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Bureaucrats accused of causing chaos for bus passengers in Wales; Traffic Commissioner, based in England, is being `inflexible to the point of lunacy' over timetables.

Byline: Rhodri Clark

BUREAUCRATS in Birmingham have caused chaos for bus passengers in Wales by refusing to bend the rules.

The Traffic Commissioner for Wales, who is based in England, was accused yesterday of being inflexible ``to the point of lunacy'' over the notice bus operators should give before they can change their timetables.

Although operators must give at least 56 days' notice, or eight weeks, they have always been exempted if they had a valid reason for missing the deadline.

But this year Traffic Commissioner David Dixon has rejected requests for service changes at less than eight weeks' notice.

So some services that should have begun with the start of the UK summer timetables on May 18 have been delayed until June.

Some rural services that were not registered in time ran anyway - with passengers given free rides to avoid breaking the law.

Expensive timetable booklets have been printed for some counties with passengers referred to the old winter booklets - which they may have discarded - for the first weeks of the summer timetables.

And bus services operated in lieu of Valley Lines trains had to continue even though the trains had resumed.

Bus chiefs from North Wales will meet Mr Dixon next week, warning that the chaos will be repeated unless he relaxes the rules in exceptional cases in future.

The eight-week rule was introduced to stop profit-making private operators confusing passengers with sudden timetable changes.

One transport officer said it was an extra tier of bureaucracy to apply the same rule to local authorities using public cash to improve services for communities.

Ironically, a measure designed to protect the public from confusion has now created confusion and extra timetable changes.

Some areas of England have escaped such rigidity. Plymouth City Council, for example, was allowed to change a service at short notice.

The National Federation of Bus Users said Mr Dixon was right to tighten up on the 56-day rule, as some operators and councils had been giving short notice of changes simply because they were disorganised.

Leo Markham, the NFBU's officer for Wales, said, ``I understand why he's doing this but he's being inflexible to the point of lunacy. He's not working in the public interest.

``There has to be some leeway, and common sense has to prevail without the system being abused.''

Mr Markham said one operator involved in the Beacons Bus network, serving the Brecon Beacons on summer Sundays, was a week late applying to register.

``He said he had made a mistake and the national park authority sent a letter of support, explaining that it would affect the network if the service started late.

``The Traffic Commissioner wouldn't budge, so on the first Sunday one of the services wasn't registered to operate. In fact it did run but the operator didn't collect fares.''

One route in Gwynedd was abandoned by a private company but when the council stepped in with its own money, Mr Dixon ruled the application was too late for the new service to take over without interruption.

Passengers suffered an inferior service and confusing timetable changes.

Richard Jones, Gwynedd's senior public-transport officer, said, ``If an operator gives 56 days' notice that he's pulling out, there's no way a council can put on a replacement while giving 56 days' notice. That leaves villages and communities with a much worse bus service than they would have had.''

Conwy transport officer Bob Saxby said new Government guidelines stipulated that bus timetables should change only twice per year, on the same dates as the rail timetables, to minimise confusion. But another arm of Government had caused timetables to be changed on several different days this summer. ``When that happens, nobody knows where they are,'' he added.

A spokeswoman for the traffic area office denied Mr Dixon was being inflexible and ignoring the public interest.

She said, ``The passengers are being inconvenienced because the bus operators aren't correctly applying for that bus registration. Had they done so, the dispensation would have been given.''

Asked what steps Mr Dixon's office had taken to ensure it had all the information needed, she said, ``The onus is on the operator to supply the information as requested on the forms.

We're not mind-readers to know that there's something else out there.''

Catch this Gwynedd

# A SMALL bus company decided to stop running a commercial service between Caernarfon and Bethel and gave the required 56 days' notice. By the time Gwynedd Council had organised subsidy and found an alternative operator, there were fewer than 56 days until the original service stopped - but the Traffic Commissioner ensured that passengers were temporarily deprived of services.

# Some services for rural villages in Wales such as Llansannan and Llangernyw were not allowed to start when the summer timetable began. Some were operated anyway but with no fares payable.

Brecon Beacons # THE summer Sunday Beacons Bus network operated a free bus on its first Sunday because one operator was a week late submitting his application. Pleas to the Traffic Comm ss one r.


South Wales Va

l ey s # Stagecoach West and Wales was a fortnight late applying to end Sunday bus services operated in winter on behalf of Valley Lines. Even though trains run on summer Sundays, the Traffic Commissioner insisted the buses had to continue for another fortnight after the trains began.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 2, 2003
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