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EDITIONS
 Tuesday, 24 December, 2002, 07:18 GMT
Get buses into gear, government urged
Stagecoach bus - picture courtesy of FreeFoto.com
Rural areas are often poorly served by buses
Bus services are seen as "second class" transport in Britain and must be dramatically improved, according to an environmental campaign group.

Transport 2000 says passengers have to cope with rising fares and inadequate services - especially in rural and suburban areas.

It has published a report describing buses as "the forgotten wing of public transport", despite often being the only option for people without cars.

In response bus companies have admitted there is room for improvement but say passenger numbers are rising for the first time since World War II.

'Greatly improved'

The Transport 2000 report calls for better regulation of services and greater funding to extend services and bring down fares.

It says that an extra 1bn has been spent in London and services have been greatly improved as a result.

Bus service concerns
Poor services
High fares
Too many cancellations
Lack of information
Poor maintenance
Inadequate security
Too few bus lanes
In some areas the group wants local councils to take control of privatised buses.

It is also calling for the relaxation of competition laws to allow companies to co-operate where it would improve the service for passengers.

The pressure group claims that, while costs to motorists have stayed the same in real terms since 1974, bus fares have gone up by 87%.

In small and medium sized towns buses can be scarce outside shopping hours and often do not serve out of town businesses, Transport 2000 says.

In rural areas the service is described as "patchy".

Other problems include high fares, poor connections with other services, bad information, poor security, cancellations, a lack of bus lanes and inadequate waiting facilities.

'Social lifeline'

Stephen Joseph, director of Transport 2000 and author of the report, said: "Buses are the forgotten wing of public transport and in many places are not up to scratch.

"But although they may lack the glamour of rail transport, they do matter.

"For many journeys they are the only form of public transport available and for people without cars, they are often the main way of getting to shops, employment, education, friends and family."

We've got newer buses than we've had before, we've got more accessible buses than we've had before

Confederation of Passenger Transport
Mr Joseph said that buses are a "social lifeline" and the government "should take the lead in getting them into gear".

Transport 2000 points to areas including rural Cornwall and cities like Brighton, Leeds and Nottingham to show that it is possible to run good bus services.

In such places partnerships between local authorities and bus companies delivered well run buses backed by priority measures, good waiting facilities and extensive passenger information.

A Transport 2000 spokesman said: "Good buses are essential if we're to get more people out of their cars and get congestion reduced."

'Hugely helpful'

Simon Posner, from industry body the Confederation of Passenger Transport, said bus companies were already making progress.

He said: "We've got newer buses than we've had before, we've got more accessible buses than we've had before.

"In parts of the country - where we're working as Transport 2000 would like us to with local authorities - we're actually showing much better buses, increases of 14%, 15% of people using them - we must be doing something right."

Mr Posner said relaxed competition rules would be "hugely helpful" to the industry.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Tom Symonds
"In many smaller towns buses can be scarce"
  Simon Posner, Confederation of Passenger Transport
"Congestion is the hugest problem"
  Stagecoach's Andrew Dyer
"We are going to have to see more subsidies in certain areas"
See also:

17 Dec 02 | Politics
11 Dec 02 | England
10 Dec 02 | England
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