Empty vehicles as 'bus wars' continue in Plymouth
BUS wars have left some areas of the city swamped with empty buses, according to a transport expert.
But passengers on other services may be paying the bill as the two main Plymouth operators battle for market share, says Ray Bentley of Travelwatch South West.
Mr Bentley was giving evidence to a Plymouth City Council inquiry into subsidised bus routes yesterday.
"The bus war between First and Go-Ahead [Citybus] has fizzled out in some areas of Plymouth," Mr Bentley told a growth and prosperity scrutiny panel.
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"But it is in full flow in Barne Barton with 14 buses an hour."
He said that was eight buses an hour more than was needed to serve the area. If you stood at St Budeaux Square you would be able to see empty buses going in and out of Barne Barton, he said.
"These are paid for by losses to the operators or cross-subsidy from other parts of the network."
But passengers were not the winners, Mr Bentley said. They could not benefit from the extra buses because the bus companies were not working together on shared ticketing.
Citybus had won a long-running battle in Plympton, but the focus had now switched to Plymstock, he said.
Plympton, with a population of 30,915 now has nine buses an hour, one of them subsidised by the city council.
Plymstock, where the population is 25,325, has 19 buses an hour, of which two are council-subsidised.
And the wars have now spread to Saltash and Ivybridge, Mr Bentley said.
Mr Bentley urged the council to bring the two companies to the table to negotiate a deal to redeploy buses from the "war zones" to areas that did not have enough buses.
He said Oxfordshire County Council had managed to strike such a deal with Citybus' owners Go-Ahead and rival firm Stagecoach.
The council spends £382,000 a year contracting bus services that would not otherwise be provided by bus operators.
There are 12 subsidised routes, plus Taxibus services.
Most of the subsidised services are provided by Target Travel.
Mr Bentley said: "Target Travel are the saviours of the subsidised network, and long may they continue."
The amount spent on subsidies is not set to change, but the council is to review the "existing provision and criteria" for the services.
One option could be "through ticketing", which allows passengers to buy tickets that are valid with more than one public transport company.
Last month the panel heard evidence from two members of Plymouth's Youth Cabinet, who branded bus fares "a rip-off".
Yesterday Matt Callow, regional development manager for First, told the panel that fares in Plymouth were among the lowest in any comparable cities.
He accepted that fares were expensive for low-paid young people, but said: "The cost of providing the service is what it is. The question comes back to who should subsidise young people.
"If it's the bus company, do we put up fares for older people? That is just moving the problem around."