Thursday, 2 August 2018

Time For A Re-Think?

!986, the year of the deregulation of the UK bus industry with freedom for any Tom, Dick or Brian to start a bus company and to compete against the incumbent operator. Huge benefits for the passenger with better services, reduced fares and staff committed to serving the passenger well. Local bus companies could start up and provide services from the smaller villages in to the towns. It looked really lovely.

A recent "think tank" report headlines:-
Millions of bus passengers who rely on services outside London have been let down by a lack of competition and the failure of deregulation, a report warns. They include the poorest fifth of all households, who cannot afford cars and yet who end up taking more taxi journeys each year than any other income group because of the unreliability and high fares of their local buses.

The report from the IPPR thinktank, Greasing the Wheels: Supporting and Improving Britain's Rail and Bus Services, calls for local transport authorities modelled on Transport for London to be introduced across the country, with powers to introduce more successful London-style bus regulation.

The report argues that liberalisation has not resulted in a competitive market: 37% of weekly services outside the capital do not face any effective head-to head-competition and just 1% of weekly services face effective competition over all or most of their routes. Bus fares outside London rose by 35% above inflation between 1995 and 2013, and by 34% in Wales and 20% in Scotland.

Over the past 30 years, bus passenger journeys outside London have decline by 32.5%.

You would expect, however, that, as a bare minimum, the Government and its agencies would be in the serious business of helping the public travel by bus.

That is why, according to some sources, 3000 bus services have ceased since deregulation.

FOUR examples of how our government helps the public.

High Peak And Buxton
High Peak registered just two of its former five return journeys between Buxton and Sheffield. Derbyshire re-tendered and Stagecoach won the tender for the cancelled journeys and decided to run the commercial journeys as well. The "we help the public" officials would not allow High Peak to stop operating the now duplicated journeys - thus putting the finances of both companies at risk.

In the end High Peak decided to keep going leading to confusion (two different routes called 65) and duplicated departures.
Confusion and duplication to the long term detriment of the travelling public and confusion and duplication encouraged.

Split Registrations
Whenever fbb writes about this it produces significant amounts of feedback. A blog reader sent fbb a reply he received from the horse's mouth (from "The Department") which repeats what some bus companies repeat on their publicity.

Point (iii) is the nonsense.
It says that, in DaFT's opinion, you can operate a through service of over 50km in length by lying to the EU, telling the passenger it is not a through service and then telling them that it is; BUT, no-one must EVER admit that is is a through service.

Should government be asking a bus operator to tell lies?

Should a government be deliberately misleading the public?

O.K., they do that all the time ... BUT ...

Why not just say "no" to the EU? Must other countries do so with impunity when the regulations don't suit them. Of course we will be saying a grand "No" next April!

Won't we?

And all brought about by an "opinion" and "advice".

Monitoring Madness
This story was added to a comment on Monday's blog - but is worth repeating because it is so DaFT.

At my depot it was standard practise for drivers to change the blinds for the next journey as they unloaded the majority of passengers at the city centre stop. This meant that they ran quarter of a mile to the bus station (passing no other stops on the way) with the wrong destination.

Very sensible - ensuring that as the bus pulled on to the stand, it was showing the correct destination rather than something like "City" or "Town Centre".

Mr DaFT inspector/monitor came along and stood twixt stop and bus station. He recorded a large number of journeys which failed to operate (the terminating ones) and a matching number of unregistered journeys on other routes passing him (the next departures). 

Remember, there were no stops between the two points so no-one except the official official could possibly care!

My Managing Director got called in to explain these irregularities to the Traffic Commissioner. The local staff were tasked with providing an answer for the MD, and all of us recognised the working patterns and knew instantly what was happening. 

No passenger was affected in the slightest BUT ...

A Notice to Staff was issued with immediate effect ending the practice. 

Government agencies making it harder to the passenger to cope with public transport; surely the official official should have been told not to be so stupid!

Keep The Service Running - No Chance.
EOS buses (bsed at North Weald, Essex) ceased trading formally in 31st July. Their web site was clear about this ...

Arriva Timetables for Route 66, 86, 87 From 1st August 2018

EOS Timetables Till 31st July 2018

For information on routes 13, 61, 133 and 66A
from 1st August 2018 see

Important Notice, CLOSURE OF COMPANY

In summary, EOS had arranged for Arriva to take over its main services (66, 86 and 87) from yesterday, 1st August.
Arriva would operate almost exactly the same timetables ...
... as EOS with no interruption to the service.
A sad time for EOS, but no inconvenience to the public whatsoever. Well done all concerned!

But this then appeared on "Social Media".
Whatever went wrong, it is simply unacceptable that the public should suffer a totally unnecessary bus-less month just because some tick-box wasn't ticked with the right coloured pencil or the slope of the tick was at the wrong angle.

Correspondent David, who informed fbb of this crass stupidity, wrote:-

If it means maintaining a service, bureaucracy should be thrown out the window. It's very easy to lose passengers but very hard to get them back again. If this is at the insistence of the Traffic Commissioner, it is a disgrace. If Arriva want to run the services let them and then sort out the paperwork later. SERVING THE PUBLIC IS OUR FIRST PRIORITY NOT FILLING OUT THE CORRECT FORMS IN THE CORRECT SEQUENCE.

And so say all of us - but apparently the faceless, unaccountable, "authoriuities" don't.

Surely, it is time for a re-think.

Today's planned blog will return tomorrow.

 Next (delayed) Jaunts blog : Friday 3rd August 


  1. In many areas there simply isn’t the passenger base (existing or potential) to support on the road competition particularly with all the additional regulation (and cost) that bus companies now face that didn’t exist in 1986.

    Long gone are the days of buying an already depreciated Leyland National or Routemaster and sticking it on route and earning a few quid.

    A new entrants to the market face a bewildering amount of regulation with more to come in the secondary legislation to the Bus Services Act, are you planning a blog on the open data consultation?

  2. The law may be an ass, but not observing it can lead to financial punishment.
    Suggesting bus operators break the law is broadly the same as a motorist deciding to ignore the speed limit 'because there was no other traffic'.

    1. The problem is partly how the legal systems developed in the UK versus mainland Europe. In most European countries it is the job of the judiciary to interpret what the lawmakers meant (so in the drivers hours case would probably have decided that local bus services weren't intended to be covered so would be ignored) but in the UK it is the job of the judiciary to implement what the lawmakers say (with the assumptions that the politicians know what they are doing!) so the leeway isn't there. This causes the major issues we often have with Europe not helped by the competence of the politicians going down so the laws put in are badly worded or drawn up. This all could have been avoided if the UK government had simply pointed out that unlike the rest of Europe we have major and extensive local buses services over 50kms (rare elsewhere in Europe at the sort of frequencies etc found in the UK) and that an exemption should be allowed for local registered bus services that meet our registration requirements (such as distance between stops/timing points etc) but that would require UK officials to know what a bus was and how they worked which is highly unlikely.

    2. And as happened on the railway where no-one from the UK bothered to ask for an exemption from electrification clearances that are impossible to meet in UK gauge. The EU has previously granted exemptions, it just needed the UK to ask (which they didn't bother doing)

      Similarly I bet if asked, there would have been an exemption made, but also I've noticed that often these rules get gold plated in the UK as the powers that be know the EU can be blamed for the result.

  3. I believe EOS were originally planning to cease these routes on 1st September and this had been registered with the Traffic Commissioner. It was then mutually agreed with Arriva to do it a month earlier, but for some reason the paperwork had not been amended.
    Not sure why Arriva can't operate the routes "on-hire" to EOS for the intervening month.

  4. No official at any level refused to allow High Peak to withdraw off the 65 at short notice, they never asked. A withdrawal may have been considered but once it was clear that Stagecoach weren't simply duplicating the existing High Peak timetable, and so most of the High Peak journeys sit in between the Stagecoach ones (apart from the first HP journey which is just in front of a Stagecoach one) then they appear to have decided to wait and see how much business remained on these commercial journeys after the change.

    I think the writers of the report appear to have misunderstood both the industry & how competition works in it. There are few areas/corridors where there is sufficient business to support 2 operators under normal circumstances. It is not the existence of on the road competition that matters but the possibility of competition if you operate badly. In most cases if the established operator is doing their job right then it is very difficult for a competitor to break into an established route (as opposed to winning contracts & starting new links), though the customer is getting a good service so is not being let down, but if the established business takes their eye off the ball (either in cost, quality or delivery terms) then there is space for another operator to get in around them. The problem is that with all the extra regulations making it harder to run a bus company more generally and a concessionary fares scheme that the new business may have to wait at least 6-months from start of operation to start getting any revenue from most of their passengers during that initial phase (fare payers will swap slower than concessions due to the latter being able to use anyone with the pass they hold) fewer new businesses are entering the industry, and that is without the threat across the country (whether from local authority politicians or national opposition ones) of the effective forced seizure of their business for no compensation it is no surprise fewer start-ups are seen and many small businesses are closing down or selling up. I, myself, have more than considered it but I'm not comfortable with the risk and don't think I could fund that initial hump until full income started coming in, 10 or 15 years ago I probably would have gone for it by now in terms of where my career is.

    1. Very well said dwarfer.
      I'd add the difficulty finding depot premises and the severe lack of bus drivers to the list of hurdles too.

      At the end of the day do we want "competition" to split the existing market between multiple companies, or do we see "competition" coming from the private car where modal-shift could reduce congestion, pollution and expenditure on ever bigger roads?

  5. Re "breaking the law" (comment above from Traveller). The problem is that no one is breaking the law on "split registrations". The Department, in the face of pressure from the industry, has "advised" a way in which the regulations can be "interpreted", in their "opinion", to circumvent the EU "law" which also has never been fully tested in court. The 685 (Newcastle to Carlisle) case may provide a guide - or may not.

    As stated in the blog above, the Government needs to go to the EU and say "shan't" and see what the consequence is. There is unlikely to be one!

    So let the Department (a k a The Government) stop offering opinions and advice and tell the operators to act IN THE INTERESTS OF THEIR PASSENGERS - agreeing to take the consequences on the operators' behalf.

  6. I was not suggesting that the IPPR report was correct in its proposals; merely that it highlighted yet again that the "commercial" model is no longer fit for purpose. It was party-political motivated so what do you expect?

  7. Another example of DfT's activity is the way they changed the Registration process and notice period by saying "From today thou shalt" not "In six months time we intend to".
    Even the staff in Leeds who run the system were surprised by the change!
    Guidance was issued, two months after the change...

  8. Whilst the "commercial" model may no longer be fit for purpose for buses, I think the same question needs to be asked about the franchising process for rail passenger operation.

    I'm not saying the same solution (what ever that is) would work for both (although it might), just that we perhaps have to be careful what we wish for.

  9. Andrew Kleissner2 August 2018 at 14:06

    Some of us never wished for rail privatisation or bus deregulation, thinking at the time that they were Bad Ideas.

  10. Who do buses serve? Who should they serve.

    The geography of Britain has changed with the car and lorry. The town centre and the weekly market are no longer destinations for many.

    My university children find buses mostly a waste of time. They rarely go where and when you need them. If they do they are slow, expensive and unreliable. Walk, cycle, shared taxi, friend's car, train, plane all get used, but not buses.

    I rode many a National bus on a Saturday in my youth for exploring and on too many I was the only passenger. A complete waste of tax payers money and there was no incentive to do anything about it. Hence commercialisation, which has different problems.

    There are also fundamental reasons why government's have limitations on running capital investments, which the private sector doesn't have.

  11. I think a blanket condemnation of deregulation is unfair - there are a number of elements that are worth praising:
    1. Contracting for tendered work, that enables value for money and quality control to be tested. The old blanket system of subsidy was opaque at best.
    2. A general improvement in inter-urban services. There were certainly instances before where buses would be taken from frequent well-patronised routes to operate sparsely-used social links.
    There are others I could list, though cause and effect is less clear: the change in retail and employment has had massive impacts on bus services, perhaps more so in big urban areas.
    For a comparison of what might have been, the nearest equivalent is Northern Ireland. Ten years ago, it was like going back to an NBC operation of the early 80s. Passenger numbers fell faster than the rest of the UK, until a more commercial approach - especially beefing up some interurbans and simplifying Belfast city routes - has reversed some of the decline. But it still requires subsidy: any politician dreaming of eliminating public funding is sadly deluded.

  12. The problem with state control in a sector like transport (where customers do have a choice of how, where & even whether to travel) is that without massive subsidy it doesn't work. By and large state control was, and is, dreadful at actually serving the general public and is unable to grasp that customers have a choice (see most political soundbites about buses only ever mentioning/suggesting passengers have no alternative which is rarely, if ever, true) and so rarely makes any attempt to actually provide what people want and in most cases provides a poor actual service to customers. My Dad has many instances of huge gaps in services, at levels that no deregulated operator could get away with, of huge gaps in service on frequent bus services due to a shortage of buses and or drivers (a noteworthy one being a 3-hour gap in service trying to get from Brighton to Lewes when the bus service was at least half-hourly due to a driver shortage). There are many instances of councils refusing to consider support for a struggling service because the customers already have a bus service even though it is little used as it doesn't go where or when they actually want it but it ticks their box to say they have a service. Despite all the hype, London is incredibly poor at actually serving the public (they regularly turn buses short in places that are operationally convenient but not customer friendly and extensions to new developments are just tacked onto whatever service is next up for tender rather than one going where people want to go) but because London throws so much money at the system, keeping fares low and frequencies high, it can hide much of the issues of people having to change buses more than they need etc. State Control of transport will only really work if they state is prepared to through enough money at the problem to cover its inability/disinterest in actually serving the customer.

    Rail franchising is another problem (it isn't really privatised as the state still 'owns' the services it just hires private contractors to run them for it for a while) as it isn't one thing or the other. The private operators don't have enough control/influence over the commercial matters where they would be stronger (service development, equipment procurement etc) with the state holding too much control over an area it was never involved in (British Rail never allowed government officials to get involved in planning services at even the most strategic level), very good at or connected to. The government interferes at all levels of rail operations then hides behind the private contractor when it all goes wrong despite them not having any control over it (the current rail strikes a good case in point, the issue is that the government have required the operators to consider/implement driver only operated doors and then won't talk to the union about it, the operator can't agree to anything as it would be a breach of contract whilst the government won't talk. At least at Southern & Northern at Merseyrail it was a safety instruction after a fatality where the guard was jailed for manslaughter on the underground section & on South-Western the Union already have an agreement that it can't be implemented without their agreement so I don't know why they are striking yet, no one has proposed anything yet there). The concern is that most authorities are looking to go down a franchising system that looks much closer to the failing rail system than the London bus system due to them trying to avoid the cost of running such a system (with constant tendering) as they have no money to invest in the system.