Let’s re-regulate our buses – and put (our) service before (their) profits

Faced with the major collapse of  rural bus ‘services’ in Suffolk, I have long been calling  on both Suffolk County Council and our government to look at re-regulation of rural bus services.  The response of both  institutions has been largely negative, despite clear evidence that ‘competition’ and ‘market forces’ have done absolutely nothing to benefit rural users .

Yet re-regulation  is not impossible.

Last Friday the five Tyne and Wear councils voted to start the consultation necessary to re-regulate their buses . It will be the first region to take the plunge since the silly and ideologically driven  deregulation  of bus services in the 1980s. Re-regulation  will allow the region to aim once again for the efficiency, coverage and price which is standard for bus services  in regulated London by giving bus companies franchises to run  all local services, instead of letting them cherry-pick the ones on which they can make the most money.

Deregulated bus services are in a parlous state.  Tyne and Wear was warned that without change, all local school buses would go; a further 200 bus routes would likely disappear, and concessionary child fares would vanish. However, if the councils take over the bus routes, they could use the current subsidy and profits to grow the service to make it meet the needs of all residents.

Just as we did in the old days.

It’s not rocket science is it?

Hardly surprising that other local authorities are showing interest in doing the same.

The big bus companies may well not be in favour of these schemes – and with good cause. According to the FT “Bus companies earn higher margins outside London.. Stagecoach makes an average of 17 per cent outside London, while the figure for Go-Ahead is 10 per cent.” The FT says  that in contrast, average London operators make between 4 and 5 %.

Buses are Britain’s main form of public transport, and in the old days the concept of bus ‘services’ meant service: popular routes would fund socially necessary but less income-generating services elsewhere. De-regulation was heralded by the Thatcher administration as providing competition, but in fact since the 80s some big bus companies have  used their size to see off other competitors   creating  local monopolies  which do not benefit passengers at all .  In Woodbridge, First Group recently were running identical routes against rival Anglian Buses  at identical times. Anglian Buses no longer run these services, and Woodbridge residents have lost out.

Competition?  Bus companies should be forced to compete with each other to  provide proper services rather than to maximise profits. I once again call upon Suffolk County Council and my local MP, Dr Coffey, to do everything they can to make this possible.

2 thoughts on “Let’s re-regulate our buses – and put (our) service before (their) profits”

  1. Hi Caroline – totally agree with you on all points re: local transport. I’m partially sighted so heavily reliant on public transport but live in a relatively rural locality (Hadleigh) served by just one operator, so very much at their whim. This particular operator (Beestons) has refused to participate in the new Endeavour card scheme (not the best scheme in the world but at least it would give young people a 25% reduction when travelling into Ipswich). Therefore they find it incredible expensive to travel to work, enjoy social opportunities and partake in education. If that young person is disabled and/or lives in a family with limited financial means then the problems are simply multiplied. We need to create a system that meets the needs of localities and disadvantaged people rather than the objectives of commercial organisations.

  2. Hi Caroline
    I spent a number of years working for several London bus operators, in management roles, and I too agree that the time for re-regulation is well overdue.
    London buses are being run on a profit basis, the profits are however going into the pockets of companies who, in a number of cases, are taking the money out of the UK (rather akin to our utility companies who should also be re-regulated!)
    The problem is that Boris and co are not interested in taking such a bold move, and there would be a massive resistance from the 19 or so operators in London, all of whom would loose the cash cow they currently have control of.
    There is little interest in the customer, in regards provision of a service, despite the platitudes made by the operators, there is however a fanatical desire to reach operating targets which does not equate to customer service.
    Take another realm of the bus industry in London (and this is ironic) – operators in and surrounding London engage in competitive bidding to run the London Underground bus replacement services at costs which are almost unbelievable (I can’t and won’t be drawn into what they charge for contractual reasons) – this is a huge drain on the LUL reserves and if the entire transport network was run and owned by TfL, this would not cost the money it does!
    Am I the only person in London who wishes to see the re-regulation??

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