Questions raised over cost, incentives for operators to invest in new vehicles and the effect on the vehicle manufacturing sector
The Conservative MP for Altrincham and Sale West, Graham Brady, has asked the government a series of questions on bus franchising.
Alongside this, Andrew Jones, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Transport, has confirmed that the Buses Bill is still in the drafting phase and the precise time of its introduction to parliament will depend on parliamentary business.
Graham Brady first asked what assessment the Department for Transport (DfT) has made of the costs of bus franchising outside London.
Andrew Jones, responded: “The actual costs and benefits will depend on how franchising is implemented at the local level.
“The potential impacts of the Buses Bill proposals will be set out in the impact assessment which will accompany the introduction of the Bill. When considering the costs of bus franchising it will be important for the authority to consider alternatives as well as the costs and benefits of proposals.”
Asked what discussions his department has had with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on the effect of bus franchising on the vehicle manufacturing sector, Andrew Jones replied that discussions had not yet been held, though his officials had discussed proposals with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 committee of Conservative backbench MPs, then asked what criteria was planned that local authorities will be expected to meet in order to justify bus franchising in their areas, and whether it would be subject to independent assessment, to which Andrew Jones said it was still too early to confirm the detail of the process that may be proposed through the Bill.
On the question of what steps were planned to ensure bus service levels are maintained during the transition period before the introduction of a bus franchise, Andrew Jones stated: “We have given careful thought to the practical implications of the transition period and the possible safeguards that can be built in to the Bill to help maintain bus service levels for passengers.” Again, he said it was too early to go into detail.
On what the incentives are for bus operators to invest in new vehicles when franchising is an option open to local authorities after plans for the devolution of that policy are implemented, Andrew Jones said: “Local transport authority with access to bus franchising powers will wish to ensure that local operators are aware of their intentions, so that investment decisions can be taken and services continue to be provided in the best interests of passengers.
“Any authority that chooses to implement franchising will have the ability to specify its requirements of operators as part of any franchise contract. This could include requirements relating to the standards of vehicles to be used by operators.”
A further question came from Lord Bradshaw (Liberal Democrat) who asked whether, in devolving transport powers to local authorities, it is the government’s intention to also grant authorities the power to implement part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004, so that they become responsible for tackling rising congestion and poor air quality on urban roads, and to promote more efficient bus operation.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport and the Home Office, said: “The Government will continue to work with local authorities to consider whether there are powers that are appropriate to devolve as part of their devolution deals.”