30 January 2008

And then there were fourteen...

Data showing how the remaining 14 council-owned bus companies in the UK performed during the year 2005/6 has been released, and ranks them in the following order, according to pre-tax profit:

1. Lothian Buses 7.3%
2. Ipswich Buses 6.8%
3. Thamesdown Transport 6.7%
4. Blackpool Transport 4.7%
5. Warrington Borough Transport 4.2%
6. Plymouth Citybus 3.2%
7. Cardiff Bus 2.9%
8. Newport Transport 2.2%
9. Eastbourne Buses 2.0%
10. Reading Transport 1.4%
11. Rossendale Transport 1.3%
12. Nottingham City Transport 0.2%
13. Halton Transport -1.1%
14. Islwyn Borough Transport -2.9%

The above 14 council-owned bus companies account for only 6.9% of the total turnover within the bus industry in the UK. The 'big three' - First, Arriva and Stagecoach - account for 21.1%, 15.2% and 13.8% respectively, with Go Ahead and National Express coming in with 10.2% and 5.7% respectively. Three smaller non-British companies who have made expansion within the UK Bus Industry of late - ComfortDelGro (Singapore-based), Transdev (French-based) and Australia's Macquarie Bank - together account for 10.3%.

But which gives better value for money?

Residents in Nottingham, when seeing their council tax goes towards a local bus service barely breaking-even, would be rather concerned, so too would residents in the south Wales borough of Islwyn, whose loss of 2.9% in 2005/6 equates to £85,000. But at the very top is Lothian Buses, who with a 7.3% pre-tax profit, perform in a way recognised operators such as National Express, Transdev and ComfortDelGro could only dream.

One of the biggest uncertainties with council-owned bus operations is that the fares collected from passengers aren't always guaranteed to be ploughed back into the business; they could, for example, go towards meeting the local council's shortfall in refuse collection. Is this a small price to pay for knowing your fare is not going to line the pockets of anonymous shareholders?

One thing is for certain, with a huge increase in operational costs of around 9.3% but with increases in revenue grossing an average of 8.1% in 2005/6 throughout the UK Bus Industry, all operators, be they council-owned or not, are likely to be set for a bumpy ride!