Bus Services Bill is here

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Buses are England’s most used form of public transport, with over 4.65 billion journeys completed in the financial year 2014-15. This is the first piece of new legislation since 2008. GARETH EVANS
Buses are England’s most used form of public transport, with over 4.65 billion journeys completed in the financial year 2014-15. This is the first piece of new legislation since 2008. GARETH EVANS

The Bill, which has now had its first reading in the House of Lords, includes proposals on advanced quality partnerships, franchising and advanced ticketing

 

The long-awaited Bus Services Bill was presented at the State Opening of Parliament on May 18, 2016, which could lead to substantial changes to the industry’s structure in some areas, following deregulation under the Transport Act of 1985.

In the Queen’s Speech during the opening ceremony, the following was stated: “In England, further powers will be devolved to directly elected mayors, including powers governing local bus services.”

What it means

According to the Government, one purpose of the Bill is to hand the power to ‘improve bus services for the people who use them’ over to elected mayors and local transport authorities. Under the Bill, the Government states that local authorities would be able to set ‘required standards of service’ with bus operators, which would give them control over branding, ticketing and service frequency in ‘stronger arrangements’ that would allow partnership between local government and bus operators.

Another purpose of the Bill comes in the form of new powers involved with bus service franchising. Combined authorities with directly elected mayors would be given ‘London-style’ powers that would allow them to take control of bus services in the same vein that Transport for London (TfL) does in the capital. Applications from other local authorities (non-combined) would, according to the Government, be considered on a ‘case-by-case’ basis.

Under the Bus Services Bill, the Government has said that another purpose would be regarding bus service data – regarding routes, fares and times. Bus operators would be required to ‘make data freely available, allowing app developers to produce journey planners, amongst other products.

Passengers would then be able to use the information, according to background notes on the Queen’s Speech, to ‘enable them to make the most of bus services in their area.’

Advanced quality partnerships

One of the key proposals in the Bill can be seen in Section 1, which details how Integrated Transport Authorities (ITAs) can instigate partnership schemes with bus operators, provided ‘they are satisfied that the scheme will contribute to the implementation of their local transport policies.’

These schemes would only be valid if the ITAs provided ‘particular facilities’ and took ‘particular measures’ in relation to the area and route in question, and the operators undertook to ‘provide local services of a particular standard’.

The partnership schemes would only be able to come to fruition if they could meet certain criteria – if the outcomes would show the following:

  1. an improvement in the quality of local services that benefits persons using those services;
  2. a reduction or limitation of traffic congestion, noise or air pollution; and
  3. an increase in the use of local services or an end to, or a reduction in, a decline in the use of local services.

The aim of these partnership schemes would be to improve bus services in local areas that did not qualify, or did not intend to enter franchising scheme, by enhancing the cooperation between ITAs and bus operators.

Franchising

Another key proposal seen is in regards to the franchising of bus services. According to the Bill, a franchising scheme is an arrangement that adheres to the following:

A franchising scheme is a scheme:

  1. under which the authority or authorities identify the local services that they consider appropriate to be provided in an area under local service contracts;
  2. by virtue of which those local services may only be provided in that area in accordance with local service contracts;
  3. by virtue of which the authority or authorities may grant service permits for other local services which have a stopping place in that area; and
  4. under which the authority or authorities identify additional facilities that they consider appropriate to provide in that area.

Under Section 4 of the Bus Services Bill, it is explained how franchising schemes would operate. It states that ‘a franchising authority, or two or more franchising authorities acting jointly, may make a franchising scheme covering the whole or any part of their area, or their combined area.’

The Bill describes a franchising authority as one of the following:

  1. a mayoral combined authority;
  2. a county council in England for an area for which there are district councils;
  3. a county council in England for an area for which there is no district council;
  4. a non-metropolitan district council for an area for which there is no county council;
  5. an Integrated Transport Authority for an integrated transport area in England; or
  6. a combined authority which is not a mayoral combined authority.

However, B-F of the above will only be able to enable a franchising scheme if the Secretary of State grants consent. A mayoral combined authority would not require consent.

A franchising authority would have to prepare an assessment of any proposed schemes under the new Bill, which would involve describing ‘the effects that the proposed scheme is likely to produce’ and comparing ‘making the proposed scheme to one of more other courses of action.’

Advanced ticketing

Another proposed action of the Bill is to introduce advanced ticketing schemes, which would, provided that they were in the interests of the public and would contribute to the implementation of local transport policies, allow passengers to purchase tickets that come under the following descriptions:

  1. tickets entitling the holder to make more than one journey on particular local services or on local services of a class specified in the scheme (whether or not operated by the same person);
  2. tickets entitling the holder to make a particular journey on two or more local services (whether or not operated by the same person);
  3. where a particular journey could be made on local services provided by any of two or more operators, tickets entitling the holder to make the journey on whichever service the holder chooses; and
  4. tickets entitling the holder to make a journey, or more than one journey, involving both travel on one or more local services and travel by one or more connecting rail or tram services.

The Bus Services Bill is currently passing through the House of Lords (HL), and the first reading took place on May 20. This stage is a formality that signals the start of the Bill’s progress. The second HL reading is scheduled for June 8, 2016.

INFO

The progress of the Bus Services Bill, as well as the latest revisions, can be found at https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/busservices.html