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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006, 07:21 GMT
West: Bus deregulation
Mike Powell
The Politics Show West

First bus
Fares up by 40% ... where is the competition?

Commuters clog up our streets on a daily basis - but why don't they take the bus? 40% of us did in the fifties; that figure has now fallen to 6%.

And in Bristol only 40% are satisfied with their buses ... so what has gone wrong?

Twenty years on since the 1985 Transport Act, competition in Bristol is virtually non-existent.

First Group operate 95% of bus services in and around the City ... and they have just raised fares by up to 40%.

It has not gone down well.

"Absolutely disgraceful, " said one woman shopping for her lunch in the city. "I cannot see it is warranted at all."

One man who had struggled through the traffic and taken ages to find a parking space was late for a meeting.

"It is still just better to go by car. It's ridiculous.

"It costs 6 or 7 for my family ... as a City Council we have been really foolish to sell up to a private company".

The Group responsible for the bus fare increase will also run all train services in the West from the spring.

Kate LeGrice Mack is part of the South West "Public Transport Users group".

She believes the bus routes should never have been sold off:

"First has the highest bus fare increase of any operating company. Privatisation was supposed to be good for the passenger. Instead it's delivered a big monopoly."

Bristol City Councillor Dennis Brown shares her concerns:

"De-regulation hasn't worked and I think Central Government is looking into the way things are organised."

Last week the Office of fair trading announced they are reviewing FirstGroup's regulation of bus fares in parts of Scotland.

They also referred the initial bid here in the West to run the regions railways.

FIRST has few competitors. One is Tony Le Voie, Senior Manager of the South Gloucestershire Bus Company:

"We do not have shareholders so we don't need to charge the - in my personal view - the ridiculous fares that First bus do."

Alan Peters has been running A BUS since 1991.

He says : "There's not a lot of competition in Bristol largely due to the fact FIRST sell multi-journey tickets - a good product difficult to compete with."

But when push comes to shove Bristol City Council cannot tell us how many people are riding on their buses.

"It is commercially sensitive," says Dennis Brown. But he agrees the more statistics FIRST share with them, the better they can work in partnership.

Despite repeated requests First Group PLC wouldn't talk to us; although it denied that its 55 million profit was excessive given the scale of the business.

In a written statement they argued the case for the price hike:

"First are not alone with price increases; other industries are also affected.

"If buses were operated by anyone the prices would go up.

"The on going increases to fuel are the major contributing factor to rises ..."

So 20 years on has de-regulation been in the best interests of the public?

A brand new bus station is emerging from the rubble in the heart of Bristol.

It is run by First; the same people who run Temple Meads train station.

Fares rise; services fluctuate but the public seem increasingly powerless to complain. Maybe you can only get your voice heard by lobbying your MP.

As long as they don't tell you to get on your bike ...

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