Tired of over-regulation

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A Stagecoach London Routemaster on Route 15H on the layover stand prior to a journey to Tower Hill. This vehicle has already had to be fitted with different unauthentic wheel centres to cater for the fitment of tubeless tyres given the widespread difficulties of getting 9 X 20 radial (tubed) tyres

Our industry insider questions a series of political decisions relating to buses and coaches and argues that most accidents are caused by drivers – not their vehicles

In my last article, I illustrated the dreadful state that Wellington’s bus network in New Zealand had descended into, courtesy of it being left in the hands of politicians and consultants to control, arguing that operators and customers have a much more effective pivotal and positive role in the design, organisation and operation of a network.

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You do not have to look very far in this country to see on a daily basis political ineptitude on the largest scale in a lifetime in all parties on almost any issue you care to mention (to put it mildly). Legal challenges to almost any decision that everybody tries to make are another tedious 21st century phenomenon, particularly for our industry when the development of public transport infrastructure is at stake.

In the same Wellington material I researched, I found another editorial quotation which asked why it is that local mayors, civic leaders, business firms and residents continually ‘give the finger’ to tourists?

The article concentrated on Wellington’s governing transport body Metlink’s unthinkable petty removal of the commercially operated Service 91 from Wellington Airport to the City Centre and the Hutt Valley – which it does not control – from all its Real Time bus stop displays, which it does control. It pointed to the resultant obvious tacit encouragement for tourists to simply abandon the public transport option and use taxis thus bringing more cars and pollution and congestion into the Central Business District. Metlink has offered no concrete reason for its actions, merely that it is ‘constantly reviewing its information provision.’

An onslaught against hop-on hop-off city sightseeing tours has also recently been announced by the Parisian authorities who seemingly believe that tourists should be walking and using ‘conventional public transport’ than these dedicated facilities which it is seeking to restrict.

When discussing this with a colleague as to why any city authority might want to restrict the usage of one of the best methods of tourists seeing its sights in an efficient and cost-effective way – and increasing the likelihood of their spending more in the local economy – his response was the obvious one that most of the operators of Paris open top tours are not French… that country has never really been a devotee of the free market if it does not suit them!

There are of course countless UK examples of politicians and local authorities treating the coach and bus industry with contempt with the closure of convenient and well-sited coach parks (London Embankment, Rochester etc) and of course the whole London LEZ regime with no exemptions for all but the most expensive Euro VI coaches meaning that operators are now shunning the capital as a destination or hope that they can (unjustifiably) pass the extra cost on to their customers.

I also worry about how few coaches in general I seem to see on the roads these days.

There is no wonder that Central London bus revenue has become so weak with bus speeds at walking pace and the fact that as a tourist you cannot simply on spontaneous impulse travel on a bus because there is no longer any easy means of paying without an orienteering expedition.

I did see a small advert for a tourist ticket for London at a London Airport recently which I have never noticed before, but nothing beats a simply purchased day ticket when the fancy takes you. The all zones London Day Travelcard is all that you can get from an Underground Station and is not competitively priced at £13.10, as my on-the-ground researcher was quoted at one, or £12.70 off-peak as I found quoted on the website. Not all tourists have contactless bank cards let alone even know that they could use them, but not on the 15H. Once again, because it is all too difficult, taxis and also Über end up as the winners by default. The principle of Occam’s Razor effectively says, ‘people prefer ease,’ and increasingly so.

Britain will have a tourism industry worth over £257 billion by 2025 – just under 10% of UK GDP and supporting almost 3.8 million jobs or around 11% of the total UK number. I had hoped that we, as an industry, were going to play an increasing part in it.

The one route which should easily attract tourists in London is the Heritage Routemaster-operated Service 15 from Trafalgar Square to Tower Hill. However, even if you can find out when they run, now it is down to just seasonal weekends and Bank Holidays after the most secretive and suppressed consultation before Khan reduced it from daily all year round. You still cannot spontaneously get on it and pay the conductor as would be natural.
The timetable is really hidden away on the stops under the standard Route 15 information, but that is your lot. No promotion and certainly no marketing, but TfL has never known what that is (just spin). With the contract for the 15H only let until the end of September, few have any optimism that it will be back next spring let alone any effort put into selling it.

Heritage operations are also starting to be caught up in politically inflexible decisions. The Wythall Bus Museum’s service linking the Museum with central Birmingham is one of the first cases in point, meaning its future is under threat as the City Council is currently refusing to exempt the route from its Clean Air Zone (CAZ) charging regime because it is ‘commercially’ operated. An online petition is being collected.

Talking of heritage bus operation, I also wrote last time about my hopes that the CPT, despite its slimmed-down structure, would up its game in lobbying politicians to increase the profile and status of the bus in public transport and overall strategy.

However, they have just done a considerable disservice to their members with heritage fleets in their response to the DfT consultation to potentially ban the use of tyres more than 10 years old.

Whilst the vast majority of mainstream operators of modern bus fleets are unlikely to run buses fitted with tyres more than 10 years old because of the sheer mileages they travel, they have acquiesced in the DfT proposal to require even heritage vehicles used commercially to require them on all six wheels, despite the low mileages and low speeds of operation and careful maintenance regimes of most such buses and coaches – and the now severe difficulties in procurement of many larger sized tyres for obsolete vehicles.

The coach and bus industry has an exemplary safety record and the DfT consultation document indicates that only 0.06% of coaches and buses inspected since June 2017 did not comply with the DVSA guidance to use tyres of less than 10 years old on steering axles.

The TRL Report on which the consultation document is based offers no concrete facts to support fitment of such tyres to non-steering axles. Indeed, it carried out no research on tubed tyres fitted to the ‘split rim’ wheels which most heritage buses use.

I am aware that there are some 243 of one of the more difficult to obtain 10 X 20 radial tyres of a good manufacturer which have been carefully stored and are clearly new and unused, but which are now unsaleable purely because of having 2013 dates on them and therefore being already 60% life expired before they even move.

The choice of a 10-year limit has not been made wholly scientifically but more to bow to the emotionally based arguments of a very persistent pressure group.

Other younger tyres manufactured in countries with no date restrictions or resultant requirements to stamp dates on them will also suddenly become unusable along with the heritage vehicles to which they are fitted if legislation now becomes based on age rather than condition.

The consultation submissions made by the National Association of Road Transport Museums (NARTMS) and the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC) contain fully researched evidence and technical arguments for their stance in seeking exemption from the proposals, in the latter case from a 60% return on a member survey. The CPT submission, in contrast, contains nothing of substance to justify its whole willingness to go along with the government proposals, and it’s taking an opposing line that all historic buses and coaches aged over 40 years used commercially would have to be treated the same as modern buses and with a few platitudes about acknowledged procurement difficulties and vehicle operational immobilisation risks. My understanding is that only two member operators with significant heritage fleets were directly approached to see if they could live with the view they were taking and that when other member operators chanced upon the draft late in the day, there was no willingness to change the submission.

It is to be hoped that the DfT will do the honourable thing and grant exemption to all historic vehicles from its proposals, irrespective of if for commercial or private use (and itself unambiguous to regulate), because the supply problems, usage regimes and maintenance of the tyres are exactly the same for both categories.

If not, another valuable chunk of business, namely the nostalgic and specialist wedding, prom hires and museums and vintage running day operations, increasingly popular with the public, will have been sacrificed to political correctness and over-regulation which this government is supposed to abhor.

Let us not forget that Brian Mawhinnie, as Transport Secretary, unilaterally decided to exclude buses and coaches from the outside third lanes of motorways in the mid-1990s. If a pressure group of 4×4 and SUV owners all decided to campaign now to have buses and coaches (and probably lorries) restricted to the nearside lanes of all dual carriageways and motorways because they are ‘potentially dangerous,’ would we allow the government to cave into that emotion as well?

Of course, the CPT could also offer to step up to provide a rare/obsolete tyre procurement service for its members’ heritage fleets…