|On the buses-(22.09.02)|
Since the Office of Fair Trading was set up, around half of all the investigations it has carried out have been on local bus companies. This is an amazing statistic given that bus firms so face competition from rail, walking, cycling, car use etc. Obviously the OFT has to investigate complaints made to it. However most of the anti-competitive practice investigations have involved preditory pricing and timetable changes deliberately designed to prevent new entrants to particular bus routes. A proper analysis of the consumer interest may suggest that there are advantages in this form of competition, in that prices do drop in the short term. However having an integrated bus network and prices that allow investment in newer and more reliable buses are more in the interest of consumers in the long term. Given driver shortages in many parts of the country it is difficult to argue that excess profits are being earned in the bus industry.
Clearly too much of the OFTs resources are being invested in this one area and to little effect, given the dominance of a single operator in most areas. Perhaps the real issue should be that local bus services are a natural monopoly and therefore need regulating as such at a local level, something that the 1980's bus deregulation removed. Only introduction of controls in this area and a proper integrated local transport plan will reduce the OFTs ridiculous workload in this area.