Transport authorities to be given new powers
LOCAL transport authorities will be given powers "to make a real difference" in the way bus services are provided, transport minister Douglas Alexander told delegates at this week’s Labour Party conference in Manchester. "I want to see bus services work in every community. So in the weeks ahead I will bring forward proposals to change the way buses are run in this country," he said. "In too many of our communities we have seen a free for all that has left the needs of the public behind."
While Alexander’s statement says nothing new, it appears to confirm that the government is responding to pressure from disaffected local authorities in some metropolitan areas.
Predictably PTEG welcomed the statement, with chairman Roy Wicks looking forward to having "real powers over local bus services" being able to curb what he described as "the free for all on bus services outside London".
There were measured responses from the big bus operators, with Go North East managing director Peter Huntley – tongue firmly in cheek, one wonders? – saying that a massive increase in funding for buses to bring the north-east in line with London would enable bus operators to greatly increase services and reduce fares.
Said Huntley: "Transport for London currently spends £640million a year, or £89.23 per head of population to subsidise its bus services. This is above and beyond concessionary fares for the elderly and disabled, which the London boroughs pay for separately. The equivalent figure for Tyne and Wear is around £5million a year of subsidy or £4.35 per head of population.
"Adoption of the London system in Tyne and Wear will involve an increase in subsidy from £5million to around £98million and the extra £93million a year from the public sector will allow Tyne and Wear to have an absolutely first class bus system.
"It is not yet clear how much of the extra cost central government will be funding but I presume that this spending would not need to be met locally, as this would add around £200 a year to each Community Charge bill."
Stagecoach Group spokesman Steve Stewart said: "We are committed to working in partnership with local authorities to improve bus services and attract more people to bus travel. Stagecoach has had great success with this approach, which in Cambridge for example has delivered double the growth rate in London at a fraction of the cost."
He also pointed to the need for more commitment from local authorities on issues such as congestion and bus priorities.
An Arriva spokesman said that the group shared the government’s wish to see closer working between bus operators and local authorities to bring real improvements for passengers. "We remain convinced that closer working between local authorities to manage the highway and to bring in radical measures to give bus users greater priority on the road is key to the delivery of better bus services."