Better deal pledged for bus users


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The Independent Online

Bus passengers in England were promised improved services today following a series of changes announced by the Government.

These included the elimination of barriers to competition and new regulations to prevent anti-competitive practices by bus operators.

Announcing the changes, Transport Minister Norman Baker said his vision was "for a bus service that is reliable, flexible, offers competitive prices, smarter ticketing and provides passengers with a service they want to use time and again".

But the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) said the announcement was "just a silver lining to a big black cloud of bus cuts".

Reforms announced today, which apply to services in England, included:

:: New regulations to ensure healthy competition between bus companies. This is in response to the Competition Commission report in to the local bus market;

:: Support to local authorities in delivering effective, innovative public transport services for local communities through the bus service operators grant;

:: An extra £15 million to help increase investment in smart ticketing equipment, particularly among small and medium-sized bus companies.

Mr Baker said: "By devolving funding to local authorities it now gives them the power to tackle local issues on the ground and develop practical solutions to community problems.

"This cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. Each local bus market has its own issues and challenges. The focus over the coming months is on guiding, empowering and encouraging local partners to be efficient, innovative and creative in coming up with solutions to the transport needs of local people."

CBT's public transport campaigner, Sophie Allain said: "The new bus policy is welcome and giving councils more powers and funding may help, but today's announcement is just a silver lining to a big black cloud of bus cuts and doesn't deal with the cuts to services across the country."

She went on: "These cuts matter because they stop people getting to jobs and training and also harm high street trade. The underfunding of the free bus pass scheme for pensioners and deep cuts in Government bus funding still need to be urgently addressed.

"However, the proposals today do give councils new opportunities to improve buses and we will be pressing councils to use them."