HL Deb 22 November 1982 vol 436 cc709-11
Lord Gainford

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether there is scope for greater efficiency in the transport undertakings in London and the metropolitan counties.

The Earl of Avon

Yes, my Lords; containing costs, getting value for money, modernising working practices and adjusting to what the customer really needs are all high priorities. The Government's Transport Bill, currently in another place, aims to encourage this.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. I have two supplementary questions. First, can he give us information about the total subsidies provided to the transport authorities both in London and in the metropolitan counties? Secondly, is he aware that many users of London transport are more anxious about the availability of transport than what they may have to pay?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the transport support grant, we believe, remains at a reasonable level. There are, we believe, a number of things that London Transport could do to improve its efficiency. There is, I believe, an acknowledged scope for curbing restrictive practices, tailoring services to demand, the rationalisation of the bus network and more one-man operations, and the introduction of automatic fares collection.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl three questions? First, would he not agree that there is as much concern for efficiency among those who are operating public transport as in any other section of our community? Secondly, did not the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report very favourably on the West Midlands PTE, and have not both the Tyne and Wear and the West Yorkshire councils themselves made arrangements for consultants to review their particular transport undertakings? Thirdly, would he not agree also that efficiency involves not only the quality of service but, as the noble Lord rightly said, the frequency of routes and the maximum number of routes, which depend on both capital and revenue support?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I acknowledge what the noble Lord has said and I would agree that the reports found much to commend and appeciated the level of efficiency and service which the operators have managed to achieve. I believe, however, that there is scope under those reports for increased efficiency and the provision of a better service. I look forward, when the Transport Bill comes to your Lordships' House, to debating this with the noble Lord.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, would not the admirable objectives which my noble friend put forward for transport in London be greatly assisted by removing London Transport from the control of the GLC?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, that is a question we have heard before in this House and, as before, I would say that this is under consideration.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that during the application of the "Fares fair" policy the number of passengers of London Transport increased by 25 per cent., as did the amount of revenue? There was also a marked reduction of traffic on London's roads. Would it not therefore be sensible to acknowledge that the "Fares fair" policy was a huge success for all concerned and the Government ought to have it reintroduced?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, while I appreciate the theme behind the noble Lord's question, I cannot lend any advice to his adjectives such as "huge", because the "Fares fair" policy happened for such a very short period of time and the lessons learned must therefore be, as it were, under some cloud. However, the lessons learned are there and we are waiting to find out whether the ratepayers agree with them.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, has my noble friend discovered a method of persuading London bus drivers and conductors not to "bunch" in very large numbers? Is it not a fact that most people who use these buses are very disturbed at wasting an immense amount of exhausting time by standing for 40 or 50 minutes, and then finding that perhaps five No. 137s will come along bumper to bumper—or seven No. 11s, as I counted on one occasion? Is this a way to operate a good and efficient service?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, on Saturday I watched three No. 12s in close convoy passing me. I do not feel in point of fact that this is what ought to exercise this noble House, but it should really be a subject for London Transport to look at.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, would not the noble Earl agree that three No. 10s would have been even more disturbing?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, no doubt the noble and learned Lord is good at housey-housey and will know whether 30 is better than 36.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House when the automation of ticket issue and collection of London Underground will be completed from its far-from-completed position now? Can my noble friend also say how many personnel will be saved when it is completed?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I have not got the figures handy to answer my noble friend's question, but I will happily write to him with the information.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, may I say with regard to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing about "bunching" (or "staircasing" which was the term that was used) that this is not usually the fault of the driver or the conductor but is due to conditions of the traffic involved. Once we get the traffic situation properly dealt with, that will be all right.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I acknowledge my noble friend's great interest in this subject and I know that when we in this House have debated the state of London traffic my noble friend has contributed excellently.

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