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National Bus Company

Volume 941: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet the Chairman of the National Bus Company.

When the right hon. Gentleman does meet the Chairman of the NBC, will he ask him to explain how it is that the Bristol Omnibus Company is asking for an increase in fares of as much as 100 per cent., which will put its fares 100 per cent. in excess of those charged on buses belonging to the passenger transport department of the borough of Thamesdown? I appreciate that there is a degree of cross-subsidisation in respect of rural areas, but is not the solution to have many more locally-based and locally-owned bus companies?

I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of the chairman and I am sure that he will be prepared to consider it. There are difficulties concerning the fare structures between different bus companies. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said earlier, the NBC is genuinely trying to adapt the existing route system in the most flexible way, but it needs a reasonable level of financial support.

Will my right hon. Friend pay regard to the fact that in cases such as this the position of people in rural areas is very much undermined when they see people across the road being able to travel similar distances for half the cost? Should not the NBC pay special attention to this problem and do something about its organisation?

My hon. Friend recognises that the problems of operating efficiently in rural areas are very much more difficult, and, as I have said before, this can be done only if the counties are given adequate revenue suport. We cannot maintain the services in any other way. Of course, there are problems in urban areas, but there is a much greater density of traffic there, which helps to solve some of the problems.

When the right hon. Gentleman has an opportunity to meet the chairman, will he ask him about companies such as Crosville, which persistently refuse to introduce off-peak fares?

The chairman is fully aware of this matter, which the hon. Gentleman has raised in the House before. I am sure that he is giving attention to it, though there are problems in having the NBC, with a degree of consistency, on the one hand and local option, which most of us want to see, on the other.

Now that the right hon. Gentleman has referred to local option, will he tell us what is likely to happen when the proposals that he is bringing forward in the Transport Bill—proposals for greater flexibility and a greater say for county councils in licensing matters for rural transport and buses—conflict with the views of the traffic commissioners? What thought has he given to that matter, and who will have the final say if there are disagreements?

That question goes far wider than the original Question. The hon. Gentleman should await the publication of the Bill and, in particular, the proposals in the county public trans-port plans. He will find all the details there.