HL Deb 21 February 1992 vol 535 cc1445-7

11.12 a.m.

Baroness Phillips asked Her Majesty's Government:

What discussions they have held with London Transport concerning the efficiency of one-person operated buses.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, decisions on the conversion of bus routes to one-person operation are a matter for London Transport. I understand that London Buses Limited considers such buses are safer because there are fewer boarding and alighting accidents and more reliable because each journey depends on the presence of one member of staff rather than two. However, London Transport intends to retain crew operation on the busiest central London routes where boarding and alighting times are most critical.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer which is exactly what I expected. But I do not know why we have to express surprise or even thanks. The Government have shown great anxiety about congestion in London. We have even had debates on it. It is becoming much worse and is made so by one-man operated buses. I am interested that the Minister says that those buses are safer. Is he aware that if a driver operating a bus on his own is attacked he is much less safe than if he were in a crew operated bus?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I believe that the noble Baroness's anxiety about congestion is exaggerated because all types of buses only make up less than 2 per cent. of the traffic on major roads in London. Buses are themselves victims of the congestion, particularly through inconsiderate or illegal parking at bus stops or in bus lanes. As for attacks, anecdotal evidence indicates that there are more attacks on conductors than on drivers. Obviously the driver of a two-man operated bus is in his cabin. Measures of protection have been instituted for the one-person operated bus such as plastic screens and many buses have radios.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the Minister state that in central London the usual two-man crew will operate all buses? He said that buses suffer just as much as any other vehicle on London's crowded roads. Does he agree that no other vehicle carries as many people as the London bus? Will the principle be maintained that all conductors will be trained in some form of first aid, particularly to deal with people who suffer from heart attacks or develop something else wrong when they are on the bus? At one time conductors were trained to deal with emergencies and this was a sane and worthwhile endeavour by London Transport.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I believe that the answer is no. London Buses Limited does not plan to have two-man crews on all the major central routes. However, it plans to retain crew operation on the busiest central London routes.

I agree with the noble Lord that buses are part of the solution to congestion rather than a cause of it. The operation of buses by just one person has meant that in a number of instances London Transport has been able to provide a more frequent service on the same routes, involving a cost saving which in turn attracts more passengers.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, is the Minister aware that as concerns passenger safety there is great merit in one-man operated buses? I have discovered this in both London and Brighton. The driver does not start until his passengers are safely accommodated. On the other hand, conductors have an appalling habit of ringing the bell before one has reached one's seat. For an elderly and infirm person like myself this is a threat to life and limb.

Viscount Ullswater

Yes, my Lords. I believe that in my first Answer I said that the one-person operation has a better safety record. However, we should put that into context because all buses are a very safe form of transport and accidents are rare.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, does the Minister agree that to ask one man to operate a bus and collect fares is too much? If the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, were accepted it would add to the burden. Will the noble Viscount check with London Transport the suggestion that the accident rate has decreased since the introduction of one-man buses? It is my view that it has increased considerably.

Viscount Ullswater

No, my Lords. I tried to indicate that accidents on boarding and alighting have decreased. To answer the noble Lord's other question, most passengers (70 per cent.) now use travel passes. To that extent, conductors would not make a great deal of difference on the speed of the majority of bus journeys. Most of the people getting on buses have passes, so the driver is only concerned with taking fares from the minority of passengers.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the noble Viscount properly answered a question posed by my noble friend about discussions with London Regional Transport. What discussions have taken place with the London Regional Passengers Committee? I ask because in a policy statement in April 1990 that committee was worried about the operation of OPO buses and made a number of suggestions that the staff should deal with other matters such as those referred to by my noble friend Lord Molloy, as well as looking after the operation of the bus. Can the noble Viscount further say whether there is any comparison between physical attacks on staff on OPO buses and on those operated by two people? Have these matters been discussed with the unions?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the London Regional Passengers Committee responded to the consultation paper on deregulation put out by the Department of Transport. I believe that is what the noble Lord is interested in—the bus strategy for London. Since then meetings with Ministers have taken place in the department to discuss aspects of that consultation document. My honourable friend Mr. Freeman attended a recent committee meeting. Discussions certainly are taking place with London Regional Passengers Committee. I do not think that I can add anything to my remarks on attacks on staff. I cannot break down the figures between attacks on staff on buses where conductors are present and attacks on staff operating one-man buses.

Lord Annan

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that a one-person operated bus works perfectly adequately in a city such as New York in which passengers pay one standard fare? Every passenger knows when he boards the bus what the standard fare will be. However, in an infinitely larger city such as London differential fares are levied. It is intolerable that in London queues of people form and passengers fumble for change because they do not know the fare that they have to pay. It is that situation that causes congestion. Furthermore, is it not a fact that one-person operated buses have been forced on London Transport by the Government's refusal to subsidise that organisation? Transport bodies are subsidised in every other city of renown.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the situation in New York is perhaps not easily transferred to the rather larger city of London. As I believe I have already said, on the busiest routes London Buses Limited plans to retain its crew operation. That provision takes into account the noble Lord's point about the time taken to collect fares. However, I have indicated that one-person operated buses are more cost effective. The frequency of the service can be increased along with the number of passengers carried.