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'Bus users must not be forgotten'

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: September 17, 2012

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t.rowe@bepp.co.uk

The Government and bus industry need to show more leadership to raise the standard of "Cinderella" bus services, an influential group of MPs has warned.

Bus passengers are treated less favourably than rail passengers despite the fact that more than three times as many people travel by bus than go by rail, according to a report on competition in the local bus market from the Commons Select Committee on Transport.

It warns that public spending cuts are hitting already endangered services hard.

It will come as no surprise to communities across the West Country which have seen cuts reduce services, and end Sunday and evening buses on some routes.

Local authorities provide financial support for some services that are not commercially viable but are facing difficult decisions as they cut back on spending. Sunday buses to Yeovil, Shepton Mallet and Wells, from Bristol and from Worle to Weston-Super-Mare hospital are among services to have been axed under spending cuts.

There are fears of further threats to services across the region following First Group's announcement earlier this year that it is considering disposing of a number of bus operations. First has not named routes which could be affected.

In 2010-11 the rate paid by Government to bus operators under the Bus Service Operators Grant, to partially offset fuel duty, fell by 20 per cent.

The industry is dominated by five large companies. The report says they should show greater leadership and address the long-term interests of bus passengers, particularly with the introduction of multi-operator smartcards, service stability and passenger information.

Work is already under way on computer systems required for an electronic travel card for Bristol and the surrounding area. Four unitary authorities, Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and B&NES are working together on the system.

Louise Ellman MP, chairman of the Transport Committee, said: "More than five billion journeys are made by bus in Great Britain each year. While some bus services are good, too often passengers are dissatisfied.

"More competition among bus operators may improve services in some areas but many routes simply cannot sustain more than one operator."

Public transport watchdog David Redgewell of the South West Transport Network welcomed the report, adding: "We need to stop cutting the Bus Operator Grant and the local services grant. Loss of services has a huge impact on people's lives."

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