Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Just the ticket - Times praises Labour's plan for buses

Today’s Times says Labour’s plans for a fairer deal on the buses announced yesterday are “just the ticket”.

The raft of proposals marking the most fundamental change in how buses are run for a generation were unveiled by the Government yesterday.

"Putting Passengers First" outlines Government proposals to strengthen working partnerships between local authorities and bus companies to attract more passengers in the long term.

The key changes being considered are:

* On greater partnership working between local authorities and operators, making it easier for local authorities to have a say in bus frequency, timetables and fares.

* On punctuality, giving Traffic Commissioners greater powers of enforcement , holding not just operators but for the first time local authorities to account for the performance of local bus services

* On quality contracts (franchising) in the right circumstances making it a realistic option for local authorities to introduce schemes tailored to local needs.

* Allowing local charities and community groups to provide services in areas poorly served by other transport.

* On the environment, making sure that current bus subsidies help to support the Government's environmental objectives.

Unveiling the package, Labour’s Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said:
To many people buses are a lifeline, giving them access to jobs and shops and allowing them to stay in touch with family and friends. But since deregulation some areas have seen a free-for-all, with the needs of passengers being neglected.

In some areas - where local authorities and bus operators work in partnership for the benefit of passengers - the number of people using buses has gone up.

But in too many areas passengers are simply not getting the services they expect, and as a result passenger numbers have declined.

By sharing best practice and giving local authorities and operators the tools they need to work effectively together, all passengers, regardless of where they live, should start to enjoy the benefits of top quality bus services.
The Times comment is a cracking good read so I'm posting it in full here:
Last year, in England alone, passengers made an estimated 4.1 billion bus trips — two thirds of all journeys by public transport.

The bus remains a lifeline for many rural communities, providing their only connection to healthcare, banks, shopping centres and schools. It plays a key role in all plans to relieve road congestion, cut carbon emissions, reduce road accidents and support the economy.

About two million people a day go to work by bus or coach. Yet the bus has an unlovely image, is shunned by car owners and costs the taxpayer ever more money: next year public expenditure on buses will reach £2.5 billion, more than double the sum a decade ago (though still only half the subsidies to rail travel).

If buses are to play a role at a time of rapid economic and social change, the strategy must be reupholstered.

The paper presented yesterday by Douglas Alexander, the Transport Secretary, was timely, low-key and sensible. He admitted that the current regulatory framework largely failed to deliver the service that passengers rightly expected. Since deregulation a decade ago, which was intended to increase the market through competition and commercial enterprise, bus ridership has fallen by about 18 per cent.

In almost all big cities except London fares have risen, passenger numbers fallen and routes have been cut. Swaths of the countryside have no regular bus service, whereas on competitive routes such as those to Oxford buses run every 15 minutes day and night.

Mr Alexander rightly rules out any return to the old days of nationalisation. Municipal transport may have a nostalgic image, but it is almost always wasteful, inefficient and inflexible.

What is needed, however, is closer co-ordination between the operators and the local authorities. In some cases, this is already happening: in York and Brighton buses are vital to local schemes to reduce congestion and keep the historic centres viable.

But, as the paper says, there is no single pattern, nor should there be. Local authorities may suggest but not dictate routes, but they should be realistic about franchising. They should be hardheaded about the need for a commercially viable service, but allow charities and community groups to provide services in poorly served areas or where a route would never pay.

What role should the bus play in a car-owning society? The figures may look bleak: since 1985 the proportion of households without cars has fallen by a third, from 36 to 24 per cent. Those without a car made 20 per cent of their trips by bus, compared with 3 per cent by car-owning households.

As car use has grown, buses are caught in a vicious circle: fewer passengers and services mean higher fares, more congestion, slipping punctuality and fewer passengers.

That circle can be broken, however, if there are disincentives to use cars in congested areas and incentives to use a well-developed public transport network.

The effect on bus usage can be dramatic: in London, it has risen 38 per cent since congestion charges began, although subsidies (paid by the charge) have also risen.

Punctuality is reported to have risen nine points to 79 per cent, while the increased numbers have reduced costs per passenger by 22 per cent since 1985.

London is an exception. But as other cities tackle congestion, they should study their bus timetables closely and ensure that passengers, not bureaucrats, are best served by their strategy.

Discuss!

8 comments:

busbeast said...

Buses are fun, they get you places.
To chase a bus you need fast paces.
When you look round, see lots of faces.
Enjoying buses when they race us.

Liz said...

Excellent report. Again Phil this builds on the improvements to public transport which the government introduced. In Lincolnshire many communities have access to buses rather than rely on the Post Office van! These new proposals will strengthen local transport plans. I particularly welcome local charities and community groups being given more power - this is superb. I say this as whilst I welcome the greater involvement between local authorities and operators - the wheels of local authorities are often too slow.

Another great achievement by this government and one that will benefit the people of Lincolnshire.

enigman said...

Liz - is that the same Liz that attended Morag's wine and cheese evening? I left rather squiffy!

Liz said...

Sorry not me. Would have loved to have seen you squiffy assuming of course that I was not squiffy too!!!

Geoffrey G Brooking said...

The Times also reports that despite the fact that the number of people using buses has gone down prices have shot up (especially in Merseyside).

Brynley said...

A heavy user writes...

Today I have spent 8 hours on public transport, Aberdeen City Centre to Aslackby, Lincs; 2 trains, one Kimes bus. Left Aberdeen 9.55am, arrived Aslackby near Bourne before 6pm.

We need buses Bourne - Grantham.

I shall reserve judgement until I see those buses.

I'm not sure that these are promised.

enigman said...

Liz - this cat's got claws! I was sure it was you that I met in the kitchen and talked at length with about the merits of home cooked Yorkshire pudding.

I'm obviously mistaken. For the record, do you prefer home made Yorkshire puddings?

fairdealphil said...

geoffrey:

you're right - and i did include that fact in my original post, but here it is again if you missed it:

"Since deregulation…which was intended to increase the market through competition and commercial enterprise, bus ridership has fallen by about 18 per cent.

"In almost all big cities except London fares have risen, passenger numbers fallen and routes have been cut. Swaths of the countryside have no regular bus service, whereas on competitive routes such as those to Oxford buses run every 15 minutes day and night."


brynley:

i'm just trying to imagine the reaction of the clerk at Aberdeen Rail Station when you casually ask him:

"Day return to Aslackby mate...!!!"

liz:

as you say: "the wheels of local authorities are often too slow."

what was that song we learned in infants again:

"..the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round...."

come on, sing, it's the season!!