Bus league table to remain secret

Transport chiefs are refusing to reveal the best and worst performing bus routes in Norfolk after signing a confidentiality clause with operators to keep the information secret, the EDP has learned.

Transport chiefs are refusing to reveal the best and worst performing bus routes in Norfolk after signing a confidentiality clause with operators to keep the information secret, the EDP has learned.

Norfolk County Council spent £850,000 on a state of the art Busnet system which tracks the performance of 330 buses in the county in a bid to improve reliability.

That information has allowed the council to build up its own 'league table' of operators. But the authority has turned down a freedom of information (FOI) request from the EDP to disclose its detailed findings on how each service fares.

Norfolk MPs last night condemned the move as staggering and said the travelling public had the right to be armed with all the facts.

But the council said disclosure was “likely to prejudice the commercial interests of both the county council and bus operators”.

Under the deal, information relating to particular operators was only shared with the bus company concerned, the council said.

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And it feared that publishing its findings could lead to more cars on the road, if commuters turned their back on poor performing services.

Maureen Orr, the council's FOI officer, for planning and transportation, said the Busnet data was subject to a confidentiality clause with the operators, with a legal data sharing agreement in place. The fear was that if the public was told of its findings operators would no longer co-operate with the system.

“Should service 'XX' be identified as running unreliably, passengers could choose to use another service or leave public transport all together,” she said.

“The consequence of this is that if service 'XX' is commercial, it could lead to deregistration of the service and an increased financial burden on the authority, and a reduction in the availability of public transport. It could also increase congestion and have environmental impacts if more cars enter the road network.

“Also, a competitor of service 'XX', could register a service to compete against the poor performing one, thus impacting on the operator's commercial profit,” she added.

But North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “The reasons they give for not disclosing the information are precisely the reasons why the public ought to know,” he said. “If you look at the trains where One has an obligation to disclose its statistics, it's been a very effective way of applying pressure to improve the performance. To keep it confidential is bizarre in the extreme.”

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon said the council and the bus companies should have “nothing to fear from transparency”.

“Unless there are compelling reasons of national security, then as much as information as possible should be available to those who pay for them,” he said.

Norwich North MP Ian Gibson, who has campaigned for better buses in the city, said league table would enable people to make up their own minds

“Why should bus companies be any different from hospitals? It would help people to understand some of the decisions and let them have a choice.”