HC Deb 16 May 1988 vol 133 cc667-8
6. Mr. Brandon-Bravo

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what is his latest assessment of the effect of deregulation of buses under the Transport Act 1985 on the introduction of minibuses.

Mr. David Mitchell

There were about 40 places served by minibuses prior to the enactment of the Transport Act 1985, involving 400 vehicles. By the end of 1987 a further 5,200 minibuses were serving an additional 350 places. It can therefore be seen that the end of over-intensive regulation and local monopoly has brought visible benefits to the users of bus services.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, which will be welcomed by all hon. Members. As to the term "minibus" in its wider sense—by that I mean anything up to 25 seats; some people refer to them as midibuses—will he comment on the obvious uses for such buses in rural areas and the benefits of having smaller vehicles operating within and linking council estates? We are experiencing an enormous growth in urban areas in this sector.

Mr. Mitchell

As operators must satisfy customers, rather than have an automatic monopoly, they are finding many innovative ways of doing so, and my hon. Friend drew attention to one of them—the operation of varying sizes of smaller buses, including midibuses, which operate on estates and call much closer to people's homes. They are much valued by the users.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Does the Minister accept that the whole industry believes that the boom in minibuses is over and is going back to double-deckers? If public transport is so good following deregulation, why has the first independent survey concluded that the number of passengers carried has fallen by between 10 and 12.5 per cent. in metropolitan areas. which means a loss of 185 million journeys per year? Does that not show the failure of deregulation?

Mr. Mitchell

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, that decrease is associated with the reduction in the subsidising of fares in the metropolitan areas. As for his allegation that the growth in minibus use is tailing off, I must tell him that, if anything, interest seems to be growing. For instance, I am pleased to note that a new operator—Merry Hill Minibuses Limited—has started work in the Birmingham area.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Does my hon. Friend agree that, like the deregulation of coaches in 1980, the deregulation of local bus services has brought benefits to the public which outweigh the previous restrictive system in terms of more routes for passengers, greater flexibility, more jobs for people in the bus industry and more buses being built in this country?

Mr. Mitchell

My hon. Friend has hit the nail neatly on the head and I thank him for doing so.