Tag Archives: Buses

Let’s re-regulate our buses – and put (our) service before (their) profits

Faced with the major collapse of  rural bus ‘services’ in Suffolk, I have long been calling  on both Suffolk County Council and our government to look at re-regulation of rural bus services.  The response of both  institutions has been largely negative, despite clear evidence that ‘competition’ and ‘market forces’ have done absolutely nothing to benefit rural users .

Yet re-regulation  is not impossible.

Last Friday the five Tyne and Wear councils voted to start the consultation necessary to re-regulate their buses . It will be the first region to take the plunge since the silly and ideologically driven  deregulation  of bus services in the 1980s. Re-regulation  will allow the region to aim once again for the efficiency, coverage and price which is standard for bus services  in regulated London by giving bus companies franchises to run  all local services, instead of letting them cherry-pick the ones on which they can make the most money.

Deregulated bus services are in a parlous state.  Tyne and Wear was warned that without change, all local school buses would go; a further 200 bus routes would likely disappear, and concessionary child fares would vanish. However, if the councils take over the bus routes, they could use the current subsidy and profits to grow the service to make it meet the needs of all residents.

Just as we did in the old days.

It’s not rocket science is it?

Hardly surprising that other local authorities are showing interest in doing the same.

The big bus companies may well not be in favour of these schemes – and with good cause. According to the FT “Bus companies earn higher margins outside London.. Stagecoach makes an average of 17 per cent outside London, while the figure for Go-Ahead is 10 per cent.” The FT says  that in contrast, average London operators make between 4 and 5 %.

Buses are Britain’s main form of public transport, and in the old days the concept of bus ‘services’ meant service: popular routes would fund socially necessary but less income-generating services elsewhere. De-regulation was heralded by the Thatcher administration as providing competition, but in fact since the 80s some big bus companies have  used their size to see off other competitors   creating  local monopolies  which do not benefit passengers at all .  In Woodbridge, First Group recently were running identical routes against rival Anglian Buses  at identical times. Anglian Buses no longer run these services, and Woodbridge residents have lost out.

Competition?  Bus companies should be forced to compete with each other to  provide proper services rather than to maximise profits. I once again call upon Suffolk County Council and my local MP, Dr Coffey, to do everything they can to make this possible.

SCC answer to my question on rural buses, July 13

You may remember that I tabled a question on the increasingly poor rural bus services at July’s Full Council and promised to post the answer when I got it.

My question was

  Caroline Page to Cabinet Member for Roads and Transport (Graham Newman)“Public transport is an essential part of supporting the welfare of the county, particularly in rural areas. It is coming under increasing pressure and is failing to meet the needs at the time when Suffolk needs it most. When is Cllr Newman going to pressure national government to alter the ridiculous ethos of so-called ‘competition’ which has caused deregulated buses to provide such a terrible service to the people of the Suffolk countryside, over the past decades?”

Cllr Newman’s  response was: “I’m a strong supporter of public transport services in Suffolk. I wish to see more effective coordination of services. The government clearly set out its position in March 2012, in its full response to the competition commission report; ‘Local Bus Service Market Investigation’.
I believe the focus of our efforts should now be on working with the commercial sector to improve the availability and the affordability of transport, particularly to support young people to continue to learn and take their first steps into employment. I therefore welcome the cooperation of the commercial sector in developing our new ‘Endeavour Card’ for young people, and hope that we can build on this relationship to further improve services without unaffordable financial support, in this county council.

As Cllr Page will know*, we are meeting with Therese Coffey MP, to discuss these very issues, and indeed I have previously discussed them informally with Dr. Coffey.”

Caroline Page:  This last was actually news to me  – though very welcome news, particularly as Dr Coffey has not so far answered the specific points I raised with her in June concerning this subject, although she has replied to my letter.

You can find the answers to the other Lib Dem councillors’ questions here – that is, to two of them. Very unfortunately my colleague John Field’s pertinent concerns on potential carcinogens was lost in transit – although submitted correctly, and acknowledged as such by the Suffolk County Council Monitoring Officer. It disappeared from the Full Council agenda and therefore was neither asked nor answered

Questions to Suffolk County Council

At every full council meeting elected members have the opportunity to put questions to the Cabinet members at Suffolk County Council. I am asking the following:

 Caroline Page to Cabinet Member for Roads and Transport (Graham Newman)

Public transport is an essential part of supporting the future welfare of the county – particularly in rural areas. And yet it is coming under increasing pressure and failing to meet needs just at the time Suffolk needs it most.

I would like to ask the Cabinet member when he is going to press national government to alter the ridiculous ethos of so-called competition which has caused deregulated buses to provide such a terrible service to the people of  the Suffolk countryside over the last decades

The other questions can be found here