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.