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BYERS BACKS BUSES

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Transport secretary Stephen Byers will promise big improvements in the UK bus network after acknowledging that maki...
Transport secretary Stephen Byers will promise big improvements in the UK bus network after acknowledging that making substantial progress on rail services before the next general election will be like trying to turn a supertanker around, according to industry sources, reported The Business (p4).

Local authority passenger transport executives in England's metropolitan areas and the Strathclyde region of Scotland have been lobbying hard for changes to give them more control over bus subsidies and contracts. This prompted the five leading bus companies to plead for retention of the status quo to the Number 10 policy unit last week.

Bus companies receive total subsidies of£1.2bn each year, but in his last Budget Gordon Brown announced a review of the fuel tax rebate which will probably cut the 80% of duty that bus companies can currently reclaim. Professor David Begg, chairman of the government's Commission for Integrated Transport, has started a review of bus financing. Mr Byers announced last month that he will conduct a value for money study because he believes the bus network is underperforming and eating up cash. He is also keen to see that PTEs and operators sign hard-and-fast contracts to guarantee improvements rather than relying on the current 'quality partnerships'.

Director general of Greater Manchester PTE Chris Mulligan said: 'The public broadly think we still run the buses. We are carrying the can although responsibility rests with the operators. We want more say over how services are provided; and if we are going to pay more, operators must improve services'.

Mr Mulligan would like to see bus subsidies raised by 30%, with more transparency about how they are spent. He wants the money to come from concessions - for example, for older people - and put into subsidised services. Greater Manchester receives£39m for concessions and£15m for subsidies each year.

However, Chris Moyes, deputy chief executive of bus company Go-Ahead, says that handing local authorities more power would be tantamount to Railtrack-style sequestration of assets and cause investors in the transport industry to back off.

He said the criticism levied was that there was a deline in bus services outside london, and no one was doing anything about it. 'But the examples of Brighton and Oxford demonstrate that growth can happen if there is a partnership rather than regulation and contracts', he added.

'Local politicians have to take brave decisions in the short-term and reallocate the roads to buses,not people'.

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