Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380-399)
MR GRAHAM STEVENSON, MR MARTIN MAYER AND MR ROGER SEALEY
WEDNESDAY 15 MAY 2002
380. That was precisely the reason I asked the question. I was going to ask you about your description of the system in London as being discredited, but I think you have probably answered that by saying that it is still route based and not network based. You also argue that the London model which you describe as discredited should be adopted in other parts of the country. Could you clarify that?
(Mr Stevenson) I also said the other point that we were critical about was the fact that it was still tendering. Whilst it is no longer the position that the lowest cost is always taken, the most important thing is the quality of the bus. We have nothing about the quality of the driver. I do not know if you have had the Local Passengers' Committee give evidence but their argument would be the biggest complaint from the public60 or 70 per cent, I thinkwas the quality of the driver and the service they get from the driver. There is very little that controls that and that is what we are concerned about.
381. Would you therefore like to see quality contracts extended throughout the country?
(Mr Stevenson) That is exactly right.
382. Would you like to see therefore Transport for London and local authorities who would establish those quality contracts?
(Mr Stevenson) Yes.
383. Would you like to see them involving themselves in the terms and conditions of your members?
(Mr Stevenson) In broad terms, yes. We accept and understand that it is not for procuring authorities to negotiate terms and conditions, but certainly some degree of comparability. The word "comparable" was first introduced by Stephen Norris when he was Minister for London. He talked about replacement pension schemes in London. There is no such comparable scheme. The word "comparable" has been stretched so far as to be almost ridiculous. What we want is some quality, minimum standards approach.
384. Outside of London? What criteria would you set for that comparability to be established?
(Mr Stevenson) The best criteria unfortunately the Transport Act 2000 specifically rules out. That would be the going rate for the area.
385. Not just in the bus industry?
(Mr Stevenson) Generally.
386. Have you done any analysis of what the cost would be?
(Mr Stevenson) Very considerable. One of the biggest arguments that we have is to try to get re-entry into the London Transport pension fund, for example. There is no question but that that would be hugely costly to the operators.
387. Finally, is your basic argument about quality partnerships, quality contracts, quality networks, whatever they may be, that these provisions of whatever description that are all designed in theory to improve the quality of the system are faulty because you cannot have quality of service without having quality of staff?
(Mr Stevenson) That is exactly right.
388. Is there a particular problem on recruitment and retention of staff in London?
(Mr Sealey) I did a quick check today with one of the London companies. At the moment, they are something like 300 drivers under strength. People are working 13 out of 14 days. They have 20 drivers on loan from Scotland on secondment. Their accommodation is being paid for. This is causing friction with the other drivers who have lived in London and are not being paid that. That is a pressure of retention. When congestion charging comes in, it is estimated that we will require 200 extra buses in London and that is going to require something like 1,000 more staff, drivers and mechanics. The current situation is bad enough. When that comes in, it will almost be impossible.
(Mr Mayer) Outside of London and the south east region the problem is not so acute but it nevertheless exists. Even in areas of high unemployment there does seem to be difficulty in recruiting and retaining drivers. The point that needs to be made about that is that the provision of the existing level of service is compromised by that. There is lost mileage because of that. Services do not run. If we are going to achieve an expanded role for public transport, which I think we all want to see, we do have to address these staffing concerns.
389. What should be done?
(Mr Stevenson) We do need to square the circle. It is not so much a problem of recruitment; it is a problem of retention. The biggest bug-bear with drivers leaving is the younger, shorter service drivers who do not go past their second or third or fifth year. That is the danger zone. It is the conditions on the job. Bus workers historically have always been relatively low paid in relative terms. One of the key things that kept them in was the pension, particularly the municipal bus sector. "I am superannuated" was what the old bus drivers used to say years ago. It kept them in the job.
390. Is housing an issue?
(Mr Stevenson) It is a very big issue in London. We have argued that they should be given key worker status. We have argued that, just as there are problems with police and nurses, so is there a problem for bus workers. Buses outside there now are advertising £400 a week. They do not tell you how many hours you have to work to get that. 300 is probably nearer. The housing is just not there. People cannot survive and what tends to happen is that people come from outside of London. They get a job on the buses or on the post just to get themselves ensconced in London and then they go somewhere else to work where they have better conditions mostly, rather than pay.
391. Are there increasing attacks on buses and on bus drivers? What should be done about it?
(Mr Mayer) Yes, there does seem to be a quite substantial increase in attacks in the recent period. It is not that this is a new problem. We are particularly concerned about the increasing use of weapons against bus drivers, implements like baseball bats or being shot at with air rifles and the use of knives. This has really created a big concern amongst our membership so much so that we now have a meeting with the Ministry of Transport tomorrow morning about the subject.
392. What do you think can be done about it?
(Mr Stevenson) We do feel that the government should be stronger in the advice and guidance it gives to operators. Operators do tend to want to hide this problem. They do not want the public to think that buses are unsafe to travel on. There is a huge pressure on our members not to report assaults sometimes. There are real issues about can they take the time off; have they got counselling, but also we do feel that the authorities, particularly the police, do not always necessarily take these issues as seriously as they could do. The existing legislation is there but very often there is not an assailant to be caught. We heard earlier from TfL about the positive benefits that have come from using things like video links and so on. Street crime generally can be assisted by more infrastructure, more investment in things like video cameras and radios. Why is it not the case that every operator is obliged to have these on their vehicle?
393. The Health and Safety Executive do not report a rise. Is that to do with the-under-reporting?
(Mr Stevenson) Historically, the Health and Safety Executive has not been very involved in this issue. The government set up a task group which I sat on recently which tried to coordinate work related road deaths. It is beginning to take it much more seriously now. We do think there is a need for operators to accept the need for risk assessment. They have to. It is legal, but they do not always necessarily carry it out properly; and to carry out measures to improve the safety and security of the staff, because it impacts also on passengers. Drivers are being attacked and passengers are being attacked as well. The whole issue has gone up a new notch in the last 18 months. It is much more vicious than it used to be.
394. You have said you think there are major wage issues within the industry as well as costs relating to conditions. You have also said that you do not believe fares can rise because of the issue of competitive costs versus the motor car. How do you see the funding requirement being met? Do you have a sense of how much extra money the industry needs to reach the standards you aspire to?
(Mr Stevenson) We have seen already the degree of reduction that has taken place over a decade or a decade and a half. We have a third in the level of subsidy which the industry has received. We have not really addressed the issue of declining patronage. It seems to us that, at the very least, we should go back to that. There is a lot more we can do with the existing subsidy, the way in which fuel duty rebate, concessionary fares and so on are apportioned to the industry; tendering itself, the actual process of using tendering in this open market bid could all be changed, it seems to us. We do need more money. I have no idea exactly how much other than saying let's get back at least to the level we were at, but it is a lot. That is for sure.
395. To say it is a lot; that is for sure does not give anybody contemplating the issue a very clear sense of direction about what you believe the funding level should be.
(Mr Stevenson) If we can get back to restoring the position that we were in by replacing the third reduction that we currently have had and sustained and ensure that in that process the money that is being given to the industry is being applied and produces something from it and delivers something from it. There is a great deal of evidence in the last 18 months. Operators have been withdrawing from certain tendering routes and recasting their networks in order to maximise the benefit they get from the system. The system is what is weak. That is for certain the big issue for us. We would then be in a position maybe to make better estimates. It needs to be properly quantified and costed, not by some off the cuff comment by me about what may or may not be done.
396. There is a lot of spare capacity in the industry, is there not? There is a lot of scope. If you get more passengers they could be fitted on to the existing buses and therefore generate a considerable amount of income.
(Mr Stevenson) That is exactly right, particularly outside of London, obviously. The competition situation means that there are still, despite the decline in the degree of competition, a lot of buses roaming around looking for passengers.
397. In trying to solve that problem, do conductors have any role to play?
(Mr Stevenson) We always thought so, certainly in very big cities.
398. In the big cities, you have more or less pointed out it is difficult enough to get drivers so it is not going to be easy to get conductors on even less pay.
(Mr Stevenson) Our experience of crew operation was that the nature of the job was different. It was much more pleasant. If you have a very congested environment with a great deal of movement off and on the bus, dealing with problems of rowdy passengers, a conductor or conductress is very helpful to the general situation.
399. Is not a smart card system of payment much more cost effective?
(Mr Stevenson) Absolutely. What is going to be the role of the driver in this regard? We do not want to sound very old fashioned here but what do we get out of it? We have a situation where we lost the conductor; we had to take the money as well as cope with the pressure of competition. Wages and pensions have gone down. The whole job is worse than it was. It used to be a nice job. People liked it but they do not like it now.