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Public Transport Services

Volume 884: debated on Wednesday 15 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what effect he expects the increases in petrol prices to have on demand for public transport services.

Does the Minister accept that the brevity and ineptness of his reply will cause widespread dismay to users of public transport throughout the country? Rural services are already in disarray and inadequate for their purpose. We have a situation where we understand—

May I ask the Minister to review the system of public passenger transport licensing to satisfy himself that we are making the fullest possible use of all the resources available?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should think that the words I uttered a few minutes ago should already have caused widespread concern thoroughout the country. That depicts that the state of our communication is rather better than I had believed. I accept that the inadequate provision of public transport is a serious matter and I shall be pleased to do anything I can to remedy the situation. However, I stress that even when more power is given to local authorities to determine these matters and to make grants to the National Bus Company or to subsidise services and so on—we did not contest the principle—all too frequently they are unwilling to do this. Therefore, it is not wholly a central Government matter. Apart from finding money, which I find a problem these days, if I can help the hon. Gentleman's constituency perhaps he will let me know.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only logic in having a 25 per cent. rate of VAT on petrol is to reduce the consumption of petrol, and that he ought to be going much further in his cuts in the motorways programme so that existing scarce resources can be bolstered by the additional money for public transport services?

I hope that the package of fuel measures announced by my right hon. Friend will have the effect of substantially curtaining the demand for petrol. Indeed, my right hon. Friend and I were criticised because our measures did not go far enough. We are reforecasting the traffic requirements for the road programme in the light of the expected decline in mileage, particularly of private cars.

Does the Minister accept that the threatened increase of 50 per cent. in bus fares, due to wage demands on the public bus companies, will curtail the demand for public transport?

The hon. Gentleman has the advantage of me. I do not know about a 50 per cent. increase in bus fares. Certainly this would not be general. I accept that increases in fares have a bearing on demand. The most crucial thing is for public transport, wherever possible, to improve the reliability of the service. That has a greater bearing on attracting people from private cars to public transport than the level of fares.