Scottish Government looking to implement franchising

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Humza Yousaf was more supportive of the bus industry when he spoke at the UK Bus Summit in February. JAMES DAY

SNP is also keen to allow the establishment of new ‘Lothian-style’ municipal operators

Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf has said the Scottish Government is looking to put a franchising model in place, the Sunday Post reported.

News reports over the weekend stated that SNP ministers are planning to give councils the power to introduce franchise deals and to allow councils to establish new municipal bus companies.

Humza Yousaf said: “The bus passenger figures in Scotland are bad news.

“I am not happy to preside over this decline so I want to at least put in place the measures that will reverse the trajectory.

“The franchising idea would give a voice to bus users at a local level.

“The Bus Services Bill is enabling legislation, so it is local authorities coming up with the ideas. They could franchise their entire area, a certain city or town.

“What they would also do is take those socially necessary services, which might not be commercially viable, bundle or package them together, and then they might be an attractive proposition to franchise.”

Mr Yousaf cited Lothian Buses’ success in ‘bucking the trend of declining passenger numbers,’ and hoped the performance could be repeated elsewhere.

He added: “People talk about the legal dubiety around whether other local authorities could create a similar model to Lothian Buses. What I will look to do in this Bill is remove this uncertainty so if a local authority wants to go down this road then they can.

“This is not re-regulation. Wholesale re-regulation is not the answer to reversing the decline, and private companies of course would be allowed to bid for franchises along with any publicly-owned operator.”

Reacting to the reports, George Mair, Director of CPT Scotland, told CBW: “CPT is surprised at the apparent change in position from the Transport Minister since addressing the UK Bus Summit in February. If the weekend’s coverage is accurate, the Minister seems to have arrived at a position on franchising which foregoes any consultation on a draft Transport Bill.

“The challenges facing bus services in Scotland today are nothing to do with the regulatory system. They are the result of a series of factors including significantly reduced public sector investment in bus networks, a double-dip recession, low costs of car ownership, changing social patterns which have led to more internet shopping and less high street retail footfall. Creating a franchising system will do little to change this.

“Neither will it address the growing problem of traffic congestion in our towns and cities which is damaging air quality, slowing bus journeys, undermining the economy and pushing up transport costs for all.

“Despite this, bus fares in Scotland are lower than the UK average, while passenger satisfaction remains high. The majority of cuts to bus routes have been to those which are funded by local authorities who, like bus operators, face tight budgets and finite resources. Franchising would be a massive unnecessary cost and risk to taxpayers in Scotland – at a time when public funding is already under huge pressure.

“A partnership approach, with all parties delivering on their areas of responsibility, makes the best use of these limited resources and the reality is that it is practical changes rather than ideological changes that are needed to further improve services for bus users across Scotland.

“CPT will meet with the Transport Minister in the coming weeks to discuss his reported comments and to continue dialogue around what the forthcoming Transport Bill can do to help Scotland’s bus operators deliver for our passengers.”