General Election: questions to candidates on transport policies and fare rises
Tuesday, 10 February 2015
The Upper Calder Valley Renaissance (UCVR) Sustainable Transport Group has asked candidates for the coming General Election who are standing in the Calder Valley constituency a series of questions. The questions relate to public transport policies and continued fare rises.
Below is the original letter and each of the replies from the candidates.
FirstBus fare increases
I am writing to you on behalf of Upper Calder Valley Renaissance - Sustainable Transport Group to seek your views over the latest bus fare increases announced by FirstBus for the Calder Valley (and West Yorkshire as a whole) in December and implemented Sunday January 4th 2015.
- Whilst First Bus claims the overall increase will be 2.8%, some tickets are set to rise by 5%, well over the current rate of CPI and the almost static levels of income amongst families who depend on buses.
- We urge you to join the Sustainable Transport Group in condemning the fare rises and working to reverse them at the earliest opportunity.
- We note that this comes at a time when one significant cost element within bus company budgets – diesel – has actually been falling fast. This should have given First pause to re-consider before Christmas. In November the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer were – quite rightly – quick to pressurise fuel retailers to lower prices for road users in line with the 40% drop in crude oil prices. Failure to control bus fares will encourage those with cars to use them more, increasing congestion and levels of carbon use, just when we need to make progress in the opposite direction.
- We call on major bus operators to pass on fuel savings to their customers, and we call on senior government ministers to go pressurise First and other bus operators to undertake an immediate review of bus fares in the UK. Can we count on your support for this call?
- We suspect that fare rises will have a significant negative effect on public transport spending in West Yorkshire. Metro and the W Yorks Combined Authority may have to allocate extra money to reimburse First Bus for use of concessionary fares and multi-operator season tickets to the new higher levels of standard fare. As First has such a dominant position in West Yorkshire, it can thus use its muscle to squeeze more money out of public funds and reduce the amount available for subsidy on much needed rural, weekend and evening services. We would draw your attention to the Passenger Transport Executive Group (PTEG) briefing in December 2014 which highlighted how bus companies are able to generate far higher profits in the metropolitan counties than they can in London or other parts of England (Bus regulation Myths and Facts)
- We would urge you to support moves to curtail the freedom of bus companies to raise fares where they have a monopoly or near-monopoly position in the local market. This can be done either through supporting a Quality Contract approach, strengthening the bus partnership framework to include fare control or developing new regulatory price-limiting powers equivalent to those in the rail, utility and communications sectors.
We look forward to hearing more about your views
On behalf of UCVR - STG
Replies to Sustainable Transport Group (Murray Seccombe) from Calder Valley Prospective Parliamentary Candidates in alphabetical order by name
1) The fare increase is far too high and undermines the usability of buses as a transport option for many people. I still remember when I started High School a half fare on the H8 being 25p. For too long we have been moving in the wrong direction.
2) I will of course work on reducing these fares.
3) and 4) I completely agree and there should be greater powers in the hands of regional transport authorities to regulate that.
5) & 6) Again I broadly agree. I want to see local authorities have more power over all transport development but it especially makes sense with bus services. Some of that will be covered in Labour's 'Passenger Power' policy which I helped launch before Christmas. You can read a bit more about it here
I'm yet to see a complete set of numbers on the fare rises for buses in West Yorkshire, but I have noted with some concern that it appears the largest fare rises are concentrated in two groups:
Firstly, on the most frequented routes. This obviously makes financial sense to the bus operator, but I believe there is an accounting trick being used here; when First are claiming there is an average of a 2.8% rise in ticket prices, they are taking the average of all ticket prices available, not of all tickets actually sold. It therefore follows that a higher hike in the most frequently used fares will increase actual revenue collected for them by more than the stated 2.8%.
I consider that to be dishonest trickery.
The Second group in which steep fare rises seem to appear is for marginal routes with low passenger volumes. I worry that the higher fares here are designed to (& likely to) lead to lower passenger volume, which is in turn intended to serve as a justification to discontinue the service. This is an intolerable aim, and if such fare rises lead to the scrapping of services it will be at the expense of those most in need of transport assistance in our communities. I very much oppose such moves.
You are absolutely correct that the drop in the cost of crude oil is not being passed on to public transport users (as a side note: this applies to Trains as well as buses). While of course acknowledging that the cost of producing refined fuel is not purely determined by the cost of crude oil, & that the cost of a bus fare is not purely determined by the cost of diesel, it is nonetheless the case that the cost of bulk-purchase diesel has fallen by 10% over the most recent month for which data is available (19th Nov 2014 to 19th Dec 2014, price has fallen from 100.18ppl to 90.76ppl. Source).
Even at a conservative estimate of fuel as 25% of the outgoings of the transport company, I would expect to see a 2.5% decrease in overall operating costs over that period. It is clear that a fare rise is unjustified in such circumstances.
I concur with your points regarding the negative effects upon public transport usage in West Yorkshire. I am particularly concerned that the combined authority may end up paying first more money to carry fewer passengers - a clearly nonsensical situation for us to be in. I believe this is a perfect example of what the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable MP was speaking about recently, when he said "Markets are often irrational or rigged. Why should good companies be destroyed by short-term investors looking for a speculative killing... I want to protect consumers". Once again, this is a factor that also applies to Trains as well as buses. The franchising system is a form of rigged market, rather than a free and competitive one.
Therefore, where I disagree with your analysis is the proposed solution. In my view, implementing a complex bureaucracy in order to regulate and control the fare prices is doomed to failure as all such bureaucracies are, because the cost of the bureaucracy will consume the very savings you hope to make.
The best way to ensure fair prices come down and stay down is to do away with the franchise system which gives a virtual monopoly on bus travel in West Yorkshire to one operator, and instead encourage an open, Liberal and competitive system where transport companies are no longer gifted with an effective monopoly by a local government Quango, but instead have to actually compete for custom against other operators, with prices falling naturally to the lowest competitive level.
Once again, the same thing can be said for Rail Transport - it is the effective granting of a tyrannical monopoly power by the government (be it local or national government) that creates the situation where one company so dominates the market they are no longer operating within a free market framework and can rig their prices as a result.
Abolish the franchise system, for it is not fit for purpose, is anti-competitive and forces fares up.
I do support your concerns about these increases and support your call to reverse their implementation immediately.
I further support your call to have all elements of costs which are levied on the public by public service providers to be fully disclosed, in this case fares for public transport. We must have proper financial scrutiny and the public must be able to hold all service providers to account. This should apply to both private companies and public owned providers.
Further, I have found these 2 statements on the Firstgroup.com Website under the tab Travel News:
'First have announced rises to some fares to meet rising costs of operation and to provide a solid business platform to drive further service improvement for customers in 2015'
'We need to review our fares from time-to-time to meet the ongoing challenge of rising costs to our business and ensure we can continue to invest in improving service for our customers in future.'
In my view they represent fine examples of double speak and gobbledegook which any public service provider should feel ashamed to write.
Such nonsense statements, which insult the public's intelligence, should not be allowed by the regulator.
If First have some cunning plans which will improve the lives of bus users in 2015, they should provide specific details, for example:
- What operational costs are rising, specifically, list all of them?
- If First don't have a solid business platform already, no business ever will have. What exactly is missing from their platform which needs extra funding?
- What further service improvements do they have planned and what costs have been budgeted for to provide them?
- Who has complained about existing services and who decided to address these concerns by spending money on them by increasing their customer's fares?
You are I am sure aware that UKIP firmly opposes HS2 and feels the massive costs involved would be better spent in the North, to help regenerate the North. We need much better trans-Pennine transport infrastructures and these could be provided with the funds currently allocated to HS2.
The Green Party wants to improve public transport, take the train operating companies back into public ownership, cut the cost of public transport for train and rail passengers by 10% on 2015 ticket prices and hold them at that level in real terms for the duration of the next Parliament.
This is a Green Party General Election Manifesto pledge.
The 10% cut to fares will be paid for by increasing the level of public investment in rail and bus fares by around £1.8 billion per annum.
The £9 billion cost over the course of the next parliament would be met by scrapping the Government's £15 billion new road building programme and still leaving £6 billion for other transport uses.
On Monday 5th January Calderdale Green Party members, me among them, handed out around 400 leaflets to commuters at Hebden Bridge and Halifax train stations, outlining why we need the railways to be brought back into public ownership and asking people to ask MPs Craig Whittaker and Linda Reardon to vote for Caroline Lucas's private members Railways Bill on 9th January. (The second reading has now been postponed to Feb 27th, as the House of Commons ran out of time on 9th Jan.)
Across the country, the Green protests were alongside the RMT, Action for Rail, Compass and the People's Assembly - although in Calderdale none of these organisations joined us.
We are always up for joining forces with other organisations that share our goals. If UCVR Sustainable Transport Group are planning any actions to promote public transport, walkable towns and/or cycling paths, please let me know and we will see what Calderdale Green Party can do to support your action.
In terms of the New Year First Bus fare increases at a time of falling diesel prices, to be fare First has said that it hasn't yet felt the effects of the drop in the price of diesel because it buys fuel months in advance. But I am writing to First Bus to ask them to reduce fares as soon as the company starts buying diesel at the new lower price.
It hadn't occurred to me that a knock-on effect of increased bus fares could be for First Bus to demand more public subsidy for concessionary fares and multi-operator season tickets, and so cut the amount of subsidy for rural, weekend and evening services.
But having thought about this, it seems to me that the best way to control bus fare increases by companies that are in a monopoly or near-monopoly position is to re-regulate local bus services, as happened in London under Ken Livingston's administration, strongly helped Green Party London Assembly Members Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson.
The problems of subsidised bus routes are the result of chickens coming home to roost from the de-regulation of bus services.
The re-regulated buses in London provide a service far superior to the deregulated buses elsewhere in Britain.
West Yorkshire Combined Authority has developed proposals for a Quality Bus Contract scheme, similar to the regulated way buses are run in London.
Implementing this Quality Bus Contract is probably the best way forward for bus services in Calderdale and the rest of West Yorkshire.
Accordingly, Calderdale Green Party will be urging Councillors and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to set up a Quality Bus Contract, which the WYCA is already considering doing.
Bus fares should be held stable at a time when wage levels have been falling. Affordability is an important requirement of public transport policy. But who has power over this?
Yorkshire First is calling for Yorkshire to have the decision-making powers to shape its own future. We need a democratically elected parliament for Yorkshire similar to the Scottish Parliament. A Yorkshire Parliament will be more proactive, responsive and more accountable to the people of Yorkshire.
A Yorkshire Parliament would be able to plan transport in Yorkshire for Yorkshire, as part of a pan-Northern transport plan. We need to improve connectivity across Yorkshire and the North of England for the benefit of our people and our businesses. A fully integrated public transport system would mean service standards and pricing decided by the public, not the bus companies. Effective connections between different transport modes, and smart ticketing encompassing the whole of Yorkshire and possibly pan-Northern, would be possible. The Quality Contract approach is needed to achieve this.
A sustainable, affordable and efficient transport system will contribute to the much needed development of the Yorkshire economy. Affordable bus travel is important to all our communities and addresses the need for reduction in inequality across our region and the country. This is important for bus services within, to and from the Calder Valley, as for all the people of Yorkshire.
I appreciate that many bus users will be disappointed by the announcement of a fare increase by the First Group. These are still difficult times for many families and the average increase of 2.8% in fares across West Yorkshire will provide extra pressure on household budgets.
I will continue to work closely with Metro (who now form part of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority) on all local transport issues and I will continue my campaign to safeguard all of our existing bus routes here in the Calder Valley.