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Thursday 21 January 2016

Owen Jones Tries The Bus

In a Guardian Comment Is Free piece, Owen Jones has pennedWait for a bus and then tell me the market knows best”, contrasting the deregulation of bus services outside London in 1986 with the situation in the capital, where, let us not drive this one round the houses for too long, the Thatcher Government shied away from tinkering with buses because many potential Tory voters still used them.
Disappointed of Stockport remains disappointed

While Jones correctly observes that, in round numbers, the number of bus journeys each year outside London has decreased in the last 30 years from 2 billion to one billion, and that in the capital, the reverse is true - an increase of 100% - what he does not tell is how deregulation was structured, which made the problem significantly worse.

On deregulation, bus companies could split off early-morning services, and those operated after 1800 hours, into separate profit centres. And that was just weekdays: Sundays could be treated as a further profit centre. No cross-subsidy was required between these. So if an operator could not make a profit out of early morning, evening and Sunday services, they were entitled to “hand in the keys” and leave it to someone else.

Many of these marginal services ended up operated either with local Government subsidy, by contract operators willing to provide the service at a lower cost than the big companies - usually by using older, smaller vehicles - or both. As local authorities have had to make cuts in recent years, these services have suffered. Hence the dearth of evening and Sunday services, even in towns and cities.

It goes without saying that many operators will not accept one another’s tickets. For many towns and cities, the idea of smart ticketing, as with Oyster in London, is no more than a dream. Cash is the only means of payment. Information provision, for the operators, is someone else’s problem. In Crewe - for instance - a typical cross-town journey that cost £1 in 2003 now operates less frequently - and costs £2.60.

But where operators can make a decent profit from daytime services, competition - for which read “other operators looking to cream off a little of the profit for themselves” - may be provided. In Liverpool, established operator Arriva, as successor to the city’s bus company, found Stagecoach buying up another operator, using its vehicle allowance, and putting on competing services. This is then labelled “choice”.

One should not, though, think Arriva, or anyone else, is above such stunts. When Chester’s formerly municipal-owned buses were sold off in 2007, Arriva missed out, and so, out of spite, put on competing daytime buses on two lucrative routes. Operator-only daily and weekly tickets were offered. Evening services? You wish.

So while demand in London is buoyant, out in the provinces, unless local authorities are prepared to underwrite a higher standard of provision, service levels are gradually dwindling. The only growth market is in the availability of private hire vehicles, especially popular with families, and doubly so when carrying shopping back home from town. Much bus patronage comes from pass holders - and so is, once again, publicly subsidised.

Almost everyone else goes by car. The bus has become a remaindered transport mode, except in London and, perhaps, the biggest cities. That is Mrs T’s legacy.


Anonymous said...

"Regional" MPs do a bang up job defending the interests of their constituencies, don't they. Not.

This is only typical of how useless they are, and why grass roots members of the Labour Party voted in Jeremy Corbyn as leader. But whether it's him or somebody else it will take decades to undo economic and cultural damage done to this country by successive spiv governments dating from and including the Thatcher gang. Obviously nothing can be expected from tories or New Labour or LibDems.

Local transport is merely another example to go with the rail ripoff.

pete c said...

Probably best not to push this too far, or we'll be here till June.

But for "out in the provinces" substitute with "beyond the M25". Here a mere 22 miles from Charing Cross it is like a time warp away from good practice.

And as for integrated transport, and sensible things like buses to the station............

Rivo said...

I can attest to this. About 10 years ago, I used to get the early morning bus into work at my job at the time. That service is no longer running, so without the ability to drive, a job more than 10 miles from where I live is out of the question.
The last bus between my town and the nearest train station used to be 10pm. It's now 7.30pm in summer and 6.30pm in winter. 5.30pm on Sundays.

http://www.thesocialshuttle.com/ said...

a nice potted view from Zelo & Jones of one of the expected disasters of privatization we all said would happen but do they listen to us?
And anon above is correct about local MPs and the reason Corbyn was elected. Sadly, it will take years and that's whether Jeremy survives what will become increasingly the most bitter media campaign to destroy him lest his "dated revolutionary 1970/80s" beliefs begin to appeal as opposed to Tory /Blairite modern thought, err I mean dated 70/80s Thatcherite free market hogwash.

Anonymous said...

They can't destroy him. People are fighting back. Some ignore media all together.

Good for them. Sock it to them media leaches.
Every dog has its day.


Anonymous said...

Don't forget buses in London receive more subsidy than the rest of England combined.
And there are successes in the deregulated bus industry. TrentBarton, based around Nottingham and Derby Have a reputation for quality vehicles and even run some 24 hour services.

Tony Martin

Anonymous said...

Errr, London buses were deregulated and opened up to competition 16 private sector operators work under contract to TFL subsidiary London Buses.

Countless other bus services were given the right to use previous LT only bus stops.

Richard Gadsden said...

And the few actually profitable routes: bus wars. Like the routes along Oxford Road (university at one end; university residences at the other; students travelling all day) in Manchester, where buses try to steal passengers from competing buses at stops.

Tim Fenton said...


Err, London has not seen deregulation.

TfL specify the service and operators work to a contract. There is no picking and choosing what times of the day to operate, or what fares to charge. All is laid down beforehand.

Anonymous said...

Why the surprise?

Inside the M25 ghetto is a tiny world deliberately separated from the rest of the country. A place where sufficient of the natives are bribed to believe the far right propaganda stuffed down their throats to make a political difference in favour of greed and corruption. It's a ghetto of ignorance and selfishness.

No wonder the place is despised by the rest of the country.

Owen Jones said...

I even managed to get on for the price of a child's ticket!