Sunday 1 February 2015

Electioneering on the buses

With an election on the way, Labour have been talking about how the nation's buses are run. Their plan is to allow councils to plan local routes and set timetables and fares, as well as to let community groups set up not-for-profit bus operators. The article linked to above says that the 'stranglehold' of the big bus operators will be broken, but that doesn't necessarily have to be the case. Those operators who provide a good standard of service and have a good relationship with local authorities could probably expect to win several contracts or maybe to even have certain local free markets retained.

I'm not even convinced that the position of the large operators is a bad thing. It very much depends however on which of the big boys controls bus services in an area. Compare how easy a Stagecoach city is to get around with somewhere like Bristol for example.

The free market has failed some places. If it worked everywhere, it would have been imposed on London after all. But it isn't failing everywhere.

What is needed is better provision for those places left cut off from the commercial network and better integration between operators and other transport modes, at least from the passenger's point of view. Whether that comes from a form of what we have now or bundling routes under council control, that are then franchised out as a network (probably to one of the existing big groups) is for others to decide. But if the network continues to fragment and be useful to fewer and fewer people, you will have more commercially viable routes becoming unviable until eventually there is no profit to be made from bus operation. The Conservative stance of ever deeper cuts would hasten that decline.

I write this as someone who has used buses all of my life but has bought a car after moving to North Somerset due to the absolutely shambolic service being provided by First Bristol. More on that in future posts.


  1. Outside of London and a few major cities the bus services are so poor they are not a viable option for most people as you point out even in Bristol which is a city with a population close on 500,000 the services are very poor and when you get to smaller towns the services are at best an inadequate joke

    Councils have not had a good track record with bus services so giving them to much control may not be a good idea in particular as can be seen with current council subsidised services ids that they look at their patch only so you can end up with buses not going to where people want to go. They also tend to look at what is the absolute minimum they can get away with which is frequently a 2 hourly services which is of no use to anyone

    It may be better to give actual bus users an input. Currently they are all bar excluded

    Certainly looking at bus routes as a network is sensible but more money is needed to support bus services if only to kick start them as they have been cut back so much pretty much the only users are those that have no choice

    One thing I think should seriously be looked at is making an annual charge for bus passes. The money raised to be used to actually improve local buses services and not empire building by the local council
    Lets assume the nominal value of the pass is £250 a year. It could then be made a taxable benefit, Doing it this way matches the charge to affordability rather than having a flat charge so Non Taxpayers would get the pass for Free. Basic rate tax payers would pay up to £50 a year extra tax and 40% tax payers up to £80 a year and 45% taxpayers would pay up £90 a year. This would also defuse the current attack on pensioners benefits. There may be a need for an alternative scheme in very rural areas where there may only be a bus once a week

    Given the number of concessionary passes it would raise quite a lot to improve the local services but not the longer distance routes but those are normally pretty much commercially viable

    There is probably good possibilities as well of raising funding for buses from Sponsorship perhaps in return for free or cheap advertising on the buses

  2. Some changes are occurring in Herts. The 242 Sunday service goes to Trusty Bus. The 700 goes to Centre Bus. The St Albans S8& S9 to Metroline. The commercial Greenline Service operated by Arriva is now going to be taken over by University bus but only between Hatfield & London and only on Mondays to Fridays

    It seems likely that more Greenline services may face being axed when new pollution levels are put in place in London

  3. There is already a charge for concessionary passes. It's called "income tax" and I paid it for over 40 years before I got mine.


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