HC Deb 21 May 1980 vol 985 cc475-6
Mr. Canavan

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will make a study of the effect of increases in fares on the use of public transport.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Kenneth Clarke)

There have been a number of general studies of the factors, including fares, that affect the use of public transport. It is for the operators to assess the effects of fare increases in their particular circumstances.

Mr. Canavan

Does the Minister realise that the Government's policy of cutting subsidies and cutting the borrowing powers of the public bus companies means such massive fare increases that many passengers cannot afford to use the bus services? Does he further realise that that leads to a drop in the usage of public transport and a cut in the services—especially in outlying areas? Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the Scottish Bus Group has increased fares in the past year by 34 per cent., which is even worse than the excessive inflation created by the Government?

Mr. Clarke

I deny that there have been massive cuts in revenue support through local authorities, although there have been some economies. I accept that there have been increases in costs for bus operators. But there are other ways to absorb costs, such as by increasing efficiency and productivity and by gearing the service to public demand, as well as handing on fare increases.

Operators should look at those alternative means to deal with the problem and not simply hand on fare increases to the passengers whenever they have large wage settlements or something of that kind.

Mr. Prescott

Is the Minister aware that of the seven passenger transport authorities in Britain, the rate of fare increases in the two Labour-controlled authorities is only half that in the Tory authorities? Is he further aware that passenger journeys per head have increased by 10 per cent. in Labour authorities, whereas they have fallen by 4 per cent. in Tory authorities?

Mr. Clarke

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the classic example of the South Yorkshire authority, which is the main Labour-controlled authority, and advise him to consider the rate levels in that locality. South Yorkshire adopts a policy of making people who do not find it convenient to travel on the buses pay for the bus fares of those who do.

Mr. Flannery

Does the Minister realise that, despite the rate increase in the South Yorkshire county council area, when the question was put to the local people, there was a resounding Labour victory at the local elections? Will he take note of that and stop cutting subsidies when people want a cheaper service?

Mr. Clarke

We have not cut the grant to the South Yorkshire county council. It is being maintained at the level that it would expect as a metropolitan county following an ordinary policy. It was the previous Labour Administration who cut out the South Yorkshire transport supplementary grant, because they also thought that the policies of that county were lunatic.