"The deregulation of bus services outside London in the 1980s was meant to address the steady decline in bus use since the 1950s and bring in a new era of bus travel. In the 1984 Buses White Paper the then Government asserted that:
Without the dead hand of restrictive regulation fares could be reduced now on many bus routes and the operator would still make a profit. New and better services would be provided. More people would travel.
[…] bus operators will look keenly to see where and when people want to travel. If one operator fails to provide a service that is wanted, another will.
Successive governments have stuck with deregulation, but the promised benefits have never materialised. Deregulation has, at best, done little more than slow the decline in bus use."
The idea of operators reducing fares on many routes yet still making a (reduced) profit seems laughable and goes against the laws of supply and demand. However, the then Transport Secretary, Nicholas Ridley, seemed to think operators would be happy to reduce their profits for the benefits of passengers. That's like MP's reducing their salaries for the benefit of the taxpayer - never going to happen, and understandably so.
The Committee looked at all aspects of bus travel, from provision of services, funding, accessibility, information and ticketing to preserving rural links, encouraging modal shift and making buses more attractive for young people.
One recommendation you won't be surprised caught my eye was that operators and local authorities work closer together to achieve the best possible service, especially regarding rural communities and new builds. It also recommends that red tape allowing partnerships between Councils and operators be cut. Well I never!
The report points out how funding has been cut and that the reimbursement on Concessionary passes is not doing its stated intention of leaving operators "no better or no worse off". Indeed, reimbursement rates are still calculated on 2005/6 fare levels. No wonder the operators are continually protesting. This is the recommendation:
We recommend that the Government review how it finances concessionary bus passes, and the guidance to local authorities on reimbursement of bus operators, with a view to meeting the principle of both local authorities and bus operators being “no better and no worse off”. As a priority, the Government should re-baseline the reimbursement rates on ticket prices for 2017/18 prices; and should continue to re-baseline fares every four years so that the principle of “no better and no worse off” is maintained and the reimbursement rate remains broadly in line with current fares."
Real time information, a national ticketing policy which negates the change/no change, contactless/no contactless anomalies and even integrated ticketing are discussed, as are fares for young people.
But it is the failure of the Department of Transport to deliver adequate leadership and funding that comes in for the most criticism. Neith local authorities or operators are aware of funding amounts from one year to the next, unlike road and rail, and this provides uncertainty in the industry, and for passengers. Local authorities should be able to tackle congestion by parking and moving traffic law enforcement, with the revenue gained used to further tackle congestion. Bidding for grants and additional funding should be made easier and fairer, and an interesting recommendation is that all local authorities should have the power to set up their own municipal bus company.
Another priority is to tackle the concerns of those who DON'T use the bus - again, can't remember where I've heard that before!
The report doesn't recommend re-regulation, but it makes it abundantly clear that the current system is failing passengers, and there need to be radical changes to encourage more to leave their cars at home and switch to the bus.
Most Government reports are mind numbingly boring but this one isn't. It makes very good reading, and will have a lot of you nodding sagely in agreement. It remains to be seen how the D of T responds, but I commend Lilian and her team on a comprehensive report, taking the passengers' side, and not pulling any punches.
You can read the report, and I really recommend you do, by clicking here.