HC Deb 10 June 1985 vol 80 cc626-8
6. Mr. Parris

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many long-distance coach services have been registered; and what has been the increase in passengers carried by express coach since October 1980.

Mr. Michael Spicer

Since October 1980 more than 900 new services have been registered, of which some 700 are still running. That is a 20 per cent, increase in the number of all-year services. Passengers on the National Bus Company's national express services have increased by about 50 per cent. since 1980. We believe that the independent operators must have increased their carryings by an even greater figure.

Mr. Parris

What has been the effect of those remarkable improvements on fares?

Mr. Spicer

Since we liberalised long-distance coach services in 1980, fares have been reduced in real terms by between 15 and 40 per cent., and on some routes fares remain lower than they were five years ago. Fare reductions combined with greatly inproved services explain the dramatic increase in business for long-distance coaches.

Mr. Dobson

Does the Minister agree that the increase in passengers carried by the express coach services has been closely paralleled by a massive reduction in the number of passengers carried on rural stage carriage services? Does he further agree that if the Transport Bill is based on that principle people in rural areas know what to expect?

Mr. Spicer

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the decline in rural bus services has been a long-term factor, which is precisely why we have introduced the Transport Bill. It will bring back life once again to rural bus services.

Mr. Higgins

I welcome the improvement in long-distance coach services and the reduction in fares, but is my hon. Friend aware of the anxiety caused by some coaches which appear to exceed the 70 mph limit? As the tachograph does not provide an adequate means to check that, will he consider the installation of some other device that will do so?

Mr. Spicer

We must always be vigilant about exceeding speed limits. During the past year there have been signs of greater compliance with limits. That is a matter for continual vigilance by the police. The Bus and Coach Council has issued its own code of practice, and we hope that the bus industry will comply with it.

Mr. Cartwright

Is the Minister aware of the problems caused by the rapid growth in the number of coaches in central London? Even before we reach the height of the tourist season, many London streets are clogged by parked coaches, which causes major problems for other road users. Has he received representations about that, and what action will he take?

Mr. Spicer

I am informed that we are studying the whole question of congestion in the London area. It has as much to do with the great increase in tourism as with the liberalisation of coach services outside London.

Mr. Gregory

Bearing in mind my hon. Friend's comments about the deregulation of long-distance coaches, and the carping by the Opposition, and in particular unions, such as the Transport and General Workers Union, that we would see the decimination of long-distance coaches, can he draw any conclusions regarding the deregulation of short-distance coach and bus services?

Mr. Spicer

My main conclusion is that the Opposition are likely to be as inaccurate in future about short distance services as they have been in the past about long-distance services.

Mr. Stott

On the latter point, only time will tell. In addition to giving the number of long-distance coach operations that have been registered since 1980, will the Minister tell the House the number of small and intermediate-sized towns which prior to 1980 were served by long-distance coaches, but are no longer served by them? If he considers that fact, I am sure that he will conclude, as I do, that many towns are no longer served by long-distance coaches, as a direct consequence of the 1980 legislation.

Mr. Spicer

We know that the number of long-distance services between towns has increased considerably. I have already accepted that there has been a long-term decline in rural services, but we hope to increase those services in future.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Has the deregulation of long-distance coach services had an effect on safety regulations?

Mr. Spicer

One must never be complacent about safety, but I assure my hon. Friend that the safety record of coaches is good and is improving all the time. For instance, during the past decade, fatalities of bus and coach passengers have halved. Therefore, the safety of coach travel is now about equal to that of rail travel.

Back to
Forward to