this kind of agreement and the OFT have suggested that it may be possible for an agreement to benefit from an individual exemption". The OFT are not therefore including this in the so-called block exemption.

  16.  I hope that the Sub-Committee will recognise from the above that, if headway is to be made to deliver modal shift and remove some of the problems for those without cars, then public transport has to be joined-up in all its aspects—train to bus and bus to bus. I urge the Sub-Committee to demand immediate action from the DTI and OFT to remove the damaging impacts of the Competition Act and the Treasury to release more revenue funding to support bus services and community transport and provide a comprehensive network of truly sustainable transport alternatives to the private car. This is necessary to fulfil the objectives set out in the Transport White Paper and the Transport Act 2000. The alternative will be grid-lock for those with cars and more social exclusion for those without.

N D Rose

12 April 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 12 September 2002