Cars and minibuses are not the answer Interview with PVOA Director
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• Following publication of the Government plans for bus licensing and rural services, CM interviewed Mr Denis Quin, director and secretary of the PVOA.
CM: Mr Quirt, you have made it clear in your statement that the public cannot expect an improvement in service if these new plans all go through. What aspects cause the PVOA particular concern?
auin: Cars and minibuses are not the answer to the problem. Even though they may help in some cases, overall they will do more damage to service than good. The fact that many existing arrangements for lift-giving will be legitimized will not mean an improvement in service. As we have said in our statement, the elderly and the handicapped, who deserve most consideration, will suffer most.
The PVOA is totally opposed to the operation of fare-paying services which are not in some way under the control of the Traffic Commissioners,
CM: So you are hoping that the plans will not go through as proposed?
Quin: In the interest of the travelling public we hope that some stability can be introduced into these arrangements before legislation is p re pa red .
CM: The DoE is arguing that fresh developments by newcomers are needed but are discouraged by the protection given to existing operators under the licensing system and by the cost and complexity of obtaining a road service licence. Do you not think this is a valid reason for some changes?
Quin: While, in practice, traffic courts have built up procedures that may discourage newcomers, the existing legal framework would already allow the Commissioners to be more flexible. Only recently Hansard carried an MP's report of a case in Leicestershire where an independent was licensed for a service despite objections by Midland Red, yet the service lasted only a week because, it was claimed, the licence was hedged about with so many conditions,
Some new flexibility may be necessary, I agree, but really it is a relaxation of precedure and approach which is needed; it does not need major legislation to overcome the discouragement alleged by the Government. Often the situation could be taken care of by a co-ordinating officer—such as Horace England in Devon—who could iron out the problems after discussion with the parties and .ensure that a sensible case was put up to the Commissioners , CM: What effect do you expect the delicensing of small vehicles to have, and especially the.car proposals?
Chun: We all know that a vest amount of illegal lift-giving goes on, and it would be unrealistic to try to stamp it out, but what concerns me is that the proposals will encourage an increase in the practice, and even if only relatively small numbers are involved this could be enough to undermine many services. And overall I cannot see that it is a measure which will benefit the public. Even if a bus service is not as convenient as all the passengers would wish, it is better than gambling on getting a lift. The West Suffolk rural transport study report clearly points out the snags and perhaps the most graphic example is their statement that "some people wish to share their car no more than they would share a bathroom with a neighbour who had no bath."
User organizations have said they favour a strengthening of traditional bus services, and the Government's market research agency found that car less people in particular believed there was a reluctance to give lifts. The National Old People's Welfare Council has recently said that very few committees believe that an increase in voluntary transport services would solve the problem.
CM: What about the minibus, then?
Quin: Like the car, it can be the solution sometimes, but its use is really very limited, as the Government's own rural studies show. NBC's 1970 report clearly reveals from actual costings that in nearly all circumstances it is more economical to run a conventiOnal bus.
CM: How do you view the delicensing of rural bus grant services?
Quin: While I don't think they should be cfelicensed I believe that it is in the field of local government responsibility that the Minister has made the most positive contribution. PV0A has long advocated the role of local councils, particularly at county level, and sees the need for a working partnership between their co-ordinating officers, the psv operators and the Traffic Commissioners. It is at this point that the disagreement comes. The Minister will bypass the Commissioners; we are convinced that their knowledge and experience are vital in obtaining a balanced provision of transport. If the Commissioners with their local knowledge saw the need to give dispensations for car services in particular cases, this would be more practicable than dealing with the matter by legislation or by Ministerial Order.
CM: Do you think that the car-lift proposals will be supported by local authorities as a convenient means of escaping an obligation to subsidize bus services?
Quin: I'm afraid that in some instances this may well be the case. Most ratepayers are car owners and they elect the councillors.
CM: Did the plans for removing road service licensing from excursions and tours come as a surprise?
Quin: It was probably the least surprising aspect, though among PV0A members it will be the most controversial. Many of them will see it as an opportunity to expand their businesses, others believe that licensing is an essential protection for the public. They have worked hard to establish their licensed tours and will be reluctant to see others benefit from the work that they have done. PVOA will have to look closely at this, but official policy so far has been to retain licensing, though equally we have asked for relaxation and simplification.
CM: Do you fear that this delicensing may open the door to the packaged holiday organization seeking to offer cut-price tours in competition with established coach operators?
puin: Yes, I'm afraid this is a real danger. We might soon get the same sort of problems as we have been witnessing recently in Spain. I believe that such a development would be against the public interest and would certainly be damaging to the industry. The operator who thinks he would benefit from this freedom might find that in reality he is worse off—and his ability to support more essential services would be undermined.
CM: The relaxation of licensing conditions, and also of fares procedure, will presumably be welcomed by operators?
Quin: Yes. These are similar to proposals which PV0A included in its policy memorandum to the Minister.
CM: On the whole, do you feel that the DoE's latest plans are supported by the findings of the Devon and West Suffolk rural studies?
Quin: No, I don't think so, even though the West Suffolk report has contrived to ignore its own findings in making recommendations which correspond to the Ministerial proposals.