Free-for-all on London bus routes postponed

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THE free-for-all on London bus routes proposed by the Government has been postponed following a campaign by Tory backbench MPs and London local authorities.

Yesterday's Cabinet decided to put the deregulation of London buses on hold because of concern over the political consequences. This will also result in a delay in the privatisation of the 11 London Bus companies which were to have been put on the market next month.

New prospectuses for the bus companies will have to be drawn up and it is likely that the process of tendering out bus routes to private operators will be speeded up.

Buses were deregulated outside London in 1986, leading to a fall in bus use and higher fares. Plans to follow suit in London have been postponed by the Government three times. With the prospect of political damage at the London local authority elections, which are due in May next year, the Government has postponed deregulation again.

It is unlikely that deregulation, which would allow any operator to run buses on existing or new bus routes, will be introduced this side of a general election. A senior source at London Buses said: 'They couldn't really do this too close to a general election and so it's not going to happen for quite a while yet.'