Don Foster MP*

Open Letter from Don Foster: Tour Buses In Bath

Open Top Tour Buses (OTTBs) are a constant issue of controversy in Bath.

Main ImageMy initial action some years ago was to get the Traffic Commissioner to do spot checks on the OTTBS in Bath to see if they were sticking to the rules that enable them to get what was then called the Fuel Duty Rebate. Some were not and action was taken.

During the passage of what is now the Transport Act 2000 I was able to get some amendments into the Bill (with the help of the Bath Residents associations) which strengthened the powers of the Commissioners in respect of damage to the environment and the fabric of historic sites. However, my warnings about the conflict between the Competition Act and the powers to create Quality partnerships went unheeded (see below) as did my call to have fares and frequency included in the measures that could be included in Quality Partnerships.

We then sought to have buses on which a commentary was provided excluded from entitlement to Fuel Duty Rebate. The then Transport Minister agreed with this but it fell at the last hurdle when a QC advising the government said that the definition of a commentary wouldn't work. In essence he argued that if an ordinary bus driver said, "This is the Guildhall" it, too, would be a commentary. This would have meant that ALL buses would lose the FDR.

We then got all the OTTB operators together and drew up a Quality Partnership agreement. After 2 years of negotiating with the OFT (Office of Fair Trading), they announced we couldn't go ahead because the QP was anti-competitive. This is the very problem that I had warned about during the passage of the Transport Act. It is, incidentally, an issue that I continue to raise in parliament and did so again only last week (late June).

I then had a series of meetings with Ministers who agreed, in principle, that we could try and establish a Quality Contract. This is also a measure brought in under the Transport Act but differs in that, once agreed, it falls outside the scope of the Competition Act. However, the stumbling block is that a QC can only be entered into if it can be demonstrated that all other options have been explored and failed.

Initially, officials at the DoT were helpful. However, after a couple of meetings they argued that they were not convinced that all other options had been explored. They believe that a Traffic Order or a Traffic Condition might be possible. The problem is that often TOs and TCs have to apply to all buses and cannot distinguish between ordinary buses and OTTBS. However, I had an informal meeting with the Traffic Commissioner and he agreed to try and do what he could to help. He's just had a meeting with officers and they are now considering whether or not there's a way forward on this front.

I am convinced that the only real solution lies with the Quality Contract. That way we could specify what level of OTTB provision we believe is necessary (clearly some is, to ensure we don't have lots of individual cars with tourists driving around) and ensure that only that level is operated.

Meanwhile the bus wars heat up and, I suspect, we're in for a long and difficult summer with claims and counter claims.

This article published: 03/07/2023

Published by Bath Liberal Democrats, 31 James St West, Bath, BA1 2BT. Printed and hosted by JPC Infonet, 2 St Georges Works, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, BA14 8AA. Your Privacy._blank

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