Vectis forced to share
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• The Office of Fair Trading has told Southern Vectis that it must share one of its bus stations at Newport on the Isle of Wight, or face the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.
A report published by the OFT last week followed an investigation under the Competition Act 1980 into the use of Newport bus station. It is the OFTs first foray into Britain's deregulated bus industry.
A small operator, Gange Taxis and Minicoaches, had complained that SV's refusal to let it use the bus station had greatly impaired its ability to compete.
SV owns the bus sation, but this cut no ice with Sir Gordon Borne, director-general of the Office of Fair Trading, who said: "I recognise that in refusing competitors access to the bus station, Southern Vectis is exercising its rights over its own property.
"In some circumstances, however, the way property rights are used may significantly restrict competition."
He went on to say that he believed that access, for an appropriate fee, was essential for effective competition. It was not feasible for a second bus station to be built. "I therefore intend to refer the matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission unless Southern Vectis agrees to end its policy," he warned.
"We feel vindicated," said John Gange, proprietor of the firm, which runs minibuses between Cowes and Newport, "but I feel like Daniel in the lions' den and I am waiting to see what Southern Vectis comes up with."
He added that Transport Minister David Mitchell had listened sympathetically to his problems during a visit to the island when Southern Vectis was privatised.
Looking at possible problems with access to other bus stations, Sir Gordon Borne predicted: "While the report only deals with the situation at Newport, I think that its findings are, in principle, relevant to other bus stations around the country. I therefore hope that other companies owning bus stations elsewhere will admit other bus operators to
those stations. I recognise that competitors should pay for access, as already happens at many stations."
In the past, however, there has been trouble when departure fees have been mooted at stations where, previously, there were none.
The OFT report suggests that one means of resolving the conflict is for the bus station and its operations to be split off from one another: the bus station operator would then charge bus operators for use on a non-discriminating basis.
The best example of this is at Victoria Coach Station, in London, though the departure charges are regarded by many operators as being too costly.