University of Sussex students have launched a campaign in support of The Big Lemon, petitioning the Competition Commission to change the ‘unfair’ rules governing bus service competition, in order to prevent market domination by large established firms.
James Butcher, one of the founders of the petition, said: “The petition is essential to stop the unfair rules that allow big companies to act in a predatory manner, designed to kill off any competitor who tries to operate, including the small, sustainable and socially-intentioned businesses like The Big Lemon.”
The petition has received support from students across the University of Sussex campus, as well as from local Members of Parliament and Brighton & Hove City Councillors.
The Big Lemon was launched in order to introduce an alternative service to the Brighton bus network.
Despite its environmental and ethical credentials, The Big Lemon has been forced to cancel its 42 route to the University of Sussex, as it was without the resources to run bus services below cost price.
The petition states that current competition rules “inevitably mean that established giants in the market place become monopolies, ticket prices rise and the number of services fall.
“This sends the wrong message to other small providers that are looking to offer services and represents a very bad deal for bus users.”
Jermel Anderson, co-creator of the petition, commented that: “The campaign has been very successful so far and we have attracted some important co-sponsors.
“It’s a very important issue and could really affect student welfare, so we encourage everyone to get involved and sign the petition.
“We want to send out the message that this is an issue that the Sussex student body at large feels passionate about.
“We need to encourage and enable smaller providers such as The Big Lemon to successfully operate services, and prevent smaller companies from being squeezed out of the market.”
The campaign has been sponsored by the University of Sussex Conservative and Labour Societies and the University of Sussex Economics Society, and has currently received over 100 signatures from students across the campus, and people in the wider community.
The campaign has not only attracted student support, but the backing of local Members of Parliament and Councillors, and has received a response from the Competition Commission.
Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and leader of the Green Party, has been an ardent supporter of The Big Lemon since its genesis, praising the affordable service and their green credentials.
Mike Weatherly, MP for Hove and Portslade, commented that: “It is no secret that Brighton & Hove Buses have a monopoly in our city.
“I urge residents to stand up to this transport giant by supporting this campaign to help smaller providers like the Big Lemon.
“Predatory practices that force out competitors are damaging to everyone in the long-run.”
One Brighton MP has also got the Competition Commission involved, writing to them on behalf of the student campaigners.
Simon Kirby, MP for Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven, received a response citing a new report by the Commission into bus competition.
The Competition Commission report on local bus services in the UK, published in December 2011, states that Go-Ahead (owner of Brighton & Hove Buses) takes “the threat of competition with other operators [as] absolutely key” to business decisions.
They defend the pricing of tickets on the University routes as encouraging “students to continue to use the bus rather than other modes of transport for the whole of the week”.
Thanks to the interest and debate that the petition has created, the Competition Commission has contacted the Office of Fair Trading and Department for Transport in order to pass on their recommendations.
You can get involved in the campaign to save The Big Lemon now, by signing the petition now at ipetitions.com/petition/buses.