Government responds to Transport Select Committee bus inquiry

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‘No strong appetite’ for franchising yet, Government says

The Government recently published a response to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into bus services in England outside London, tackling 21 recommendations set out in the committee’s final report.

Beginning the report, the Government said: “We agree that travel by bus is essential for many people’s quality of life and remain committed to supporting the sector, so that people can choose the mode of travel that works for them.”

The first recommendation was that the ‘full suite’ of operating models should be available to local authorities (including franchising and municipal operation) without having to go through the Transport Secretary. The Government partly agreed with this idea, but said: “It is important the commercial operators have certainty as to their future business model so that they can invest to benefit passengers.”

It added: “To date, no local authorities have formally approached the Government seeking powers to franchise bus services. This suggests that at present there is no strong appetite for these powers from local authorities and that granting them to all local authorities at this stage would result in a worsening of services as operators stopped investing due to the uncertainty caused.”

The committee’s third recommendation was that the Government should introduce a ‘more stable multi-year funding model’ for local transport, including buses, by next summer – something which the Government agreed with. It added that it would consider potential reforms to transport funding at the next spending review, which is expected to take place in the summer of 2020.

Another recommendation the Government agreed with was that it should set out a plan for how the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) will operate, what it is intended to achieve and how it will be reformed in order to do so. “We would expect any reform to include consideration of how the funding could help to promote the uptake of zero and low emission buses, and provide support to marginal rural bus services,” it added.

It disagreed with the fifth recommendation however, which asked for a review on how concessionary passes are financed. It added that the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is currently conducting a review of the relative needs and resources for local government, which will encompass bus services.

The seventh recommendation asked for the Government to inform all local authorities of available bid-for funding in the short term, and in the longer term conduct a review of all such funding for buses from the Department for Transport (DfT). Meanwhile, the eighth recommendation asked for the Government to review the financial ability of local authorities to fund ‘socially necessary services’ and issue a report by the end of 2019.

The Government agreed in part with both of these suggestions, reiterating its plans to consider transport funding reform at the next spending review. It also explained that most bus funding is not bid-for, and that it has up until now chosen to focus on low-emission buses in bid-for funding.

On bus priority, the Government said in its response: “There are still further actions Government can take, and as part of the preparatory work for its new national bus strategy, we will explore with the Confederation of Passenger Transport, the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Environment, Planning and Transport whether there is scope for joint working in this area to further promote the value of bus priority measures.”

It also announced that the Real Time Information platform it is funding “will go live from January 2020; operators will initially be required to provide routes and timetable data. From January 2021, operators will be required to provide basic fares and tickets data (covering the most common fare and ticket types) and location information. Operators will be required to provide information on complex fares from January 2023.”

Recommendation 17 asked the Government to explore how recruitment and staff retention could be improved in the bus industry. “The Government proposes to convene a roundtable with the bus industry (including bus operators, trade associations and trade unions), before summer 2020 to discuss this issue; including drivers’ working hours and the duty on operators to manage the risks of fatigue under health and safety legislation,” it responded.

“The Department for Transport did conduct an extensive review of the effectiveness of the GB domestic drivers’ hours rules in 2009/10. This included looking at whether these vehicles should fall under any of the provisions in the EU drivers’ hours rules, such as introducing the same maximum driving time and break requirements.

“Following this review, the Government decided not to make any changes, concluding that the existing rules are both important and appropriate in ensuring the safety of drivers and others on the road, but that any further restrictions would risk imposing unreasonable burdens on industry. The Government has no current plans to make changes to the GB domestic drivers’ hours legislation.”

To view the full report, visit: http://bit.ly/32KxY0s