2 August 2011: We are pleased that at least two councils are trying new ways of tendering bus services. This could mean savings are made while passengers are protected.
When a local authority pays a private company to provide any service a contract is drawn up, saying what the Council wants delivered, for how much money and for what duration. The way that these contracts are drawn up is important because they can make a real difference to the passenger experience.
In providing public road transport Councils have an array of contracts that cover school buses, community transport, social services minibuses as well as subsidised bus services. Back in February we wrote to local authorities suggesting that Councils could look to integrate tendered transport provision. We also proposed that Councils think about innovative ways to develop bus contracts, encouraging creative and unusual bids from the operators.
So we were delighted to hear that Dorset and Bedford are both trying new tendering models. In Bedford the use of interchanges, where countryside and urban bus services can meet, will keep rural dwellers connected to the town. Several school transport services are part of the larger contracts and some Council owned vehicles for social care and school transport will also be part of the mix. On top of this the operator will allow under-16s to travel free of charge on all services at weekends and school holidays.
Dorset Council has explained that it is trying to make the most of its considerable consumer power when it comes to bus tenders. Every type of public road transport has gone out to tender; from public bus services, to school services, and special needs and adult care. This is all worth £17m a year and together amounts to 700 contracts. Contracts will now last for five years, much longer than before, saving the cost of re-tendering. It is a competitive process, but one that the Council hopes will help them make savings while continuing to keep the bus network intact. The Council will also be making available adult day care vehicles, at times when they are not used, for taxi bus services.
We want to see the greatest number of public transport journeys made per pound of public money as possible, and new ways of tendering bus services is certainly a positive move. The Save Our Buses campaign hopes that many more local authorities will follow suit and think outside the box rather than making ‘easy’ short term savings by cutting bus services.