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Page last updated at 15:44 GMT, Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Bus passengers in EU law 'farce'

Western Greyhound bus  (Copyright Simon Coates)
Some passengers are having to get off buses twice

Passengers across the UK have been hit by EU rules on working hours meant to protect drivers, bus companies say.

Western Greyhound in south-west England has broken one route into three so that passengers have to change buses twice.

The rules on routes longer than 50km (30 miles) are too costly to implement and the result is a farce, it says.

But the European Commission says there is no problem elsewhere in Europe and the companies are trying to bypass laws which ensure drivers are not tired.

The companies are forcing clients to get on and off again... we just want to be sure the average working time is nine hours a day
Michele Cercone
European Transport Commissioner's spokesman

Under the EU drivers' hours rule, drivers on routes longer than 50km are not allowed to work more than nine hours a day because they need more rest.

Western Greyhound says that would be fine for companies operating large depots with a large number of drivers.

But, it argues, for smaller companies often with two or three drivers, longer routes have become impossible to operate.

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"The problem is not the number of hours the driver works but their rota," Managing Director Mark Howarth told the BBC News website.

He says the only way around the regulations is to cut longer routes such as Newquay to Plymouth into three, which involves passengers getting off at St Columb Major and Liskeard.

The passengers then get on another bus - or sometimes the same bus - for the next part of the route.

Either way, Mr Howarth complains, it means disruption for passengers on a service which used to run seamlessly.

"Rural areas are difficult areas to work in and to have legislation like this undermining us is totally appalling."

The EU insists the rules on driver safety were introduced in consultation with transport groups, and accuses firms of breaking up longer routes into shorter ones so they can ask staff to work for longer.

This is about stopping Victorian mill-owner type employers working their staff 365 days a year but it completely misses the point
Andrew Dyer
Managing Director, Stagecoach South

"The companies are forcing clients to get on and off again. We don't decide how long a route has to be; we just want to be sure the average working time is nine hours a day," said the EU Transport Commissioner's spokesman, Michele Cercone.

He also claimed the UK was the only EU member state which has had problems with the directive.

Fatigue is the biggest cause of accidents and standards have been set to ensure that drivers are not tired, he added.

Another company affected operates in Surrey and Hampshire.

Stagecoach bus passengers in Sussex, southern England
Stagecoach says the rules were not meant to stop shopping trips

Andrew Dyer of Stagecoach South said a route from Winchester to Guildford which was previously 65km (40miles) had now been stopped.

"The route was cut in half so the two separate routes now meet in Alton and passengers have to change," he said.

Mr Dyer accused the EU of adopting a "black and white" approach to health and safety, treating bus drivers the same as long distance lorry drivers travelling from the continent to the UK.

"This is about stopping Victorian mill-owner type employers working their staff 365 days a year but it completely misses the point. No one in the industry can see how you can equate a local bus route with a long-haul lorry driver."

He says the legislation was designed to stop lorry and coach drivers falling asleep at the wheel and probably never meant "to stop Mrs Smith going on a shopping trip from Winchester to Guildford".


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