Are big bus companies driving over smaller competitors?

7 October 2011

300109114547--stagecoach_bus We remember when the government deregulated the buses a couple of decades or so ago. It all seemed like a public transport nirvana waiting to happen. We’d all have our own private buses, fitted with jacuzzis and we’d be fed tiny cups of nectar from specially-trained bear cubs as we travelled from A to B. The fares? 5p per journey, maximum.

Well guess what – that’s NOT what happened, and what’s more, things are getting worse. The Competition Commission has been looking in local bus services and their provisional findings are that “in many local areas the largest bus operator faced little or no competition” leading to "passengers facing less frequency and, in some cases, higher fares”. Oh. Shit. That’s not good is it?

There are 1,245 bus companies in England, Scotland and Wales but 69% of services are run by the ‘big five’ - Arriva, FirstGroup, Go-Ahead, National Express and Stagecoach. The Commission is suggesting that the OFT keeps a closer eye on mergers and acquisitions between bus operators in the future.

Jeremy Peat, who chaired the inquiry, said: "We believe that greater competition between operators is the best way to rectify the problems we have identified. Ensuring fair access to bus stations, tackling 'over bussing', opening up the tendering process, close scrutiny of bus mergers, and encouraging 'competition-friendly' partnerships will all help achieve this." They’re also in favour of more multi-operator ticketing, so that travellers aren’t restricted to the big companies when using services.

Come on then Bitterwalleteers – tell us what irks you most about YOUR bus services. Car drivers can feel free to shut up.

TOPICS:   Travel

15 comments

  • Phil
    This has only just been noticed... My dad who's just retired from the industry use to moan about this 10 years ago. They just move into an area - undercut the local company. When local company goes bump they put prices up. Standard industry practice.
  • dudley
    Yep, FirstGroup took over here, now have canceled a load of the routes and most evening journeys. Oh for the days of 10 or 20 years ago when we had regular trains and busses throughout the day and untill midnight. Last bus at 8pm in the week and last train 9pm at weekends. A joke and we only live 13 miles from the second city.
  • buster
    Nationalise the lot of them : have a proper integrated transport system that supports people properly. Subsidise the hell out of it so that people want to use it. Privatising transport NEVER solved a problem or reduced fares. It just reduces frequency and quality of service. Note that "London is a special case" so they have TfL, which while not wonderful does a lot better than the rest of us have to put up with.
  • Noghar
    What, now that village life is effectively dead and the only people who can afford to live in the country are middleclass families with two Volvos, the Competition has noticed that a free market in public transport doesn't fecking work? We knew that twenty years ago before bus services were deregulated but the profiteers pushed it through anyway. What's the CC going to do, write a hand-wringing report suggesting the clock is rolled back? We all know that's not going to happen. Wish I could get a job insulting the public's intelligence for £40k a year or whatever those feckers get.
  • Tom
    What irks me most about my bus service is the tramp that sits near the back whistling out of tune. Also, the smell of spilt energy drinks and stale urine, the fact that the windows are so filthy you can't see through them and the people inside are so ugly that your left with nowhere to look...
  • The B.
    Whereas in London thanks to Ken Livingstone, the buses run fairly frequently, even on the routes that no one uses, and kids travel free, for the 3 stops it takes to get them to school and it only costs Londoners £100 million a year, bargain.
  • Tony
    It constantly baffles me how HM Government believe that passing things into the public sector can "increase efficiency". there is no reason why public services cannot be run in a sensible manner, and unlike with private businesses there is no need to make sizeable profits to pass on to shareholders. Looking at the railways in particular as a place where privatisation was going to pass all the responsibility into the private sector, and competition would lead to improved services and lower fares, all the while generating profit for operators and reducing government subsidies. In reality it has created a series of monopolies. How many options do you have if you want to travel from London to Manchester, London to Cardiff or London to Edinburgh? In each case there is realistically only one option. With regard to the buses, London does appear to have it right with the increased level of regulation. Manchester, not so good. Until recently I lived in South Manchester, where my route into town had five operators, each charging a different fare, but by virtue of their size Stagecoach still held sway due to the number of buses they could put on the roads, ignoring alleged dirty tricks of blocking stands at bus stations and turnaround bays. As Buster says, these services should be nationalised. Run them along the lines of a private business, but plough the shareholder dividends back into the business in reduced fares, subsidising less populated routes, and increasing frequency of services as required. There could also dare I say it an improvement in Ts&Cs for the staff, who would then have a bit more spending money, and be able to plough that back into the economy. Instead the Labour Government of 1997 decided that they would privatise half of the UKs main Air Traffic Service (ATC) provider, and this Tory Government want to sell of more. Do you really want ATC run in the same manner as the buses and trains? HMG seems to want to devolve all of its responsibilities to the private sector, so there is no risk with them, but the risk which is passed on to the private sector actually lies with us as tax payers, as if the private business goes bust, it is us who are left without essential services. I wouldn't want to go down the lines of Tony Benn, who appeared to want to nationalise pretty much everything, but HMG should be on the hook for seervices that the nation relies on, such as health, transport and energy.
  • PlatinumPlatypus
    As a regular user of buses, I find patronage is shockingly low. It should be ridiculously easy for buses to attract passengers in this financial climate. People do not feel they can board a bus in confidence. Single fares in particular are too high, and the only way to find out how much you'll have to pay before boarding is to contact the operator. For every individual journey. On top of this, many operators will only accept the correct change. Flat fare structures operate in some areas and I feel this works much better. Multi-operator tickets are available in some major metropolitan areas but are even more expensive. For people to consider public transport a convenient-enough option, it must be more straightforward to combine operators and modes of transport and realise the network benefits. I also feel that because services have been cut so much, the remaining ones are made to divert through so many estates etc the journey times are simply too long. Express bus links should connect major local centres in the absence of train lines along a certain route.
  • Lawrence
    If you'd like me to write an article about WHY and HOW this is the case, let me know. Tony says "with regard to the buses, London does appear to have it right with the increased level of regulation", however the situation isn't INCREASED regulation... it's that in the 70s everywhere else experienced complete de-regulation!! I can tell you lots of stories, mainly about Stagecoach and their "bus wars". Their tactics of playing bus-chess against smaller operators, re-painting as many buses as possible before the competition commission get onto them and food fights between rival bus operators!!
  • PMC
    Peterborough - Stagecoach - Utter shit & costly. No concept of running to timetables, excessive buses put on in the day, too few at night, constantly rising prices, the death of return tickets was utterly evil. An utter lack of care for their customers. One route is ran by a small company, who are on time, cheaper and whose drivers are nice and friendly. Stagecoach make about 17p in the pound on bus services I think private eye reported the other week. Makes you wonder why the govt can't be making 17p in the pound from running this public service.
  • Martin
    I'd like to know what the cost price to the bus company is and then we'd see the actual profit margin. Costs go up, having lots of buses costs a lot of money. Investment for the future is pricey. But if we are getting screwed over we need to know figures. You can't just slag them off without that information
  • John
    Agree with buster, nationalise them all, have one ticket, Arriva are a joke, their drivers all need to be bought watches, and sent to time telling lessons We need someone sensible running them, arriva are profit driven dont give a crap merchants or clueless
  • John
    Clearly I misread what buster said and I disagree, if we get proper people(if there any in the government) get real people involved and we could have a great nationalised service
  • John
    realbob, wasnt it bonking boris the buffoon who brought in free fares for kids? also kids should have there own "school buses" ala USA style and not be allowed on Public buses on way to/home from school
  • greatscott
    yes

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