Thursday, 20 August 2009

Oyster card for Bristol a step closer?

See this report in the Telegraph about the Government's efforts to introduce smart ticketing, which is something Labour in Bristol has been campaigning on for some time with its 'brunelcard' campaign. I know First Bus are keen on this (although of course they don't want to have to pay for the new technology that would be required). It could significantly cut journey times and increase reliability, because you wouldn't get hold-ups waiting for people to board the bus.

Also in the news today, the OFT's report that lack of competition in the bus market has led to high fares, which has resulted in a referral to the Competition Commission. I gave an interview to the BEP today about it, which I suppose will be in tomorrow's paper. I don't see how it would be possible to reintroduce competition into the local bus market. You can't force private sector companies to come and try to compete, and there's a tidy carve-up of the main markets between the major bus companies at the moment. Here's a quote from John Major, of the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK, which represents the bus industry which, to be frank, is patent nonsense*:

"Bus companies operate in highly competitive local markets and it is always in our interests to keep prices competitive to attract passengers out of their cars and onto our services... There is a great deal of competition between bus operators, large and small, although the biggest competitor for the bus industry is the car."

I'm not sure what could be done to persuade Arriva or National Express to start competing with First on key routes in Bristol (and it would only be the key, money-making routes) and even if they did, they'd probably just emulate what happened when deregulation first happened, i.e. use their reserves to run services at very competitive prices and then as soon as they've got rid of their competitors, whack the fares up. So you're left with outlawing some of the predatory practices mentioned in the OFT report (but that still leaves you relying on other companies being willing to compete). Or you regulate the current providers either by specifying maximum fares (as happens with the trains, on some tickets) or going down the Quality Contract route, which I've talked about many a time on here before.

The original Tory vision of a marketplace where passengers could pick and choose which bus they wanted to travel on, looking at fares and reliability and timings, is just not going to happen. It was a flawed vision in the first place, based on a dogmatic belief that market forces were the solution to everything and a hatred of anything that was municipally-owned or run.

*Nonsense except for the bit about the car. Cabot Circus are currently offering parking at £1 an hour for a maximum of seven hours. Not much on an incentive to get the bus if you're popping into town to see a film or do some shopping.

1 comment:

dreamingspire said...

First (sic), Oyster is a trade mark, whose ownership will, I believe, soon pass to TfL. It isn't the smart card that we really want to go for (the card is just a token in more ways than one), its the fare structure and the low fares, but unfortunately the low fares cannot happen outside London because the required subsidy isn't there. What we need outside London in order to deliver what we want is the contract service model, so that buses become once again a public service - and getting closer to that does indeed need the ITA. Greater Bristol is the largest English metropolitan area that is not a metropolitan county, so there is national interest in its painful progress to setting up metropolitan-county-like governing structures. Didn't Jon Rogers say that there is a Joint Transport Committee meeting next month? A formal Joint Committee, I hope - that is the first stage to an ITA, I'm told.
Second, read not the DfT press release (which is a political statement as part of the run-up to the General Election) but the long and rather different DfT consultation document about a strategy (sic again) for ticketing on surface public transport. Its naive, it has echoes of the 11-year-old John Prescott call for 'partnerships' to deliver integrated transport, but it tells a great deal about what really is now possible technically and almost tells us the facts about the financial case, albeit without giving any hint that this country can actually deliver.

PS: It seems that Will Judge in London is hell bent on losing his grip on the Oyster method, because he is championing moving to direct bank payment by contactless bank card (which, to assuage the fears, could be a pre-paid card not needing a normal bank account). That way the bankers will own the scheme, and their brands will dominate. Instead he should behave as a man running a mature scheme, and shed some of the load on his back by making obsolete those Oyster cards that never get used (he does need to update the technology because of security risks, so simply make people apply for the new technology card or drop out of the system).