Bus Services Bill needs franchising clarity

A new report has claimed that the Bus Services Bill has been hampered by the ‘government’s failure to publish key secondary legislation and guidance’.

The Transport Select Committee said that ‘much greater detail’ was required surrounding the Transport Secretary’s role if the government wants to reinstate the consent requirement for local authorities seeking franchising powers.

The House of Lords tabled an amendment to the bill to remove a requirement for local authorities other than combined authorities to apply to the Transport Secretary for bus franchising powers in October.

The committee has warned that if the government wishes to reinstate the consent, it should first produce ‘more detailed guidance on how the Secretary of State will exercise these powers’, without any further delay.

The committee noted that Advanced Quality Partnerships and Enhanced Partnership Schemes carried an opportunity to delivering wider benefits through enabling local transport authorities and operators to work collaboratively, but noted that Enhanced Partnership Schemes might entrench the position of dominant operators.

Louise Ellman, chair of the Transport Committee, said: "Bus services face a number of challenges from deregulation, increasing fares and cuts to services on local routes. Yet they are a vital lifeline for communities up and down the country. A reliable service allows individuals to access employment, education and public services, and ensure that they can fully participate in society. Even non-bus users agree that a good bus network is important for their area.

“A recent report predicted a 55 per cent growth in all traffic by 2040. Buses can make a real impact towards reducing congestion not only in metropolitan areas, but increasingly in smaller market towns and rural areas.

“In this bill, there are possibilities for local authorities to implement new forms of partnership or franchising based on what's best for their communities. But Committee scrutiny of the franchising process was hindered by a lack of information. We expect to see all relevant draft secondary legislation and guidance when the Bill is introduced into Parliament.

“There is a lot to welcome in this Bill. By giving local authorities new powers and offering practical measures such as improved passenger information and services, these proposals have the potential to bring about significant improvements for both passengers and communities."