Commuters who use a bus pass to get to work could enjoy an easier ride following a decision to put practices by firms like National Express West Midlands under the spotlight.
The Competition Commission has opened a consultation into the local bus market after an 18-month national investigation found “too many operators face little or no competition in local areas”.
National Express, which dominates bus travel in Birmingham and the Black Country, was singled out by the regulator in a case study which looked at how its Travelcard bus pass affected the market.
Passengers who have a National Express bus pass can be left frustrated on some routes if a bus run by another operator arrives first. They either have to pay extra to board or wait for the next National Express bus.
That has prompted rival companies to complain to the regulator that the card “tied up” customers, which they said meant National Express was protected from competition.
Among other issues, the Competition Commission report highlighted how incumbent operators such as National Express can benefit where passes which are valid on any bus operator are “inferior” to their own bus passes.
In the West Midlands passengers can buy a multi-operator nBus ticket which on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis is around 30 per cent more expensive that National Express’s own bus pass.
The report found “extensive evidence that the high take-up by customers of the National Express Travelcard is perceived by operators as a very significant barrier to entry into the Birmingham market, despite the continuing existence of a multi-operator scheme.”
The Competition Commission has now started consulting on measures to open up local bus markets.