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Serving Bath since 1992
 
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Don Foster, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, speaks for the party nationally on Transport.
 
 

Westminster Hall Debate: Safety on Buses
Read the Hansard transcript of Don's contribution to a Westminster Hall debate on safety on buses. Read extracts from the Hansard record.

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Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I congratulate the hon. Member for Eccles (Ian Stewart) on securing this important debate. Like the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), I must admit that I am not a member of

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the Transport and General Workers Union, although the hon. Gentleman should know that I was briefly a bus conductor once, and use the buses in my constituency and elsewhere, so I have at least some experience.

In the main part of his contribution, the hon. Gentleman rightly drew our attention to the violence suffered by public transport workers, especially bus drivers. He urged us, as other Members have done, to take the issue far more seriously, and I fully support his comments. It was frightening to hear other hon. Members' experiences of the violence suffered by drivers in their constituencies. As the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, that affects not only those drivers' lives, but the rest of us. If a driver is injured or suffers from stress as a result of an attack, or the threat of an attack, and cannot therefore provide a service, bus reliability declines and we all lose out.

The hon. Member for Eccles also rightly touched on several issues, from the potential use of smart cards to reduce cash carried on vehicles, to the yellow bus experiment, which I shall mention shortly. The hon. Gentleman spoke for all of us when he said that he wanted the use of public transport, not least the buses, to increase to reduce pollution and congestion—and, I would add, to reduce social exclusion.

I note with concern that under Conservative Governments from 1979 to 1997, bus passenger journeys fell by one third and car traffic increased by 82 per cent. Although in the past few months there has been a welcome increase in bus ridership, nevertheless, under the new Labour Administration overall ridership remains lower than it was when the Government came to power, so there is an urgent need to take action.

If we are to get people back on to the buses we must ensure that they are safe, reliable and affordable. Those features are linked, as reliability can have an impact on safety. As the hon. Member for Eccles said, if a bus is late or does not turn up at all, the passenger waiting at the bus stop is potentially at risk. It is therefore crucial to improve buses' reliability. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that sadly, so far the targets set by the Deputy Prime Minister in 1999 for improving the reliability of buses, are not being met—and reliability is crucial to safety.

In their secure station initiative, the Government highlighted the importance of safety while people are waiting for a train. Although I was critical of the way in which that initiative was pursued, as far too few stations have so far been accredited, nevertheless it shows that the Government see the matter as crucial. I hope that the Minister will undertake to give safety while people are waiting at a bus stop or bus station an equally high priority, not least because more people use buses than use trains.

Safety when people are on buses is also important. However the statistics are analysed they show that buses and coaches are, on the whole, very safe forms of public transport. For example, bus passenger deaths are only 3 per cent. of all road casualties. None the less, a worrying number of people are injured while travelling by bus. Every year about 1,000 people are injured while seated on buses and a further 600 standing passengers are injured. Clearly, there is more to be done.

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Hon. Members mentioned additional work; driver training was raised, not least by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts). Improvements could be made to enhance vehicles' structural integrity—in the seat-to-floor mountings, for example. There is still a great deal more to be done with the interior design of buses; for example, the design should stop seated passengers falling to the floor when there is emergency braking, and the injury potential of vertical grab rails on some buses, seat backs and other interior features should be reduced. The average age of the bus fleet is eight and a half years, so many buses still in use do not benefit from recent research on interior design. We must find ways of modernising the fleet, especially older vehicles.

Many injuries occur when vehicles stop suddenly, which is often caused by pedestrians and other vehicles on the road. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) made an important reference to the great benefits of introducing more bus lanes, more priority left and right turns and other measures that give buses higher priority on our roads, for the sake not only of reliability but of safety.

The hon. Member for Eccles referred to the need for a wide range of different debates. He and the Minister will know about the continuing conflict between legislation to allow local authorities to introduce priority lanes and priority left and right turns through quality partnerships, and the competition legislation that tends to prohibit it. That would be an appropriate subject for a separate debate. The subject of improving bus ridership by giving the public more information about how to use buses and about the services that are available is relevant to this debate, but it would also be appropriate for a separate debate. In Perth, Australia, when a small amount was spent on promoting and explaining the bus service, bus ridership increased by 14 per cent.

Many other things can be done. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West referred not only to driver training, but to the way in which bus drivers sometimes drive. There is no doubt that several drivers could be given better advice about how to improve their driving, to make journeys safer and more comfortable for their passengers.

I pay tribute to First Group in my area. There were huge worries about drivers who set off quickly from bus stops when elderly and disabled passengers were not seated, causing several injuries. I discussed the matter with First Group, and Mr. Brian Noton, the managing director, agreed to put notices in all buses in my area to remind drivers of the importance of waiting for passengers to be seated to ensure that they were safe. The "seated and safe" campaign was a great success, for which I thank First Group.

Hon. Members have mentioned yellow buses, and I am sure that we are all aware of the benefits of those buses, which pick up school pupils at or near their homes, thus reducing safety problems. Hon. Members will also know about the benefits of specially designed ultra-safe vehicles. The hon. Member for Uxbridge spoke about the benefits of supervising passengers on the buses. I hope that the Government will take the experiments more seriously. The Deputy Prime Minister

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referred to three trials, but I understand that the Government have had little or no input into the trials; I hope that they soon will have.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Eccles has raised these important issues. The points that he has made, especially about violence toward bus drivers, deserve more attention.

 


Printed (hosted) by David Bellotti on behalf of Don Foster (Liberal Democrat) both at 31 James Street West, Bath BA1 2BT.
 
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