Down to London yesterday for a conference examing the potential impact of the Government's White Paper Putting Passengers First.
Leading figures from the bus industry, local authorities and the Traffic Commissioners were amongst the speakers, after a key-note speech from the Transport Minister Douglas Alexander MP.
I have to say that my opinion shifted somewhat after listening to the debate during the day. Previously I have been a staunch proponent of regulation of the industry - anyone with a passing knowledge of what we have been through here in Darlington will understand why. The slow haemorraging of bus services, particularly in the rural area and the West End, can only continue the slow decline of passenger numbers in the town. In London, the trend is in the opposite direction, where of course services are franchised.
There are other factors which help explain London's success, however, including significant amounts of subsidy paid via the GLA. There are success stories outside London where local councils and the bus operators have worked together without a regulatory framework - Manchester, York and Cambridge are examples. Perhaps wholesale regulation would introduce pointless red tape when better partnership working might be more successful. On balance, I'm prepared to see if the proposals in the White Paper can do the trick.