Poor Quality Vehicles
A common complaint is that the quality of buses used to provide the service is poor.
There are two aspects of vehicle quality: the specification of the vehicle and the standard to which it is maintained.
Vehicle specification may be very basic, providing the minimum acceptable level of passenger comfort and convenience. Or, it may include features such as air conditioning, reclining seats, or provision for easy access by disabled passengers, including those in wheelchairs.
The level of specification will obviously affect the capital cost of the vehicle and, to a lesser extent, its operating costs. A vehicle’s capacity will also affect its revenue-earning potential.
The vehicle’s specifications must take into account any cost implications, and the revenue required to cover these costs. In many cities, particularly the larger ones, the market is large enough to justify providing different standards of service, with different levels of fares. There may be premium quality services, offering a high standard of comfort for higher-income passengers who are willing to pay high fares, and basic or standard services, at lower fares.
This aspect of quality is therefore determined by the passengers’ ability to pay. There is no point in specifying high quality vehicles that cannot be paid for by the revenue they will be able to generate, including any subsidy.
Maintenance standards are often an important issue. A poorly maintained vehicle may be unsafe, unreliable, and expensive to operate, as well as causing noise and air pollution.
Poor maintenance is often a result of inadequate regulations or poor enforcement of regulations.
Vehicle age also has a bearing on vehicle quality. If the average age of the fleet is old, this may suggest that the current system gives no incentive to a private operator to invest in new vehicles. Alternatively, for a publicly owned system, it may be that a political decision has been taken not to invest further in buses. Either option points to the need for reform.