§ 12. Laura Moffatt (Crawley)
What recent assessment he has made of the impact of modern, reliable bus services on reducing car usage; and if he will make a statement. 
§ The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. John Spellar)
Current and potential bus users consistently rate improvements to frequency, punctuality, reliability and cost as the factors most likely to encourage them to make better use of bus services. Significant increases in patronage, typically between 5 per cent. and 25 per cent., but occasionally significantly more, have followed major improvements on bus corridors. Studies suggest that about one third of new users previously made the journey by car.
§ Laura Moffatt
My constituents will be greatly heartened by that. We are undergoing a huge programme to introduce the Fastway bus system, which I am glad to say my right hon. Friend visited a few weeks ago. Inevitably, there is much disruption, and my constituents need to know that that disruption will pay off in the long run, and that they will have a better environment and a better way of getting to Gatwick airport, in particular. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the disruption is well worth the effort?
§ Mr. Spellar
I was very impressed by the partnership between the local council, the county council and the bus company in producing a scheme that they and I believe will be of real benefit to the people of Crawley and will enable Crawley to continue to be an economically dynamic city. It has been encouraging to see that. My hon. Friend can take heart from the increases in patronage that have taken place in other areas where similar systems have been introduced—as I said, between 5 and 25 per cent. That has been a real benefit to existing bus travellers and an encouragement to those who previously went by car to consider the new system as a sensible alternative.
§ Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Does the Minister accept that in many parts of the country, particularly rural areas, there is little or no public transport, so cars are essential if people are to have an acceptable form of mobility? Does he agree that if people are to use public transport, particularly buses, there must be adequate park and ride or car parking for those who come from areas where there is no public transport to link up with bus services? What encouragement is he giving to councils throughout the 673 country to introduce more park and ride, so that there is adequate parking for people who have to get to a bus service before they can use it?
§ Mr. Spellar
Of course, far more people in rural areas now have access to bus services than previously, not least because of various rural bus grants that have been of significant advantage. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point. As I told the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), there is considerable scope for park-and-ride facilities that link with either bus or rail stations. That requires proper partnership between local authorities, bus companies and rail companies. In some areas, that is working very well, and some companies are extremely innovative, while others are not moving so fast. We are trying to encourage the average companies to come up to the level of the best. If he has a particular problem in his area that he would like me to address, I shall be more than happy to receive representations from him.
§ John Cryer (Hornchurch)
My right hon. Friend will be aware that in some areas where bus services have been deregulated, largely outside London, the promised increased reliability has failed to materialise. That has happened because some of the operators choose to run buses that are not properly maintained and, in some cases, not even properly cleaned. That has obvious implications for safety as well as reliability. Does that not imply that at the very best we should be considering some extension of public ownership such as that which has already been made on some routes in London, or at the very least an increase in regulation?
§ Mr. Spellar
Even in London, the buses are run by private companies, although under a different regime. If my hon. Friend believes that companies are running vehicles that are unsafe or not properly maintained, or has information in that regard, the matter should be referred to the traffic commissioners, who are responsible for considering such matters. He is right to say that there are variations in performance. That is exactly why we have established between local authorities and bus companies the Bus Partnership Forum, which is considering a number of the issues that have been nagging away at those bodies for years. It is also starting to thrash out the details and new policies needed to achieve much better practice throughout the country, to the benefit of bus passengers and transport as a whole.
§ Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley)
May I point out to the Minister that there has been a serious reduction in bus routes in south Oxfordshire, affecting the Reading-Goring and Chinnor-Thame routes and several others? May I also invite him to explain why the 20 million rural bus challenge seems to have done very little except make life more challenging for rural bus users? Can he allay the justified suspicions of those who think that that is caused partly by money being cynically skewed away from well run councils in the shires and the south and directed towards badly run Labour councils in the north?
§ Mr. Spellar
Local authorities throughout the country have had a significant increase in their moneys 674 for local transport plans. I shall, of course, check the increase that Oxfordshire has received. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should address his remarks to the local authority as to how it spends its money. The rural bus challenge has had a significant effect and made a considerable improvement in many areas. I cannot instantly recall what schemes have been introduced by Oxfordshire county council and whether they have been agreed by us. However, in general, the rural bus challenge has made a significant improvement. More people have been given access to bus services, and the initiative has helped to reduce rural isolation and provide access to shops and employment, as well as health and education facilities.