Co-operation is needed for integration

Bus met train at Haltwhistle following closure of the railway to Alston in 1976. Such co-operation is almost always at the behest of the local authorities.
Bus met train at Haltwhistle following closure of the railway to Alston in 1976. Such co-operation is almost always at the behest of the local authorities.

‘You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs’, is a well-known saying. Similarly, you cannot open a railway without having an effect on local bus services.

In 1986 bus services were privatised and the National Bus Company in England and the Scottish Transport Group were broken up into local bus companies and sold off.

For nearly 100 years there have been many missed opportunities in Britain to create an integrated transport system, while our neighbours on the continent have established and developed theirs.

Politicians believed this would result in local competition and therefore greater efficiency and lower fares. Experienced people in the industry believed that in a short time the buses would be sucked into a small number of large companies or groups.

The principal groups which emerged were First Group, based in Aberdeen, Stagecoach, based in Perth, Go-Ahead, based in Newcastle and Arriva, based in Sunderland. The latter is now owned by German Railways (Deutsch Bahn). Despite the locations, these groups now control almost all bus services in Britain.

As with all large undertakings, the centralised management set financial targets for their local operators, which are often impossible to meet in rural areas.

The political ideology which requires competition, rather than co-operation, makes it impossible to achieve the integration that passengers want, and because many politicians do not use buses, they do not understand what passengers want.

For nearly 100 years there have been many missed opportunities in Britain to create an integrated transport system, while our neighbours on the continent have established and developed theirs. There, the bus operators feed and are fed by the railways, they do not moan and groan that the railways steal their traffic.

For example, from 1969 to 1986 almost all buses in England were run by the National Bus Company in public ownership. The railways were also in full public ownership, yet there was no requirement for either of them to talk to the other, so they did not.

Co-ordination of their services only took place in the major cities, and occasionally in the non-metropolitan counties, under the guidance of local authorities.

It all comes down to money, of course.

At one point the comparison between Swiss railway finance and British was that Swiss passengers benefitted from government support equivalent to 98p per mile, while those in Britain received 3p.

The writer has previously referred to Government accountants when he should have mentioned economists. Accountants record the actual situation in arrears, which is objective and accurate. Economists make projections, on the basis of which policy is formed, which is subjective and may or may not turn out to be accurate.

Buses and trains are not in competition with each other. They are public transport partners. Their competitor is the private car.

Talking of which, small ladies can find that cars are generally designed for larger people.

A few years ago there were clips to hold seat-belts in a safer and more comfortable position for shorter ladies to stop the belt lying across their neck, which would be dangerous in the event of a sudden stop. Apparently, these clips are no longer available so that some drivers now have to sit on cushions to achieve a comfortable driving position. They wonder why cars cannot be designed to meet their needs.

John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp? priced £14.95, post paid and signed. Also Experiments in Public Transport Operation, at £11.95. Order at www.john-wylde.co.uk