Did someone say that our industry was *deregulated*? We may be on the verge of celebrating 25 years of market freedoms but the bus business has more regulation now than it had a quarter of a century ago, not less.
Now, not all of the requirements & regulations imposed upon the bus industry hinder it. Some are either neutral or beneficial. But the rise in red tape is enough to make you feel quite blue, at times. In something of a surprise, however, it’s interesting that the Competition Commission’s newly published proposals do not feature universal re-regulation or franchising.
So, what *has* the Competition Commission provisionally proposed? There are three main areas . It’s something that’s very indigestible at the first read (at nearly 200 pages) and it will take some unravelling. Nevertheless, the Competition Commission proposes:
Reduced Barriers to Entry
- Giving LTAs more powers to introduce and, where necessary, modify multi-operator ticketing. A victory for The P.T.E.G., that one. Favours smaller rather than larger operators.
- More transparent ways to ensure access to bus stations, especially for new entrants. How many operators still own stations, these days? Other than in Wiltshire & Dorset, of course. Bus stations are better off under LTA control.
- Limiting the practice of over-bussing as a short-term expedient to undermine competitors, by extending registration periods and by modifying the way in which “frequent service” registrations apply. A tricky one. There’s still a balance to be struck between predation and business protection. And, certainly, the proposals come with a loss of flexibility.
- Local transport authorities should have powers to gather revenue & patronage data on deregistered services to assist their retendering. Is this already happening in any case, especially regarding passenger numbers?
- Best practice guidance to be drafted and available for LTAs.
- The OFT to accord even greater importance than currently to mergers between competitors including smaller mergers it would otherwise leave alone. Does this mean that smaller operators will find it more difficult to sell, should they wish to?
- Partnerships are the way forward for ridership growth. But there should be care in placing the bar too high such that new entrants cannot come in. This needs considerable thought but, on first, reading is contradictory.
- The CC proposes BSOG reforms to ensure participation. Some might just take the view that BSOG is no longer worth it, especially since it’s due for reduction in six months.
i Competition Commission provisional decisions on remedies