The bus industry has poured cold water on Labour plans to see not-for-profit services run by members of the community, raising concerns about potential trade union and fundraising difficulties.
Shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher last week pledged to ‘rebalance’ the bus market by allowing councils to award local bus licenses and support residents to run services if the party takes power in May’s General Election.
Yet the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (CPT) has warned the proposals ‘do not really stand up to scrutiny’ and questioned Labour actions to ‘clobber’ large operating groups while leaving medium and smaller operators unscathed.
Mr Dugher told The Independent that Labour actions would help regions ‘break the stranglehold’ of the largest operators, equating its pledges to party action taken to tackle the ‘big six’ energy firms. Labour said 2,000 bus routes had been reduced or lost over the past five years while fares had risen by 25%.
‘There is a proud and growing British tradition of community transport in the UK. It is a sector that serves both rural and urban areas, often operating in areas the commercial operators have turned their back on. In government, Labour will ensure that communities cannot be held to ransom by operators threatening to pull buses and cut services,’ Mr Dugher said.
However a spokesperson from the CPT told Transport-Network that questions had been raised about community funding for bus services alongside staff training and equipment.
‘No one would doubt the value of the community transport sector but where will they find the capital for mainstream bus services if they are not allowed to make a return? What will the unions think when secure posts with successful companies are replaced by voluntary labour and minimum wage jobs with hand-to-mouth CICs?’ the spokesperson said.
‘Bus drivers in the commercial bus industry have a rigorous and continual regime of training laid down by the EU, something that drivers in the community transport sector are simply not required to undertake. Commercial operators are continually investing in high quality, modern, environmentally friendly vehicles with the latest on-board technology to make the bus journey easier and more enjoyable for their passengers.
‘Labour seems to be fixated on clobbering the large operating groups but there are also a huge number of medium sized and small operators in the commercial market. And let us not forget that 81% of bus mileage outside London is run purely on a commercial basis with no subsidy whatsoever.’
CPT added that commercial operators deserved credit for ‘keeping the buses running on routes that have been abandoned by cash-strapped local authorities’.