I was understandably worried when the transport select committee of which I am a member discovered that although the number of bus journeys each year is more than 3 times the number taken by train, our local bus services are far behind the railways in terms of reliability, passenger satisfaction, and fares.
In a report published by the committee yesterday, we highlight the growing problems with local bus services; the destabilising effect to bus services of multiple operators competing over a single bus route, and the chronic under-staffing of the bus regulators, who often pull double duty as lorry licensers.
I believe that the ‘big five’ companies that dominate the British bus network – Arriva, First, Go-Ahead, National Express and Stagecoach – should act more in the long-term interest of passengers. They ought to pioneer the introduction of multi-operator smart cards that can be used across the different service providers in order to give customers a better, simpler trip.
I also believe that cities like Manchester should be allowed more power over their bus services, bringing the powers they have in line with those in London would be an ideal solution. The best way of achieving this would be to run services through franchises. Proper franchise agreements and comprehensive regulation, as enjoyed by the mayor of London, would enable the city to properly regulate its bus services and ensure a reliable, easy-to-use service that provides good value for money.
Along with campaigns to make Manchester a better city for cyclists, better bus services would go some way to improving the city’s green credentials as well as making travel easier for everyone by taking cars off the roads.