26 February 2013: The Government today set out more details of its Better Bus Areas fund. We're all for better transport so we welcome the new fund but it mustn't be a missed opportunity.
The Better Bus Areas fund will allow local councils to take control of some of the funding that bus operators get through the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) plus some additional cash from the Department for Transport (DfT). In return, local councils will have to show that they're working in partnership with bus companies in their area.
Partnerships are a positve way to improve services and benefit passengers, as we're about to show in our report on the St Albans partnership we're involved in. One of the most effective ways they can deliver better services for passengers is to introduce affordable tickets that can be used on different operators, rather than being tied to the company you bought your initial ticket off.
The Competition Commission called for this "multi-operator ticketing" in their report on the bus market and the DfT is going to publish guidance on how to do this soon (though stopping short of legislation to back this up that the Commission also wanted). The guidance on the new fund does mention tickets like these as a good thing but there's little reqiurement to make them happen.
Disappointing too is the lack of mention of improving young people's access to buses. There is clear evidence that young people are losing out when it comes to transport, with non-statutory concessionary schemes for young people being cut back and with the loss of the Educational Maintenance Allowance that many used to help pay with travel costs to college. For those looking for work, transport costs are a barrier, as are the lack of buses serving out of town work locations or for jobs which involve evening or weeked work.
It's therefore disappointing that the guidance on applications to the Better Bus Areas fund doesn't ask bidders to do more for young people. For buses to reverse the decline we've seen over the last few decades, it's vital to improve their appeal to young people and to keep them using buses as they get older. Any policy that fails to do this will be a missed opportunity.