Affordable Fares, Metro and Quality Contracts
7% and 8%. That’s how much bus and train fares went up in West Yorkshire this January, following above inflation increases of 6% at the beginning of 2011 on trains and increases of up to 20% on buses in August 2010.
This comes at a time when millions face losing their jobs, increased pension contributions or pay freezes. Yet despite the recession that we are supposed to be ‘all in together’ the government has already announced plans to increase rail fares by ‘3% plus inflation’ in the next two years. Fares for buses aren’t regulated and instead are set by the various private operators across West Yorkshire. In October last year both Arriva and First had announced no plans to increase fares, a promise as we are all aware they’ve subsequently broken.
After a unanimous vote in November 2009, Metro Integrated Transport Authority began the process of seeking to introduce Quality Contracts in West Yorkshire. If they do implement them, they would be the first Transport Authority to have done so, despite the legislation existing for over a decade to do just that (although Tyne and Wear ITA are also discussing implementing Quality Contracts).
Way back in 2000, when the Labour Party was still led by Tony Blair who’s just run roughshod over mass protests to lead the country into a bloody occupation of Iraq, the government introduced a Transport Act which introduced the opportunity to establish ‘Quality Bus Contracts’ schemes.
Quality Bus Contracts allow Metro to decide bus routes, frequency, minimum standards and fares, and then put contracts out to bus companies. Metro are looking at possibly introducing the first quality contracts in West Yorkshire in 2013 and finished implementing it 2017.
But even these minor measures are evoking horror from some in the private sector providers and consultants. TAS, a public transport consultancy company describes quality contracts as “nationalisation without compensation” – if only! As Metro’s own Q&A on Quality Contracts explains “Metro would seek to encourage more competition for contracts than at present”.
However, where are such new companies to come from? The overheads in terms of rolling stock and personnel to provide a regular public transport service mean this is quite prohibitive to get into the industry, with new buses costing around £120,000 each. Today’s major players in the bus industry in West Yorkshire, First and Arriva, both came from privatised companies from the old nationalised public transport companies.
But to achieve its aims in terms of controlling the soaring cost of fares and ensuring a more reliable integrated transport system, then Metro will come into head on collision with the interests of the private operating companies and more specifically, their profit margins. It is this that TAS and the private transport operators are afraid of. Unfortunately given that all three main parties, represented on the ITA, seem to see their duty to protect the interests of big business and profits. All West Yorkshire transport users can look forward to, is a continued fudging of the issue that will result in a continuation of the soaring prices we’ve seen over the past few years.
The Socialist Party argues that only by re-nationalising public transport can we have the real control over public transport needed to introduce an integrated system, where this will matter more than running services to generate the biggest profits. Instead of 45 different bus companies, and five rail companies taking their own decisions in the interests of their shareholders, we advocate the democratic management and control of public transport by representatives of passengers and transport workers.
Comments from Metro’s consultation showed clear opposition to private sector profit-mongering in public transport, with comments such as “Buses should be run as services, not businesses. The free-markets do not belong in public service” and “Bus services should be a public service and not for profit.”
Socialist Party members have received huge support whilst campaigning on these issues, with hundreds of people telling us how both bus and rail transport should be brought back into public ownership. We have collected thousands of signatures on a petition to this effect that we will be handing in to an upcoming meeting of the Integrated Transport Authority (date to be confirmed). We encourage all those interested in the future of public transport to join us there.