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I was recently at a meeting where a bus company director said: "In public transport, more is to be gained by operators co-operating than competing. Our competitor is really the private car."
That a refreshing change from 20 years ago, when we campaigners suggested bus-rail integration. Then the response was all too frequently: "We serve different markets." Bus and rail managers saw little reason to talk to each other. In the 1960s, railways were closed on the pretext that a replacement bus service would be more cost-effecive. Even in the 1980s this idea was still hawked around. Last year a Government minister appeared to revive it. Yet experience shows that fewer than 20 per cent of rail users turn to replacement buses, which were usually withdrawn or cut back after a short period.
For nearly a decade I commuted 49 miles from Lowestoft to Ipswich by train (I can now walk to work). On the rare occasions I had to take the bus, the journey was twice as long, less comfortable and less convenient. Very few passengers used the bus for the whole journey. If local people (supported by one of the predecessor bodies of RDS) had not fought to save our East Suffolk Line in the mid 1960s, there would now be no trains between Lowestoft and Ipswich. Such rural lines are an asset to be developed. That is what many of the local users' groups affiliated to RDS are doing. Dr Paul Salveson's consultancy TR&IN has just produced a report, Branching Out, giving ideas for this. RDS has contributed ?£250 from its Rail Defence Fund towards the cost. Branching Out is available at ?£1.50 from our Sales Officer.
So, what role is there for the bus? There is ample scope, especially for smaller but easily accessible vehicles, to feed into train services. Where there is easy interchange with guaranteed connections, people use them. The technology exists to make integration easier. Many RDS branches are arguing for such feeder services as part of the franchise renewal process.
Our East Anglian branch has also called for public transport rover tickets, valid on both trains and buses. The past few years have seen rapid growth of "bus add-on" fares in towns and cities. For a small extra cost, your train ticket to, say, Norwich, gives you onward bus travel to the city centre or beyond. This facility is now marketed as RailLinks by Journey Solutions, a joint venture by the Association of Train Operating Companies and Confederation of Passenger Transport (representing bus operators). They have produced an information leaflet Onward Travel. Is it at your local station, library or travel agent?
We are assured that connecting bus services are only allowed into the scheme and awarded the use of the RailLinks marque if they meet the high standard required.
That needs monitoring and is something which we in RDS can help to do. It is also an area for possible joint action with the National Federation of Bus Users. We also hope to identify other ways in which we can co-operate with them. Our member Edgar Locke has agreed to act as liaison person between NFBU and the RDS passenger committee to this end. Meanwhile, we continue lobbying for legislation to ensure that bus links with trains are maintained. This could mean extending the powers of the Rail Users' Consultative Committees to cover RailLink buses. We shall not, as a result, abolish the motor car. But we should persuade some car drivers that, for some journeys, they can also be public transport users.
Note: contact details (postal and email addresses, along with telephone numbers) in old editions of Railwatch out of date. Click CONTACT US for latest contact details.
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