It is a pleasure to follow Lilian Greenwood. Like her, I welcome this chance to have such a detailed debate about bus services. We usually find ourselves talking about trains—we have spent a lot of time talking about one particular train line in this Chamber over the past few years—but as has been rightly pointed a number of times, most people’s experience of public transport begins and ends with a bus. Many railway passengers start their journeys by taking a bus to a main transport hub from which they can access the rail network. For most people using public transport, certainly those in Torbay, the bus provides the backbone of the service.
It is worth considering briefly how things have changed since 31 years ago, when full regulation was in place. We might look back at “On the Buses”, thinking that it was a great film and brilliant comedy, but the system then would be an absolutely awful model for running real services today. Services have moved on hugely. Nobody would have envisaged at that time internet access, better services, and the sort of high-quality vehicles that are now on the road. Full accessibility is also important, because not that long ago, it was almost impossible for a disabled person to plan a bus journey, but now all buses are accessible.
I am particularly pleased that the Bill contains provisions on audio-visual aids, which a number of people have lobbied me about. Some 9% of people in one ward in my constituency are aged over 85, which brings unique challenges when it comes to planning public transport. In another part of Torbay, well over 50% of the population is aged over 65. That means that people are likely to have visual problems and to have had to start using public transport because they were no longer medically able to drive a car.
The key thing is to break the idea that the bus service is the last-resort social service for those who cannot drive, and that people will use buses only if they absolutely have to do so. As we heard a few moments ago, many bus operators are making their services more attractive by putting in place comfortable seats, and offering a safe environment and on-board CCTV.
We have heard about people’s experiences on the old school bus. I certainly remember getting on a school bus about 25 years ago. It would bounce along—that could happen on a normal bus service, it has to be said—with people smoking at the back of the upstairs part of the bus, even though they were not supposed to do. It would not be very comfortable. The experience was such that by the time people reached 17, the priority would be to stop using a bus. That remains the image for a lot of people, because when they had to use the bus, it was awful. However, many people, including me when I use the buses in the bay, now get a very pleasant surprise when they find that those sorts of days are long gone.