Thursday, 21 June 2012

Bus reregulation

I'm not a party political person, and I have voted for different political parties at different elections. I also don't what this to become a political blog. However this Labour policy review, 'Empowering communities to improve transport' can't really be ignored. The principle of less power for Whitehall, more for communities is near impossible to argue against. It is some of the suggestions in the policy review that I absolutely do not agree with.

The policy review backs a return to reregulation of the bus market outside London. In fairness it should be noted that the policy review implies this will not be imposed where it is not wanted - "Labour’s Policy Review is looking at how to strike a better balance between the desire for a bottom-up approach to reregulation and the need to provide the backing from government for those authorities that wish to make use of the legal powers that exist." However is reregulation really needed?

Just within the Humber Region, Hull is a brilliant example of how the deregulated market is delivering for customers. Passenger Focus survey results reveal 85% satisfaction from users of commercial bus services within the city. This is what Graham Hall, Assistant Head of Service for Transport and Asset Management for Hull City Council said in response to the results:

"Hull is known for being a bus city and these results show that there is high public satisfaction with local bus services and the frequency of commercial bus services. This has been achieved through a partnership approach with our local bus companies."

Bus use in Hull has risen by 30% in the past nine years. Here are couple of quotes:

"Stagecoach Group Chief Executive Sir Brian Souter said: "In Hull, we have a winning package of attractive and easy-to-use bus networks, long-term investment, good value fares, and effective transport policies from the local authority. With the same initiatives and political will, the prospects for buses across the UK could be really exciting.""

"Graham Hall, Hull City Council’s Assistant Head of Service, Transport and Asset Management, said “The Council is pleased to work in partnership with Stagecoach and East Yorkshire Motor Services to deliver an excellent bus network for the residents of the City. The growth in passengers experienced in recent years proves that when bus companies and local Council's work together they can deliver real results and a credible transport alternative to private cars.”"

It would be incorrect to say the Hull bus network is perfect. It isn't. Satisfaction isn't 100%. More can be done. However no system can ever be perfect, 85% satisfaction with a 30% increase in bus use is a success story. The deregulated market can work with willing bus operators, and a strong partnership with the local authority.

It's not just the local Hull network. The Humber Fastcat is a great example of the deregulated bus market delivering an enhanced service for passengers, with investment in new buses and increased frequency. In Lincolnshire there is the Interconnect network. There is Brighton and Oxford, and no doubt many other examples where the deregulated bus market provides comprehensive successful networks for passengers.

Of course many other places have issues that need addressing. The deregulated bus market delivers what are considered high fares, poor services levels and cuts to services in some areas. However is reregulation the only answer? There are statutory quality partnerships (SQP) that can be imposed to require high standards in terms of vehicle standards. Competition is still permitted, innovation is still permitted - for a case study, see Nottingham. These are certainly part of the answer to overcome some of the issues with the deregulated bus market. It certainly isn't perfect.

Labour's policy review notes this issue for example:
"Services often do not join up and the absence of integrated ticketing and co-ordinated timetables put barriers in the way of making use of public transport".

In terms of co-ordination of services and timetables, it needs partnership working, and arguably the right personalities and culture. Maybe SQP's need to be altered to allow transport authorities to specify co-ordinated timetables? However in terms of integrated ticketing, the deregulated sector can deliver on that. Just this week a multi-operator agreement for a York wide bus ticket was signed. Hull is set to launch a 'Hull Card'.

There is also this from the chair of the Tyne and Wear ITA in the policy review- "with fewer service changes".

Here is a change to the licensing system needed? 3 or 4 fixed service change dates per year, including the start of the new school year in September, with any exceptions requiring local authority approval.

I'm sure someone else could argue this better than me. However deregulation can work, and reregulation isn't the only answer to it's flaws. Has Maria Eagle, the shadow transport secretary visited Hull, or Brighton, or Nottingham when conducting her review?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem is, when you look at PTE areas, you start to get the feeling people will start to run a mile.

There have major control bar Commercial network, and even then I doubt many people would like them to get control back.

If you look at where most of the unhappyness is coming from, and which company provides the service in those areas you can clearly see whos causing the rot.

I would not like a full return to the past, but I bet a few million people would demand this to happen in a number of areas.