In a recent statement, the Traffic Commissioners have issued a clarification to set out their approach to local bus service registrations whilst discussions are ongoing within the Government on arrangements for future funding.
Whilst consideration on a future funding package for local bus services remains ongoing within the UK and Welsh Governments, there is concern that uncertainty over the outcome may result in operators choosing to cancel or vary service registrations before a final decision on funding has been made. Reflecting the purpose and intent of the legislation, the Traffic Commissioners say they will seek to continue supporting the bus operators, whilst ensuring that the users of local bus services are provided with sufficient notice of any changes to a registration, and set out a regulatory approach which they say aims to provide a balance between those needs and ensures operators and passengers are in the best possible position to make informed decisions on arrangements going forward.
The approach only applies where the registration function is undertaken by a Traffic Commissioner, and not to any registration where the local authority has already assumed responsibility under an Enhanced Partnership scheme; in those areas, operators are advised to contact the relevant local authority.
Operators are still required to observe the statutory requirement for a local authority in England to receive a pre-registration notice of 28 days for any change to a service registration, and advised to work with those authorities where service changes are proposed.
The Traffic Commissioners say they will continue to consider applications for short notice changes on their individual merit, in accordance with the legislative grounds. The guidance issued states that it is likely that a Traffic Commissioner will find the current uncertainty around the funding available beyond March 2023 in England and Wales as meeting the statutory test of circumstances that could not have reasonably been foreseen, on the basis that an operator could not have reasonably been expected to take the required action without knowledge of what funding was likely to be available beyond March. The statements adds that a Traffic Commissioner will adopt a starting position that the 42-day notice period in England or 56-day notice period in Wales will be reduced to 28 days.
If an operator submits an application to vary or cancel a service and then subsequently wishes to reverse or change that registration further following funding agreement, a new application for registration or variation must be submitted, applying for a short notice dispensation, either on the grounds of unforeseen circumstances or the replacement of a substantially similar service. Once a decision on ongoing funding is agreed, the Traffic Commissioners will review the temporary provisions.