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Local Bus Services (Dorset)

Volume 475: debated on Wednesday 14 May 2008

The Petition of customers and residents of West Moors in the Christchurch constituency,

Declares that they deplore the decision of Wilts. and Dorset Bus Company to reschedule local bus services in such a way as to remove the direct services between West Moors and Bournemouth and Bournemouth Hospital and express their concerns that one of the justifications for the rescheduling is the requirement of the Bus Company to reduce the length of its routes to less than 31 miles so that it can use vehicles without tachographs which would otherwise be required under the Community Drivers’ Hours and Recording Equipment Regulations 2007.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to reduce regulatory burdens and review the impact of the latest regulations upon local bus services.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Christopher Chope, Official Report, 28 April 2008; Vol. 475, c. 139 .] [P000180]

Observations from the Secretary of Transport:

The Government is aware that a number of bus operators have recently altered routes to remove themselves from the scope of the European drivers' hours and tachograph rules under Council Regulation EC 561/2006. This Regulation contains an EU wide derogation for vehicles used for the carriage of passengers on regular services where the route covered by the service in question does not exceed 50km.

The Regulation came into force on 11 April 2007 and replaced earlier EU legislation on this subject. The 50km threshold for regular bus services has existed since EU drivers' hours rules were first introduced. However, the Regulation introduced a new requirement for drivers of regular bus services to use a tachograph to record hours worked and tightened up weekly rest requirements. These changes were intended to reduce the risk of fatigue related road accidents involving drivers of commercial vehicles and were the outcome of extensive negotiations in Europe. At that time, the Government consulted a wide range of stakeholders on the proposals and these changes were not identified as a pressing concern.

Since the Regulations came into force, the Government has received representations from bus operators that operating services under the EU rules is unattractive commercially because of the additional costs involved. Representations have also been received from bus users that services are being curtailed or withdrawn. There is also evidence that some operators have been adopting a variety of devices to artificially split longer routes into a series of shorter ones.

Departmental officials met representatives of the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) on 17 April to discuss the concerns expressed by rural bus service operators about the burdens imposed by the EU drivers' hours rules and possible solutions within the framework of the existing legislation. Criteria have been agreed for deciding whether a route is a separate route for the purposes of the 50km threshold and this should provide greater certainty for operators who wish to continue to operate outside the EU regime. The CPT also advised that some operators of longer distance routes have accepted that the EU rules should apply and are now operating under those rules.

The Government will explore any opportunities that may arise to re-examine the issue in Europe although any proposal to change the 50km threshold would require the support of a qualified majority of other member states. Other member states may have different views and there is a risk that any review of the EU regulation could result in a greater number of local bus services being brought into the EU rules.