Travellers left stranded by bus sell-off

Road to nowhere: As ministers are warned of havoc caused by privatisati on, we see how they might fare without their cars
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The Independent Online
Privatisation, competition and de-regulation have damaged public transport networks, government advisers warned yesterday. And problems in using buses and trains have made people take to cars instead.

A panel of environmental and transport experts told ministers that they must intervene to halt the harm done by privatisation policies and force rival operators to co-operate more and offer a better overall service.

"The need for competition has taken precedence over the requirements for co-operation," said Professor Sir Richard Southwood, who chairs the Government's Round Table on Sustainable Development with the Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer. "There's an absence of a strategic overview."

The 30-member round table was set up after the Rio Earth Summit to advise the Government on long-term economic and environmental issues. Yesterday saw the publication of a report from a sub-group which studied the connections between freight and passenger transport.

The group's main complaint was that passengers often faced severe problems in making journeys which involved two or more public transport companies - especially on buses. Operators were often nervous of publishing joint information about timetables and connections for fear of falling foul of laws promoting competition. They were also wary of making agreements to run their buses on the same route at regular intervals.

The panel cited the recent withdrawal of the Day Rover ticket in West Yorkshire, which was used by about 1 million people last year, because the operators involved could not reach an agreement. The ticket offered travel on all the buses and trains in that region.

And Sir Richard complained that from his bicycle in his home town of Oxford he often saw rival buses travelling the same route in closely packed convoys. He believed that was one reason why "Oxford is blocked solid by cars coming in during the rush hour - people don't like waiting 20 minutes in the rain for a bus."

Operators were often reluctant to provide the through-ticketing, coordinated services and information needed for smooth, easy journeys using several services. And travellers found many transport interchanges to be dingy, hostile places where it was hard to leave bicycles safely stored, the lighting was bad, travellers were exposed to the weather, and sometimes there was a long walk between the train station and the bus stop.

The report points out that in London, where bus services are privatised but still regulated and co-ordinated, bus usage has risen by 5 per cent over the last 10 years; in the rest of Britain, where services have been deregulated and competition is more fierce, it has dropped by 29 per cent.

The round table said the Government had to tell operators immediately how much they were allowed to co-operate and co-ordinate.

Competition laws also needed swift revision to allow increased through- ticketing and joint timetabling, and the role of the rail and bus regulators should be reappraised.

Business comment, page 19