New bus bill opens door to franchising

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Surprise announcement that government plans to legislate on bus franchising powers

In the Queen’s Speech at the state opening of Parliament on May 27, the government’s legislative plans for the year ahead were unveiled including a number of issues that will directly affect the coach and bus industry.

The new buses bill will provide combined authority areas – where local councils will be encouraged to work together – with the option to be able to take responsibility for the running of local bus services. The government claim that this would allow cities to promote a more integrated public transport system.

The main implication of this bill would be the option to franchise bus services to areas willing to strengthen their governance with a directly elected Mayor. The government claims it would allow cities to promote an integrated transport system, supporting the growth and development of their areas.

A provision of bus franchising powers has been created – further details will be published in due course. As the details of these bills are finalised and announced in the coming weeks, the effect on the industry will become clearer.

The government’s plan for a balanced economic recovery has given rise to the cities and local government devolution bill which will allow for decision making over issues such as housing, planning, policing and transport to be devolved to England’s cities.

For the cities that choose to do so, they can have an elected mayor. With Manchester assuming these powers when they elect a mayor in two years time, George Osborne has previously said that it should be a blueprint for other large cities to follow.

In reaction to these announcements a spokesman from the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) told CBW: “CPT will be looking at the details of the legislation when it emerges.

“The industry firmly believes that bus operators working in partnership with local authorities continues to be the best way to deliver high quality, reliable bus services which meet the needs of passengers.

“CPT and the industry will work closely with any city or city region who wishes to take forward the option to franchise local bus services under the control of an elected Mayor.”

David Sparks, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “The Cities Devolution Bill is great news for our larger cities but we want to make sure the benefits of devolution reach all corners of England.

“Making decisions at a more local level will bring about huge economic and social benefits and with non-metropolitan England responsible for 56% of economic output the case for wider devolution is clear.

“We believe the push to decentralise power should be extended to these non-urban areas and are ready to work with the government to meet this aspiration.”

Guide Dogs is campaigning for all new buses to include audio-visual next stop and final destination announcements to enable people with sight or hearing loss to travel safely and with confidence. Campaign Manager James White said: “The devolution and franchising plans will be a valuable opportunity for authorities to make sure all new buses are safe and accessible for people with sight loss.”

Bill Freeman, Chief Executive of the Community Transport Association (CTA) believes the devolution plans could actually go further. “We would like to see these powers extended beyond combined authorities with elected mayors. There are many more areas, such as our rural counties, where the public would benefit from local transport being shaped with their interests in mind.”

David Brown, Director General for the Passenger Transport Executive Group (PTEG) on buses told CBW: “We welcome the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to new buses legislation which offers the opportunity of simpler fares across all operators and modes as well as clear and consistent information for passengers.

“We have long argued that city region transport authorities need a more effective legislative toolbox for improving bus services. This should mean a simpler process for introducing the franchising of bus services as well as making it easier to offer simpler, multi-modal ticketing where services remain deregulated.
“At the same time we would also like to see a new package of consumer rights to give bus passengers outside London new rights on complaints, as well as on information about fares and performance. We look forward to a dialogue with government on how this new legislative package can give passengers better bus services as part of the modern and integrated transport networks that our city regions need if they are to fulfil their potential to deliver economic growth.”