Wheels turning on better bus deals

Bus stop signMeasures to give bus passengers a better deal are to be be outlined by competition chiefs.

In provisional findings in its investigation into the UK local bus market, the Competition Commission (CC) found that in many areas the largest bus operators faced little or no competition.
This had led to passengers facing less-frequent services and, in some cases, higher fares than where there was some form of rivalry.

In its final report, the CC will publish remedies designed to give passengers better bus services, more competition, improved passenger information and better ticketing.

Although bus patronage is growing in Scotland and Wales, it is declining in England, despite increasing numbers who are using London buses.

Publishing proposed remedies in October this year, the CC's local bus market investigation group chairman Jeremy Peat said: "These measures aim to get to the heart of the problems we have identified and open up local bus markets to entry and expansion - so reducing the number of areas where the main operator faces little or no competition. Together these measures are designed to address the specific factors which prevent competition developing and being sustained at a local level and lead to passengers losing out."

He went on: "This is a comprehensive set of practical and sensible measures which will help encourage more competition and benefit passengers. Given the number and diversity of bus markets we are looking to give local transport authorities (LTAs) enhanced powers to tailor some of these measures to particular local conditions. For example, we are proposing that LTAs be given greater powers to introduce and reform multi-operator ticketing schemes in their local area."

Mr Peat said the CC believed that greater competition between operators was the best way to rectify the problems it had identified and ensure fair access to bus stations.

This would include tackling "over-bussing", opening up the tendering process, close scrutiny of bus mergers and encouraging "competition-friendly" partnerships.

He went on: "We are not recommending franchising - as operates in London - because it addresses the symptoms of the problems we have found rather than the cause. However, we recognise that franchising remains an important option for LTAs and would not wish to rule out its future application in particular local markets. LTAs also have wider social and policy objectives that are not relevant to this investigation, but which may legitimately lead them to take a different view on this matter."
© 2011 Press Association
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