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Bus Services

Volume 565: debated on Thursday 27 June 2013

The regulatory framework around quality contract schemes is the one we inherited from the previous Administration and there are no plans to change it. The decision to pursue a quality contract scheme remains for the local transport authority to take, if it can satisfy itself that the scheme is in the public interest.

The Minister will know that up until now most provincial passenger transport authorities have preferred the partnership route and, to my knowledge, at least two—Tyne and Wear and West Yorkshire—are exploring whether to go the quality contract route instead, not least because of all the financial pressures that are now upon them. What advice does he have for the two authorities?

My advice is to consider what is best in the public interest for their constituents, to examine the options available in legislation, to pursue partnership working with bus operators and to try to secure the best possible outcome for the bus passenger.

15. Some 45 per cent. of those travelling on the excellent bus services in North Yorkshire take advantage of concessionary fares. Will the Minister look kindly on allowing bus companies similar commercial freedom to that enjoyed by the railway companies that provide concessionary passes? (161779)

The arrangements for train and for bus are slightly different in the sense that the railway arrangements for the discount card were set in place at privatisation and are funded by the train operating companies, whereas the bus arrangements are of course funded from the public purse. If the hon. Lady has particular concerns about the operation of the travel concessionary scheme in her area, I will be very happy to meet her and talk about them.

When the Minister sat on the Bill Committee for the Local Transport Act 2008, he was not satisfied with what the Government were then proposing because he knew, as do other hon. Members, that the current deregulated system allows bus companies to game the public purse to the detriment of the travelling public. Can he not persuade his hard-hearted Tory colleagues to help authorities that want to re-regulate the system to the benefit of the travelling public?

As far as the landscape is concerned, following the recommendations of the Competition Commission, we have of course taken steps to improve it. The options available under the Local Transport Act—the hon. Gentleman and I sat on the Public Bill Committee—are still available. I encourage local authorities to explore the best possible options. What we are seeing across the country in places such as Brighton, for example, is a good arrangement between local authorities and bus companies, which is driving up passenger numbers.

The Minister will well remember the grilling that he and I got before the inaugural meeting of the Youth Select Committee about a year ago on the whole anomaly of young people often qualifying for full adult fares at the age of 16 and of a postcode lottery in certain parts of the country. A year on, with the Youth Select Committee moving on to a new study next week, will the Minister update us on what progress has been made on getting fairer fares for young people?

I do remember that particular Select Committee engagement, and I am sorry that my hon. Friend is no longer in his post to carry on the work he was doing. Since then, we have talked to the bus companies at the Department for Transport and they have produced this new website, which is useful for identifying offers and the availability of transport for young people. In addition, I have had discussions with the Minister for Schools about the situation for young people, and we are considering what further action, if any, we can take.

Lancashire county council is considering quality bus contracts. Will the Minister and his Department be as supportive as possible towards those authorities that wish to move towards quality bus contracts, providing support where necessary?

We are always happy to engage with local authorities and to give them advice in so far as they request it. Obviously, when local authorities request factual information from the Department, we will be happy to supply it.

The quality of bus travel between Newcastle, Hexham and Carlisle has suffered terribly due to the mismanagement of Arriva. Specifically, many of my constituents encounter great problems with the service being perpetually late or even buses running out of fuel. Will the Minister reassure my constituents that the next time he meets Arriva, he will urge it to improve the quality of this service?

I am always keen to improve the quality of bus services for passengers. The satisfaction level of bus travel as measured by the independent Passenger Focus is 84%, and in Tyne and Wear, for example, it is 87%. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about particular issues in his local area, I would be happy to pursue them with him and the relevant bus company.

In theory, quality contracts and quality partnerships should make integrated ticketing—and, therefore, smartcard ticketing—easier to manage. We are still not seeing enough smartcard use outside London—specifically in Merseyside, where the project is long overdue. Will the Minister say specifically what he and his Department have done to empower integrated transport authorities to get smartcards available for passengers?

As a matter of fact, we have provided significant sums of money to ITAs to take forward smart ticketing. We are also taking forward multi-operator ticketing guidance, in accordance with the Competition Commission’s recommendations, and I have made it plain to bus companies that we want to see progress on that matter. Only this week, I held a two-hour meeting with key operators in the bus and train world to talk about smart ticketing and to make sure we are making progress, which indeed we are, in both modes of transport.