THE GOVERNMENT this week rushed to reassure bus companies after the Office of Fair Trading announced that it had ruled new quality partnerships and interticketing arrangements 'anti competitive'.
Bus firms were told that measures were being considered to protect their income should the OFT ruling be upheld as part of the new Competition Bill which comes into effect on 1 March.
Operators negotiating bus priority routes with local authorities in return for higher quality buses - vital to the success of the Government's integrated transport policies - have been threatened with fines of up to 10% of their turnover for 'setting prices and minimum standards'. OFT maintains these run contrary to the Competition Bill.
But a letter from the Government to the Confederation of Passenger Transport states that bus industry concerns have been noted, and vows to take action.
Government sources would not be drawn on whether the Transport Bill - which includes provision for quality partnerships and interticketing - would be amended to include an exemption from the Competition Act for bus operators, or whether it would negotiate an exemption from the Competition Act.
The Office of Fair Trading confirmed that it was in talks with the bus industry about a possible exemption and said would be issuing special guidelines for bus operators shortly.