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Bus Services

Volume 575: debated on Thursday 6 February 2014

Decisions about the provision of bus services outside London are a matter for commercial bus operators and local authorities, who are best placed to identify the transport needs in their areas. Ministers and officials are in regular contact with bus sector stakeholders such as local authorities and the Confederation of Passenger Transport about developments in the bus market. My noble Friend Baroness Kramer will also chair the next meeting of the Bus Partnership Forum this week, bringing together all those with an interest in the provision of bus services.

First, may I put it on record that my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) and I very much welcome the Crossrail announcement, which will secure the long-term future of rail manufacturing in Derby? My question is about buses, however. The Minister will be aware that Government figures show that, as a result of Government cuts, there has been a 17% reduction in the number of supported bus services in this country. Will it not render meaningless the Prime Minister’s commitment to securing the pensioners bus pass if there are no buses for pensioners to use in the first place?

Local authorities have certainly had to make some difficult decisions, but the fact remains that 44% of the money that goes to bus companies comes, in one way or another, from the taxpayer. We should look carefully at the working of the bus service operators grant, which is a fuel subsidy, because it seems to be a very blunt tool to support services that are under threat, particularly in rural areas.

Many bus services in my area have been cut altogether, and some of those that are left are of poor quality. Will the Minister help my constituents by encouraging the Vehicle and Operator Service Agency to investigate why the Centrebus service between Raunds and Thrapston frequently either fails to arrive or breaks down?

I will certainly be happy to do that. I also recommend that the operator Stagecoach should go to Scarborough and order a new fleet of buses, made in my constituency, to solve that problem.

At a time when Lancashire county council is making further piecemeal reductions to my local bus network, will Ministers urge local authorities and private sector bus companies to involve passengers far more in the design of local networks, to ensure that the buses go to the locations that passengers actually want them to go to?

A number of local authorities up and down the country are looking at intelligent ways of addressing that problem, including utilising dial-a-ride and community buses more. People tend to defend the status quo, but it is often the case that alternative solutions can be more acceptable, particularly to older people who travel during the daytime.

Does not bus availability also include bus accessibility? With fares going up and the number of services going down, are Ministers not making disabled passengers second-class citizens by ducking out of enforcing new European standards that require bus operators to give their staff disability awareness training, as rail operators have to do? The Transport Select Committee, disability charities and tens of thousands of disabled people think that the Government should sign up to that new standard. A month ago, the Minister promised in Westminster Hall that his Department would review the training opt-out in March. Will he now tell disabled passengers whether he will give them that support—yes or no?

As I made clear during the Westminster Hall debate, a large number of bus operators are doing this voluntarily, and we certainly support a voluntary approach, rather than regulation.