Norman Baker: Stupid Boy

We’re well used to the fact that the reflexive hatred of the right wing press for anything remotely related to the European Union means is such that they’ll swallow any old load of bollocks about the supposedly pernicious effects of EU regulations on the businessman’s inalienable right to screw a profit out of the punters by any means possible:

THOUSANDS of passengers are being forced to hop off buses midway through journeys to comply with barmy EU laws.

A Brussels ruling has banned local services longer than 30 miles to ensure drivers don’t spend too long at the wheel.

As a result, drivers have to pull in as they hit that limit and order everyone OFF their bus.

They then change the route number on the front and invite passengers to jump back ON before resuming the trip.

(Also, predictably, in the Daily Mail-evolence and the Torygraph)

Somewhat more unusally, on this occasion, its a Lib Dem MP, Norman Baker, who’s dumb enough to be taken in by all this rather than the usual spittle-flecked Tory backbench rent-a-gob.

Last night Lib Dem transport spokesman Norman Baker blasted the “lunatic law”.

He said: “These rules don’t stop buses running more than 30 miles.

“All they do is inconvenience the passengers who have to keep getting on and off. It’s like an Ealing comedy.”

He has written to Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly demanding an opt-out.

And even the normally fairly sensible Jonathan Calder appears to have been taken in despite the obvious giveaway statement is his comments:

As the Sun explains it:

The source of this story appears to be the Managing Director of Western Greyhound, Mark Howarth:

Western Greyhound has split its Newquay to Plymouth route in three — even though it uses a single driver throughout.

Passengers must buy three tickets and break their journey twice.

Managing director Mark Howarth said: “It’s a farce. We have to kick customers off as soon as the driver hits the 30-mile limit.

“Often it’s in the middle of nowhere. Passengers think we’re crazy.

“We’re caught up in something aimed at long-distance truckers.”

Coach firms’ long-distance trips are exempt, but bus firms face huge costs to change status.

If those comments are an accurate reflection of what Howarth actually said then he’s either bullshitting or illiterate as the regulations in question were laid before Parliament in MARCH 2005 and guidance on the regulations which came into effect in April 2005 and into force in April 2007, getting on for a year ago, was published by the Department of Transport in APRIL 2005.

Moreover, Howarth’s firm hasn’t been ‘caught up in something aimed at long-distance truckers’ as the EU directive states explicitly that:

1. This Regulation shall apply to the carriage by road:

(a) of goods where the maximum permissible mass of the vehicle, including any trailer, or semi-trailer, exceeds 3,5 tonnes, or

(b) of passengers by vehicles which are constructed or permanently adapted for carrying more than nine persons including the driver, and are intended for that purpose.

(b) sure sounds like a description of a bus to me

As for exemptions, the only one applicable is the one that Howarth is trying to use to circumvent the regulations:

This Regulation shall not apply to carriage by road by:

(a) vehicles used for the carriage of passengers on regular services where the route covered by the service in question does not exceed 50 kilometres;

Long distance coach services are NOT exempt from the regulations, which specify the maximum amount of time an HGV or PCV driver can spend behind the wheel on a given day (normally nine hours but this some flexibility), the number of breaks a driver is required to take during their shift (one 45 minute break after four and a half hours driving time or one 15 minute break and one thirty minute break at fairly even intervals), the amount of time off they should be given (two days a week with some flexibility providing they get at least one full day a week off) and their maximum working week (48 hours a week averaged over six months and no more than 60 hours in a single week). At the present time, only self-employed drivers are exempt from these regulations (until March 2009) and long distance coach services ‘get around’ these regulations by the simple expedient of using more than one driver on long journeys.

What this all has to do with local bus services, for Jonathan’s benefit if no one else’s, is that this is a health and safety measure designed to ensure that drivers of commercial vehicles don’t do things like falling asleep at the wheel, having accidents and killing/maiming themselves, their passengers (in the case of bus/coach drivers) or other road users.

And the real story is here is not that of EU regulations are screwing with local bus services but of grasping employers trying to excuse themselves for fucking with passengers in order to bypass regulations intended to protect the safety of drivers, passengers and other road users in order to screw every last drop of profit they can out of rural bus services, and not just out of their passengers but from the taxpayer as well – many rural bus services are at least part funded by the Rural Bus Subsidy Grant.

(Cornwall and Devon, in which the route this story most directly relates to is situated, had 2007/8 RBSG allocations of just over £2 million and £2.36 million respectively while Norfolk, in which Norman Lamb’s constituency is situated, got over £2.6 million
out of total pot of £55.6 million for England)

Its also the usual story of a Tory press that will happily print any old bullshit that blames the EU for just about anything and, of course, its also the story of Lib Dem MP from a rural constituency plumbing the depths of abject gullibility when he should be asking questions about just exact how much Western Greyhound is getting from the taxpayer for fucking passengers around and spinning reams of bullshit in the direction of the Tory press.

Oh, and as this is a bus company we’re talking about here and they’re complaining about EU regulations, if Norman does get around to asking the right kind of questions he might also like to make a few enquiries as to whether Western Greyhound has – like a lot of other bus companies – been employing drivers from EU accession states and, if so, how many and one what terms relative to the going rate for our own ‘native’ drivers.

Oh, and if there are union members are looking in, especially members of the TGWU wing of Unite, then can you check whether we’re looking in to this and, if not, pass the word.