Oyster card for Bristol a step closer?

See this report in the Telegraph about the Government’s efforts to introduce smart ticketing, which is something Labour in Bristol has been campaigning on for some time with its ‘brunelcard’ campaign. I know First Bus are keen on this (although of course they don’t want to have to pay for the new technology that would be required). It could significantly cut journey times and increase reliability, because you wouldn’t get hold-ups waiting for people to board the bus.
Also in the news today, the OFT’s report that lack of competition in the bus market has led to high fares, which has resulted in a referral to the Competition Commission. I gave an interview to the BEP today about it, which I suppose will be in tomorrow’s paper. I don’t see how it would be possible to reintroduce competition into the local bus market. You can’t force private sector companies to come and try to compete, and there’s a tidy carve-up of the main markets between the major bus companies at the moment. Here’s a quote from John Major, of the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK, which represents the bus industry which, to be frank, is patent nonsense*:

“Bus companies operate in highly competitive local markets and it is always in our interests to keep prices competitive to attract passengers out of their cars and onto our services… There is a great deal of competition between bus operators, large and small, although the biggest competitor for the bus industry is the car.”
I’m not sure what could be done to persuade Arriva or National Express to start competing with First on key routes in Bristol (and it would only be the key, money-making routes) and even if they did, they’d probably just emulate what happened when deregulation first happened, i.e. use their reserves to run services at very competitive prices and then as soon as they’ve got rid of their competitors, whack the fares up. So you’re left with outlawing some of the predatory practices mentioned in the OFT report (but that still leaves you relying on other companies being willing to compete). Or you regulate the current providers either by specifying maximum fares (as happens with the trains, on some tickets) or going down the Quality Contract route, which I’ve talked about many a time on here before.
The original Tory vision of a marketplace where passengers could pick and choose which bus they wanted to travel on, looking at fares and reliability and timings, is just not going to happen. It was a flawed vision in the first place, based on a dogmatic belief that market forces were the solution to everything and a hatred of anything that was municipally-owned or run.

*Nonsense except for the bit about the car. Cabot Circus are currently offering parking at £1 an hour for a maximum of seven hours. Not much on an incentive to get the bus if you’re popping into town to see a film or do some shopping.

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