Skip to main content

Passenger Transport Authorities (Regulation)

Volume 449: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable passenger transport authorities in certain metropolitan districts in England to regulate passenger transport operations; and for connected purposes.

The Bill is intended to strengthen passenger transport authorities—PTAs—and passenger transport executives—PTEs—in metropolitan England outside London. The reason for doing that is to encourage greater use of public transport and to enable PTAs and PTEs to be more innovative with public transport schemes in their own areas. Essentially, my proposal is to gain for the rest of metropolitan England what London already has.

My Bill has three elements: a strengthened regulatory role for PTAs and PTEs; the explicit ability to enter into partnership agreements with neighbouring areas, most obviously covering travel-to-work areas that cross county boundaries; and the ability of those strengthened PTAs to receive grant aid directly from central Government. In Tyne and Wear, that would have the great advantage of eliminating the funding shortfall for the pensioners concessionary bus travel scheme.

My Bill is unashamedly pro-public transport. It favours the citizen and the broader public interest over narrower commercial interests. All the traditional arguments in favour of public transport still stand: the impact of public transport on congestion, public transport as a liberating instrument of social inclusion, and public transport as a support for the labour market and economic activity more generally. Those arguments are well known and understood and are in themselves pretty persuasive, but it is surely the case for public transport as energy-efficient and environmentally friendly that should compel us to renew our efforts in this area. The strengthened PTAs proposed in my Bill would have control over the strategic highway network in their area. They would be able to control bus lanes and bus priority carriageways and assert the routes used for bus travel, so that the public interest could be asserted over the bus operator’s commercial interest.

Let me give an example of why this is necessary. The No. 22 bus operated by Stagecoach in my constituency is supposed to go down Shields road. It always used to go down Shields road, local people want it to go down Shields road, and the bus stops are on Shields road. However, the bus is now diverted into a residential area—Valentia avenue and Iolanthe crescent. Some 800 local residents have signed a petition requesting it to be returned to its former route. I have tried to get the bus route put back to how it was, as have the PTA, the local council, and local residents in direct meetings with the operator, but the answer remains no. That is not for any public service reason but for the operating convenience of the bus company, which has rerouted the bus past its depot so that it can change drivers. And people complain about provider capture in public services!

The operator behaves in that way because there is no-one to insist that it should not. My Bill would remedy that. Powerful stand-alone transport authorities would be able to invest in the public transport network and their own capital programmes. Of course they would have to be audited and held to account for the money that they were spending, but at least they would be able to get on with it.

Bus deregulation has not led to a growth in bus travel outside London. Since deregulation, fares have increased by 86 per cent. in PTA areas and bus use has halved. Bus use in Tyne and Wear has declined by 48 per cent. in the past 20 years. Bus operators’ response to declining use is to cut services, reduce costs, raise fares and seek public subsidies. As the bus service weakens, people look for alternatives—most obviously, the private motor car. Nor has deregulation brought new, exciting, innovative bus operators into the market. Market entry costs are high, and existing operators are pretty well placed to see off any new competition. In London, buses are carrying more passengers than at any time since the 1960s, whereas in the rest of metropolitan England the movement is in the opposite direction. That is neither sustainable nor desirable. As a remedy, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Nicholas Brown, Mr. Doug Henderson, Mr. David Clelland, Mrs. Sharon Hodgson, Mr. Stephen Hepburn, Mr. Chris Mullin, Mr. David Anderson, Mr. Fraser Kemp, Mr. George Mudie, Mr. Clive Betts, Graham Stringer and Mr. Stephen Byers.

Passenger Transport Authorities (Regulation)

Mr. Nicholas Brown accordingly presented a Bill to enable passenger transport authorities in certain metropolitan districts in England to regulate passenger transport operations; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 October, and to be printed [Bill 221].