Government should admit that bus deregulation has failed and the rest of the country needs London-style powers - Maria Eagle26 March 2012
Maria Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, responding to the Government’s proposals for buses, said on funding:
"People up and down the country who have seen bus fares rise and local services cut will find it incredible that the Government has the nerve to claim in their plan for buses that they have ‘safeguarded funding for bus services’. The truth is that Transport Ministers have cut half a billion pounds from support for bus services as a result of the spending review, despite this being less than the amount handed back to the Treasury as a result of an under-spend in the Department for Transport. A combination of these cuts and the deregulated nature of bus services outside London has already seen a fifth of all supported bus services in England face the axe this year. As a result, families are facing even greater pressure on household budgets which are already being squeezed. Pensioners, who were promised by the Prime Minister that their bus passes would be protected, are now asking what the point of the bus pass is if there’s no bus.
"Next week will see a further round of fare rises and cuts to services as a result of the 20 per cent cut in Bus Service Operators Grant. After the disastrous decision to end ring-fencing of local transport funding, this was until now the last remaining ring-fenced fund to support local bus services. Yet buried in the Government’s proposals is a further blow to bus funding with the decision to use the devolution of much of this funding to end ring-fencing, which will inevitably see councils facing pressure to raid this funding to meet other budget pressures. Instead of this muddled approach, the government should have brought together and devolved to transport authorities all bus funding, while requiring it to be spent on the services for which it was intended."
On regulation and ticketing, Maria Eagle said:
"Two years on from the election and it’s clear that the Government’s plans for regulating the bus market continue to be misguided and muddled. Ministers have missed an opportunity to make a clear statement in support of those local transport authorities who are exploring the potential for suspending the deregulated market using the Quality Contracts for which Labour legislated. In failing to do so they risk sending the wrong signal and killing off a reform that would enable routes, fares, service frequency and quality standards to be determined locally. The government says it wants more on-road competition, yet passengers say that their priority is a reliable, affordable, regular local bus service with a common-sense system of ticketing. The Government says it wants transport authorities to be able to set a coherent ticket pricing structure for a whole community, but fails to explain how this will be possible without taking the competition off the road."
On the impact of rising fares on young people, Maria Eagle said:
"Ministers are right to recognise the specific impact on rising bus fares and cuts to services on young people. Colleges say that there has been a decline in staying on rates this year with students saying that rising transport costs and the loss of local services are major reasons. Yet the only idea that Ministers can come up with is a proposed website, when what young people need is help with the costs of travel to enable them to expand their opportunities and fulfil their potential. That’s why we have called on the bus companies to work with government to deliver a concessionary fares scheme for young people aged 16-19 in education or training out of the not insubstantial profits they are making in what is a heavily subsidised industry."
Maria Eagle said on Labour’s alternative:
"The government’s reforms have ducked the big issue which is that bus deregulation outside London is a dogmatic Tory experiment that has failed. While Transport for London has been able to introduce the Oyster card, set bus routes, decide fare levels and integrate bus and train services, the rest of England has been left behind. That’s why, as a clear alternative, Labour’s policy review has been looking at how we can devolve more transport responsibilities with decisions made locally by integrated transport authorities, as London has now, with powers to deliver local bus services in the way that best suits each community. It’s time that passengers across England were able to benefit from a properly managed, integrated transport network with smart ticketing and regulated fares on local bus and rail services."