I Wanna Ride The Bus!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Commercial Freedom

This post was inspired by Railway Temp's comment left behind earlier today. He wrote: "...the commercial operators are free to do what they like, so you end up with empty buses following ones that are packed to the gunwhales."

Commercial freedom means that operators are free to set their own timetables and routes. The driving force behind that is profit. A commercial operator will try to make as much profit as they can, and that means squeezing the maximum out of the profitable routes, and if they can, dropping or changing the unprofitable ones until they do make a profit.

GMPTE do not have the power to interfere with the commercial operation of bus companies in the area, they do, though print the nifty strip timetables as part of their remit as the PTE, and publish the departure times on the bus stops.

If a commercial operator decides not to run a particular timetabled bus, there is no sanction from the PTE if it's a commercial service. I would be shocked if the PTE didn't have sanctioning powers if the operator chopped a bus that was subsidised, but on the big corridors out of the city, the routes are nearly all commercial except for some late buses.

The PTE can publicly moan about the poor service, as it did not that long ago with First Manchester (who are the near-monopoly operator between Manchester and Oldham) when services in the Oldham area and on the Oldham Road corridor was extremely poor, they can proably refer them to the transport commisioner, but that's the limit of their say in things.

The PTE is also somewhat hamstrung when it comes to the subsidised services. They pay the operator to run the bus, but it's the operator who decides how much they're going to charge for the contract. When the contract's up, they're free to raise the charge or chop the service, leaving the PTE with it's obligation to provide the service high and dry, and, yes, the PTE's had a moan about that as well in the Evening News in the past.

The commercial operators don't just have freedom here, they rule the roost. They can hold a transport authority (and ultimately the council-tax payers throughout the area,) to ransom on the subsidised services, and if they don't run the commercial services, there's very little anybody can do about it, except pay through the nose, if or when the bus comes in.

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