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Volume 570: debated on Thursday 7 November 2013

Passenger Focus research shows that customer satisfaction with bus journeys is high—84% of passengers are satisfied with their service. The Government set out their programme for further improving bus services in “Green Light for Better Buses”, which was published in 2012. Our proposals include reforming bus subsidy, improving competition and making buses easier to use for everyone.

As we have heard a little this morning, Members could probably talk for hours about rail fares, but what about bus fares, especially those outside London? Will the Minister tell the House what has happened to bus fares outside London on his Government’s watch, and what impact the removal of the bus service operators grant had?

Bus fares have been rising for several years above inflation, although many operators and councils across the country are working together and separately to provide good deals. The picture is variable and reflects local circumstances. We are working with the sector to see what can be achieved to make sure that buses are accessible to as many people as possible, given the social and economic importance of bus travel.

Given the major changes in the rural population over the past 100 years, which has made it increasingly difficult to provide an effective service based on the traditional mid-20th century model of rural bus services that is currently used, what research has the Department done to look at alternative 21st-century methods of providing a decent bus service in rural areas?

I have already pointed out that in 2011 and 2012 we provided a total of £20 million in additional funding for rural areas. In some rural areas which are sparsely populated, there may be alternative solutions, such as dial-a-ride, car sharing or similar schemes, which may be more appropriate for the more remote rural areas.

While the number of bus passengers falls and fares rise, this Government have stopped the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, which checked bus operators’ punctuality, doing so properly. People need to know how reliable their buses are, as will the new local transport bodies planning their services, so why are Ministers keeping consumers clueless and local transport bodies toothless?

Bus users are all too aware of reliability; they use services if they are reliable. It will be interesting to see how the policy in Liverpool, which is getting rid of bus priority schemes and bus lanes, will impact on the reliability of services and how much they are used.