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Why the Buses are in such a mess

Buses were deregulated by Margaret Thatcher in 1956, but London’s Buses were never included in the deregulation.

Deregulation means that government, councils and transport authorities have no leverage over where buses go, how much they charge, and how often they go.  This is all considered purely a commercial decision.

In cases where a commercial bus service would not be viable, the transport authorities can run ‘socially necessary bus services’. But services operated by the transport authorities are not permitted to run on the same route as one that is run as a commercial enterprise.

Anyone can start their own bus service. If you wish to run a bus on the 62 route, any other route, or indeed a route of your own, once you have registered as an operator, you just need to tell SPT of your plans and run your service for a minimum of 60 days, then off you go. You can claim the Bus Service Operators Grant and reimbursement for taking concessionary passes.

If you want you can schedule your bus to leave 5 minutes before the bus that runs already. Bus companies that operate purely for their own benefit in this way are eligible for all the same public subsidies.

A bus company can unilaterally decide to cut a service completely, or cut evening / weekend services which are unprofitable.  They just need to give 70 days’ notice to the transport authority and inform the public 56 days in advance.  There is no obligation for them to consult, or to take notice of complaints and responses.

Evening/weekend services that are dropped by a commercial company can be picked up by the transport authority as a ‘socially necessary service’ thus enabling bus companies to take both the most profitable routes, and the most profitable times of day on each route.  There is no requirement for companies to cross subsidise, even within a single bus route, for the benefit of the passenger.

Legislation designed to allow for a franchising model of bus use – ‘Quality Bus Contracts’ – to improve the service for passengers, has never been used due to the difficulties in implementation, including the obligation to prove ‘market failure’.  This legislation has been amended in England and Wales to allow for franchising to take place.

A recent two-year investigation by the Competition Commission into local bus services, found that deregulation of bus services was not serving the needs of passengers and that ‘market failure’ was widespread. The final report was published in December 2011 (of 526 pages plus more than that in appendices), and found that the ambition of bus deregulation to bring benefits to customers through competition between bus companies has completely failed.

Passenger focus, the independent passenger watchdog, is set up to protect the interests only of rail passengers in Scotland.  Since 2010 they have also had a statutory duty to protect the interests of bus passengers in England.

Bus companies do not need to prove how much profit they are making on a service before asking for a subsidy on that service.

You can take complaints regarding the cleanliness of buses, disputes with a driver, accessibility and similar issues to a group called Bus Passengers’ Platform, however if you have a complaint about the frequency of buses, or changes to the route of a bus, or that you do not have a bus service, or about prices rises, there is nowhere to take that complaint beyond the bus company itself.

48.8% of households in Glasgow have no access to a car, this is the highest percentage of all the local authorities in Scotland. This is from the latest data from the Transport and Travel in Scotland 2010 statistics available here

Monitoring Buses

There is no requirement for bus companies to formally publish punctuality statistics and neither the Government nor the Transport Authorities keep a record of punctuality data for specific  companies, although the Scottish Government publish some data on punctuality of buses as part of the Scottish Household Survey through travel diaries.

The Scottish Government produced the first punctuality survey of buses in 2005 and then again in 2007, but this does not look at companies performance seperately