Bus Services Bill [Lords]

Part of Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:59 pm on 1st March 2017.

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Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton 2:59 pm, 1st March 2017

Indeed. It was often the change that led to the loss of ridership. When companies such as FirstGroup and Stagecoach operated their services, they were certainly, whether by tacit agreement or not—I doubt whether there was a written agreement—operating semi-monopolies, which enabled them to charge much higher fares. It is not only that the ridership has gone down, but fares have gone up by about 43%.

The question I was coming to in terms of supplementary evidence is this: in terms of the way the legislation has worked so far, does anybody think that we, as the taxpayer, have had our return from Brian Souter and his sister, who have become billionaires out of this—I do not mind people being creative, being entrepreneurs and making money—pocketing money by gaming the system, running semi-monopolies and putting buses out, when every single bus that goes out of the depot has, on average, a 50% public subsidy? Certainly, Brian Souter and his sister have made money out of gaming the way the subsidy works. The system has not worked; it has not been competitive. Moving to a system where there is competition, not on the road, but by tender by private bus companies, will be better for the travelling public. I agree with competition by and large, because monopolies tend towards inefficiency, but the competition is better off the road, not on it.

I have one question about reliability, which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside asked about. We are often told that congestion makes the buses unreliable, and it does. However, when the Transport Committee took evidence, we found that, in the majority of cases where buses did not turn up, that was not because of congestion, but because of mechanical failures in the buses, which had not been properly maintained, or because drivers had not turned up. That is an important point to bear in mind.

Finally, I would like to ask the Minister, who is in his place, the same question my hon. Friend asked: is saying that mayoral combined authorities have to have a compelling case before they re-regulate the buses trying to bring back the very high hurdle—the very high benchmark—that was in the Transport Act 2000, which effectively prevented those authorities that wanted to re-regulate the buses from doing so? Is it there to undermine what is essentially a good Bill? I hope the Minister will answer that in summing up.