HC Deb 17 June 2003 vol 407 cc199-201
6. Helen Jackson (Sheffield,Hillsborough)

What action he is planning to take to increase use of bus transport. [119407]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty)

We have established the Bus Partnership Forum to bring together bus operators and local authorities to identify how we can work together to increase bus use. As part of the 10 year transport plan review, we are also reviewing the subsidies that we provide to buses—totalling more than a £1 billion a year—so that they are better focused on achieving increased bus use.

Helen Jackson

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I warmly welcome him to his new job.

I accept what my hon. Friend says. When there is a joint partnership between local authorities, bus operators and the Government, we get increased numbers of passengers on buses because of more frequent services, cheap fares and the good management of bus priority schemes. In Sheffield, the new Labour authority is extremely keen to provide just that and to take a different approach to the appalling one taken to public transport by the previous Liberal Democrat administration in the city. Will the Minister assure us that he will work with Members of Parliament for Sheffield and the local authority to ensure that unnecessary competition does not stand in—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Lady will apply for an Adjournment debate on this matter.

Mr. McNulty

I know that my hon. Friend met my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar) last week to discuss the partnership and that there were concerns about service charge withdrawals and fare increases. I am more than happy to stay in touch with Sheffield MPs to ensure that the partnership works. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that good visionary council leadership must be party to the partnership in addition to the private sector, and happily Sheffield now has that.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

In Macclesfield, the borough and county councils are developing a purpose-built new bus station, which I warmly welcome. Does the Minister accept that many villages around Macclesfield and in my constituency have an inadequate bus service? That is not helped by the fact that because of resources, the county council is having to reduce the frequency of bus services in many parts of my constituency, even if the services are already inadequate. Will the Minister examine that matter, and if I wish to discuss it with him, will he be happy to meet me?

Mr. McNulty

I am always happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I congratulate him on his new bus station, and I take his point about outlying areas and continuing difficulties surrounding rural buses. When we meet I shall, at least in part, give him a history lesson on the plight of rural buses under the past Conservative Government.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale)

My hon. Friend will be aware of the congestion caused by parents dropping off their children at schools from cars. He will also know that increased use of school buses could ease that congestion. Will he update the House on progress made between the Department for Education and Skills and the Department for Transport on pilot schemes to encourage schoolchildren to use school buses?

Mr. McNulty

As I said in answer to an earlier question, a range of yellow bus pilot schemes are being conducted in England and Wales and, to be perfectly honest, we are still assessing their impact. I take my hon. Friend's comments to heart. We are not necessarily against the school run but it has proved time and again to be a pinch point for congestion, not least in many suburban areas. The issue is worth considering and the American model is but one way in which we might go forward. Many other environmental and traffic-calming schemes around schools, in a comprehensive fashion, should also be part of the process, as should the walking-bus scheme.

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton)

I would dearly love to see greater use of bus transport by the public, but the services in my area provided by First buses fall way below the standards expected. Will my hon. Friend give further consideration to regulation of the buses?

Mr. McNulty

Although I am aware of what is going on in Rochdale in other capacities, I am not fully up to speed—no pun intended—on its bus provision. As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson), a visionary local authority and a bus company that comes to the table with the desire to improve and work with the local community are required. I am more than happy to talk to my hon. Friend about Rochdale in that regard to find out whether we can satisfy the situation.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

By 2010, what is the expected percentage increase of bus usage in rural areas?

Mr. McNulty

Another clever little question straight out of "Top of the Form". As the hon. Gentleman would expect, the short answer is, "I don't know", which is the third time that I have said that to him from the Dispatch Box. I am more than happy to share a cup of tea with him to discuss the matter further. Although he sadly did not take up that offer on the past two occasions, I hope that he does this time.

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