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Public Transport

Volume 33: debated on Wednesday 1 December 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will introduce proposals to stimulate the greater use of public transport.

Tighter control of operating costs combined with capital investment to improve passenger facilities is the key to stimulating greater use of public transport. The measures currently before the House will promote efficiency and will help to ensure that resources remain available for valuable investment and are not drained away into unreasonably high and wasteful operating subsidies.

What response has been given to Staffordshire county council, which has said that the Government's financial support is inadequate to maintain a minimum level of public transport in that county? Does the Minister accept that the provision of public transport is an essential social service for the young and old and many other sections of the community?

The last time that the hon. Gentleman raised that matter I explained that with regard to transport Staffordshire county council was treated favourably when compared with other councils.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the best stimulus to increased use of public transport is an improvement in quality? My constituents are still travelling in cattle-truck conditions on London Transport. The first step should be to take London Transport out of the hands of the Greater London Council, which has made such a mess of it.

Would not one way to stimulate use be to provide different forms of public transport? For example, the Minister could increase British Rail's investment programme to enable it to switch from DMUs to rail buses, which are produced in my constituency. At the end of next year the current orders run out. May we look forward to a continuity in orders by the Government increasing British Rail's external financing limit?

There is some good sense in the hon. Gentleman's point. We are in favour of having fares as low as possible and public transport to being as good as possible. The essential requirements are a sensible level of subsidy, which we are providing, sensible levels of service, tailored to needs, and efficient operation to prevent subsidies being wasted. By following those principles the resources can be created to improve the services.

There would be much greater use of public transport by my constituents if some means could be found to ensure greater uniformity of concessionary fares arrangements between London and Essex.

I know that that point troubles my hon. Friend. A decision about subsidies is essentially one for Essex county council.

Does the Minister acknowledge that the continuous pursuit of a cheap fares policy by the South Yorkshire metropolitan authority has been accompanied by a higher level of investment in bus services than has occurred in authorities where high fares policies have been pursued? How will the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State increase investment in public transport by cutting the transport supplementary grant?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the claim of the South Yorkshire metropolitan authority to have increased passengers by 7 per cent. has been accompanied by an admission that its subsidy has risen by no less than 600 per cent. One has to judge whether that enormous cost has yielded an adequate benefit. One of the industry's great problems is to ensure that investment is related to achieving an effective return in improved services.