Bus industry criticised in MP bus debate

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Operators failed to define socially necessary journey, said Paul Maynard MP

Bus operators came under fire from MPs including Paul Maynard of the Transport Select Committee (TSC), in a Commons debate on bus services last week.

The debate was based around the outcome of the TSC’s inquiry into bus services after the Spending Review and the government’s response.

Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys, Conservative) said the inquiry brought home how many people depend on bus services. “In a relatively deprived constituency such as mine, where many people cannot afford a car or are not well enough or active enough to drive one, buses are essential.

“However, extracting a definition of a socially necessary journey from some of the commercial operators who appeared before us was frustrating. They squirmed but could not provide an answer. They won the award for worst witnesses of the year so far.”

Iain Wright (Hartlepool, Labour) was far from happy with the service provided by Stagecoach in his local area and called for regulation of bus services. Wright said: “The current model in which monopolistic bus providers are able to cherry-pick services and make excessive profits cannot be sustained, especially at the expense of important social routes. Cuts to government budgets tip that model over the edge.

“Communities such as mine would welcome and encourage a co-ordinated and sufficiently funded public transport service, but it can happen only if a strong transport minister backs this important issue in Whitehall against the chancellor, and takes steps to remove power from monopolistic providers, thereby re-regulating bus provision in England.”

Meanwhile, Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South, Conservative), impressed by the enthusiastic approach over integrating the East- West railway line from Bedford to Oxford and further south-west with bus services, said: “Such optimism needs to be part of the bus industry. I was slightly perturbed, when we were taking evidence from some bus operators, they were not seeing the opportunities in the current climate.”

Transport minister Norman Baker praised Southern Vectis and Isle of Wight Council for its “innovative” community transport scheme, where volunteer drivers operate rural routes which feed into the main bus network on the island. “The drivers are fully trained by the operator, which also provides the vehicles and fulfils the regulatory and maintenance requirements,” said Baker. “This partnership has brought community transport and the resources of a private sector bus company together for the first time. It is a very interesting model.

“I am greatly encouraged that councils, operators and residents can come together when budgets are tight to develop a rural bus network which suits their local needs. It is exactly the sort of scheme the community transport fund I announced in March is designed to encourage.”