Update: Buses Bill

 

James Coe Banner

 

The Bus Services Bill (or Buses Bill for short) has been one of the most discussed pieces of transport legislation this year.  Ahead of its progression to Parliament we have produced a number of blogs where we have called for the Bill to enable communities to build their own transport solutions from the ground up.  We have argued that the devolved powers in the Bill should provide greater provision for passengers to shape their transport networks.  In this new paper the government explain how the Bill will work in practice.  If you want to read the document in full it can be read here.

The explanatory document provided mentions specifically that it is hoped the legislation can lead to ‘thriving community transport services.’  We are especially pleased to see community transport mentioned on numerous occasions as a means of building a more accessible transport network

It is important to note that the Bus Services Bill applies to England and Wales only (and its effects are only intended to impact England), but there may be lessons on the development of transport networks throughout the UK.

What will the Bill do?

The document sets out five objectives for the transport network.  They are:

  • Grow bus passenger numbers
  • Tackle air quality hot spots
  • Improve bus services for passengers
  • Enable a thriving and innovative commercial bus sector
  • Help cities and regions unlock opportunity and grow their economy

The Government hope that these will be achieved through measures in the Bill which are; strengthening arrangements for partnerships by introducing ‘enhanced partnerships,’ improving the quality of information available to passengers and introducing new franchising powers.

Partnership

The Bus Services Bill sets out to improve current partnerships through the introduction of ‘Advanced Quality Partnerships’ and facilitate the introduction of new relationships through the introduction of the ‘Enhanced Partnership.’

Under current transport legislation many local authorities and bus operators have entered into a ‘Quality Partnership Scheme.’  This is where local transport authorities invest in bus infrastructure and local bus operators agree to improve the quality of their service in return.  The Bus Services Bill will introduce ‘Advanced Quality Partnerships’ which will broaden the requirement that can be placed on operators to include marketing of their services, and the tickets and fares available to passengers.  Under this legislation local authorities will not be obliged to provide infrastructure investment and may instead choose to invest in ‘measures’ which include parking or traffic management policies.

Enhanced Partnerships will enable a more collaborative approach to transport planning between Local Authorities and bus operators.  Under Enhanced Partnerships Local Authorities in partnership with local communities and bus operators will develop standards for local bus services which can include; bus times, frequency of service, vehicle standards and ticketing products.  Once the standards are agreed by bus operators and local authorities the formal Enhanced Partnership scheme will come into existence.

We believe that there is opportunity for greater community involvement through Enhanced Partnerships.  We hope that in Local Authorities being granted additional powers to work with commercial operators in deciding transport standards it will enable communities to have a much greater say over what their transport systems look like.  Interestingly, the legislation will allow for more than one local transport authority to be involved in establishing Enhanced Partnerships.  We hope that this will mean areas that suffer from poor connectivity due to their rural location will be able to benefit from cross county collaboration and will benefit from new transport partnerships that are responsive to their needs.

Improved Information

Under the powers set out in this Bill local bus services will be required to release a cache of data on their service which could include data on; routes, timetables, punctuality and fares.  This Bill sets out a staged approach to the release of data with full data sets not being available until 2020.

It is also suggested that the powers set out in the Bill will enable greater development of smart ticketing which he will include tickets for multiple modes of transport, and tickets which work across local authority boundaries.

We hope that the open data could have two distinct advantages.  The first is that it should provide a readily available data source for app developers to develop apps that improve the passenger experience.  In theory, the data provision should make it much easier for passengers to plan journeys and assess different transport options when planning a journey.

The second advantage of open data is that it should better enable community transport operators to show their impact in addressing gaps in the transport system.  With a readily available set of data on routes and timetables community transport operators can make a much for evidenced argument on how their service serves an area where people would otherwise be left completely isolated.

 Franchising Powers

It is explicitly stated in the explanatory note provided with the Bill that community transport operators will not be affected by franchising.  Despite this there are some franchising measures that will have an obvious impact on the transport networks which community transport supports.

The new franchising powers will only be available to Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Authorities who can provide evidence of their suitability to be gifted franchising powers. Franchising powers will enable local authorities to determine and specify bus services and bus operators will bid to provide the service.  Additionally, the Bill will enable commercial services which are not part of a franchise to operate in a franchising area with agreement from the franchising authority.  It is hoped that these powers may help to address gaps in the franchised network.

The franchising powers set out in this Bill provide local authorities with greater control over local bus services in their area.  We hope that these measures will give local communities greater opportunity to work with their local authority to establish their transport requirements.  In turn, this could mean that operators are bidding for contracts which are more responsive to the need of service users from the outset.

Anything Else?

The Bus Services Bill presents new opportunities for local communities to be involved in shaping their local transport networks.  With an emphasis on providing data coupled with the desire to devolve transport powers we hope that these powers enable a greater emphasis on the provision of accessible and inclusive transport.  As the Bill progresses through Parliament we will be working to ensure that the measures laid out here recognise the valuable work of community transport in supporting the transport network.

In the meantime if you have any questions on the Bill you can contact James at James@ctauk.org

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