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IPPR calls for ‘stronger’ regional transport powers

Bus and train regulation across the country should be moved to powerful regional transport bodies, modelled on Transport for London (TfL), a new report has claimed.

Published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), the study ‘Greasing the Wheels: Supporting and Improving Britain's Rail and Bus Services’ says that Britain’s bus passengers have been let down by a lack of competition and a failure of deregulation

The new report reveals that one in eight people working in Britain rely on the bus to get to work. It also highlights that people make more than three times as many bus journeys as rail journeys – over five billion each year.

It is nearly 30 years since local bus services in Britain were deregulated by the Conservatives under the Transport Act 1985 to revive the flagging fortunes of a declining industry. But the report claims that in this time period, bus passenger journeys have fallen outside London but grown in the capital. The IPPR study shows that overall bus use outside London has fallen by 32.5% since 1986, while rising by 99% in London.

IPPR has recommended the creation of local transport bodies modelled on TfL at the level of city-regions and combined authorities. In particular, they should have a remit to take on the delivery of transport policy, including the regulation and contracting of bus markets where the private sector is failing to deliver an adequate service.

Will Straw, IPPR associate director, said:  “London has the best buses in Britain and that’s no accident. TfL has been a great success while the deregulation of buses outside London has largely failed.

“Outside London, bus passenger journeys are down and fares are rising higher than inflation. Examples of successful bus markets outside London are all too rare so local transport bodies should be given greater powers to hold uncompetitive providers to account.”

The report shows that 37% of weekly services outside London do not face any effective head-to head-competition and just 1% of weekly services face effective head-to-head competition over all or most of their route.

IPPR also argues that liberalisation has not resulted in a competitive market, especially as bus fares in England (outside London) have increased by 35% above inflation between 1995 and 2013, and by 34% in Wales and 20% in Scotland over the same period.

Straw added that “responsibility for transport related to schools and hospitals should be devolved to these regional transport bodies with any savings made from achieving efficiencies retained and reinvested in other local sustainable transport projects”.

PSE asked the DfT for a comment on the issues raised by the IPPR report, but at the time of publication had received no reply.

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