1 June 2011: Big change in the bus world has been off the table since Jan 2010 while everyone has been waiting for the Competition Commission to finish their review of the industry. Last month the provisional findings were published, so is the future for the UK’s most popular form of public transport now any clearer?
Overall, we welcome the Competition Commission’s direction of travel. We were particularly pleased to hear the praise of multi-operator ticketing schemes, because we know that passengers really benefit from bus tickets they can use all day, on all buses. More broadly, it is great that a green light has been given to local authorities to investigate options involving partnerships and franchising, particularly in areas where competition is not currently working. The Commission noted that aggressive behaviour, such as ‘overbussing’ on particular routes and other tactics used to reduce a rival’s ability to compete, does need to be stopped.
All in all the findings chime with our view that co-operation and joined up thinking will provide passengers with a more usable door-to-door service and, if done properly, will not break competition rules.
However we were a little disappointed by the lack of vision in the Commission’s approach to market growth. Evidence shows that where there are real incentives and investment in bus marketing, car use falls. Research we published in 2008 shows that demand for public transport has been suppressed by high fares, and if fares were reduced by 20%, a level more in line with the European average, bus travel would increase by 13%.
We all know that we need people to get out of their cars and on to public transport; so changes following the Commission’s inquiry offer an opportunity to encourage bus use that needs to be grasped with both hands.