We’ve already lost the regulatory battle for the hearts and minds of our passengers, actual & potential. No amount of customer satisfaction survey results will turn the tide. The passenger appetite is for re-regulation. That’s my conclusion, especially in urban areas.
This week, a Guardian newspaper blog for Leeds ran a piece entitled “Why public control over buses is long overdue”. It was in response to the West Yorkshire integrated transport authority’s aspirations for quality contracts. That blog response, though somewhat ill informed, is typical of the urban mindset. The author talked of a loss of confidence and change being overdue.
No argument will persuade passengers otherwise. Forget the flaws of the former regulated environment and the successes of deregulation:
- The regulated regime of the 1970s and 1980s was increasingly costing considerable sums in subsidy
- At least 80 per cent of deregulated mileage operates commercially, without subsidy
- Regulated networks failed to invest sufficiently in busy, strategic routes, the ones that make a difference in terms of modal shift
- Suitable deregulated markets see marketing and operational investment
- The regulated regime failed to stem a significant decline in patronage, especially in urban areas
The industry knows this issue isn’t black & white but if the public has fixed views, so will their locally elected representatives and civil servants. There’s already political unanimity on WYITA and the results may well be inevitable. Writing in Transit, Ben Colson said, “Let bus users drive policy, not unelected officials”. If he’s right, passengers *are* doing so but in ways the industry may not so easily approve.
i Guardian Leeds Blog post