We have now reached a stage where local councils subsidise almost all bus routes except those between major towns. Once upon a time private operators internally subsidised less popular routes, the main routes are very lucrative.
Although I have not been familiar with bus operations recently, back in 1991 I spent six months working in Clitheroe Ribble bus garage. It was quite common for the rush hour 225 service between Clitheroe and Bolton to take £280 for the three hour round trip. Even the most off peak services took around £60, about the same as a six wheel wagon with 15 tons of Horrocksford tarmac and turn a profit.
There are many factors in the current rip-off scenario of the bus operators. Take disabled access for public transport for instance, looked pretty good on face value, but it was just another excuse to force disabled people into work, which when implemented would artificially inflate the fares, as you could only get three disabled access buses for the cost of four conventional ones.
It was a bit of a bent deal all round, John Prescott’s junior minister responsible ( a Scot & now also a Lord ) had a son working as an executive for one of the big two national bus operators who wanted an excuse to invest in a new fleet considering that their engineering staff were incapable of looking after the old coach built ones properly as wrecked by Traffic Calming.
Local authorities were engaging in ” Quality Bus Partnerships ” offering the bus companies money and favors like new bus lanes, they said nothing about the increases in fares. In a letter to the CA&T at the time I predicted the New Transport Interchange would be a White Elephant !
Its possible that the extra interest payments on the new investment could have funded a 24 hour door to door free dial up taxi service to anywhere in the UK for everyone claiming Disability Living Allowance, not only that but you could have taken two able bodied friends with you.
The big question is where do we go from here, with many vital bus services already covered by a government subsidy. We need to go the whole way and regulate the entire system in order that passengers and council taxpayers can benefit from big profits on the more popular routes.
Bus operators would become virtual haulage contractors to the local authority and a true competitive market would ensure costs were kept down. Local councils would be responsible for all route planning and timetables and perhaps this could be done better on a regional basis.
The local council would collect all the fares, perhaps using a system which was in operation in Adelaide ( South Australia ) as long ago as 1987. Bus tickets could be bought at local shops as well as on the bus itself and were widely available. There were two types of ticket, standard which lasted an hour from the time you validated it on the first bus caught and could be used again within that time on any bus you changed to.
A more expensive day ticket valid after 9:30 am was just what it said on the box, the tickets were similar to the old Victorian type railway tickets, thin cardboard with simple magnetic strip on the back. Not easy to lose or accidentally destroy like some paper tickets, no need for potentially expensive elaborate microchip based tickets. If people suspect that someone is tracking their every movement it could put some people off using public transport.
Such a system could be partially funded by ending free bus travel for OAP’s and those on the new PIP, despite the fact that Stage Services can reclaim Road Fuel Duty, it probably costs 50p to stop a bus.
The aim of my proposal would be to attract more passengers by cutting fares for everyone, local councils could offer season tickets for either individuals or at reduced rates for families.
Park and ride schemes need to be developed along with direct fast limited stop services to the major towns like Manchester. The ultimate thing to do would be to fully integrate local rail services on a single ticketing system but that would probably need nationalisation of all passenger transport. However, it may be possible to keep private operators under thoughtful regulation at less total expense to the public ?