Scheme should not be anticompetitive, says The Green Bus MD
Centro and Birmingham City Council are proposing a Statutory Quality Partnership scheme (SQP) for Birmingham city centre.
The introduction of a SQP will secure the investment in bus priority, bus stops and other infrastructure improvements for at least the next 10 years. It will also secure commitment from bus operators to deliver high standards in both customer service and bus performance, helping to support the objectives of both Centro and Birmingham City Council to improve public transport provision.
When the scheme is introduced all of the 25 (or more) bus operators running services in Birmingham city centre must adhere to quality standards defined within the SQP before they can use the facilities in the city centre.
Ian Mack, managing director of The Green Bus which runs 30 vehicles in Birmingham said: “We were interested to receive Centro’s proposals and will be responding to them fully. We support Centro’s general idea of improving bus services, but there are obvious concerns the net effect of this scheme will be to exclude some independent bus operators from Birmingham city centre within a very short timescale.”
Ian raised concerns over National Express (NX) being the dominant operator. “A serious and enduring effect of the proposals as drafted could be to perpetuate and to protect NX’s near-monopoly on bus services in Birmingham. Clearly, it would not be an acceptable outcome to the bus industry in the city.”
“If the scheme proceeds, Centro will clearly need to come forward with plans to fund it for independent operators, otherwise, it may exclude many of us at the expense of the region’s dominant provider. Buying additional new buses and upgrading engines costs money for which many firms may not have budgeted.
“The duty now falls on Centro to ensure the impact of this scheme, if implemented, is fair and not anti-competitive. The state must act with extreme caution when proposing to confiscate business from some private sector companies and not others. Centro will need to conduct a detailed assessment of the bus operator winners and losers of its proposed scheme, and then bring forward plans to address any imbalance so the losers end up being in no worse an ongoing position than the winners.
“The SQPs will establish high standards of service in the city centre and improve liaison and co-ordination between operators, Birmingham City Council and Centro in tackling obstacles to improving journey times, reliability and punctuality.”
A spokesman for Centro said: “Centro and Birmingham City Council can only make the QPS if they are satisfied it meets a competition test as set out in legislation. We consider it meets this test but it will be revisited, particularly in the light of any further information or representations made during the consultation exercise, before the scheme is formally approved.”
A number of current services will be formally excluded from the SQP such as express coach services, the Ring and Ride service and school services.
A period of formal consultation on the QPS will run until December 2, 2011.
Operators in Birmingham can respond to the consultation, by emailing [email protected] or writing to: Birmingham City Centre QPS Consultation, Centro, Centro House, 16 Summer Lane, Birmingham, B19 3SD.