Dissent of the week: uk bus policy and “profitability”

In a recent guest post, Peter Brown praised the Tyne and Wear (greater Newcastle) region in the UK for seeking to regain government powers of integrated planning.  The new paradigm is what the Brits call a “contract scheme” in which the government controls planning and operators provide service under contract with government.  This is pretty much how privatized operations work in North America.  The rider’s is a customer of the government agency, the government agency is the customer of the bus operating company.  Each link has accountability; operating companies are accountable to their government purchasers, while government is democratically accountable to voters.

UK reader John Smith responds:

Bus operators in North East England have formed the North East Bus Operators’ Association to vigorously oppose the imposition of a contract scheme in Tyne and Wear. They are working together with Nexus on a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), which will provide much of the benefits of a contract scheme without the ‘unintended consequence’ of transferring the financial responsibility to the public sector, particularly at a time when local authority finances are under increasing pressure. You can read about it here.

Commeter Peter Laws also responded enthusiastically to the fact that 90% of bus miles outside of London run without subsidy.

Not so fast.  While it’s obviously desirable to reduce subsidy/bus, is the purpose of this savings to be able to afford more buses?  Or is it just to avoid spending money on bus service?