19 May 2016
The Bus Services Bill has now been announced in the Queens’s Speech and its publication and passage through Parliament is imminent. This media briefing sets out what this bill will mean for bus provision in England.
Bus services were deregulated outside London 30 years ago. Deregulation was not applied in Greater London, where franchising of routes was introduced instead. This coincided with the abolition of the metropolitan county councils, like South Yorkshire which had pursued a policy of very low fares.
Since 1985/86, bus use in metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas has decreased by a further 52 per cent and 19 per cent respectively. Meanwhile, in London, passenger journeys have increased by 227 per cent over the same period, and now outnumber passenger journeys in the rest of England. So deregulation outside London did not succeed in reversing the decline in bus use, despite some successes where bus operators have invested.
Deregulation also focused emphasis on profit making routes at the expense of low or non-income generating routes. Local authorities often ended up subsidising such routes to maintain their social value but now these services are being lost in large numbers as central Government make deep cuts to local authority grants: in total £22.2 million has been cut from supported bus funding in England in 2015-16.
The Bus Services Bill is widely regarded as offering some re-regulation for bus services in some parts of England but it will not allow local authorities to run bus services. However, it would give areas which have agreed devolution deals a variety of new powers to better plan and manage bus services. Other local authorities would be able to apply for these powers.
The Bill will also have an Open Data section that will mandate bus companies to open up data on fares, timetables and passenger numbers, allowing app development and better planning of bus services.
What we want to see in the Bill
- Franchising: Bus operators and local authorities often work well together but some areas want and need the extra power of a franchise-based approach
- Strengthened partnerships: The Bill should give transport authorities and bus users a stronger hand in partnership discussions
- Rural areas: Rural areas have been hit hard by cuts to bus services. The Bill should require local authorities to conduct thorough needs assessments for public transport to help ensure basic networks are maintained, communities are not cut off and long term planning is fostered
- Financing: Bus services have been badly hit by cuts to local authority budgets and additional powers in the Buses Bill must come with assurances over funding to deliver better services. With central government's main grant to bus operators (the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG)) ceasing to be ring-fenced in local authority budgets from 2017, secondary legislation or a parallel announcement from the Government, is needed to make clear how long term revenue funding of services will be supported.
For further information please contact Richard Watkins on 020 7566 6494 / 07984 773 468 or Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org
Campaign for Better Transport has spokespeople available for comment.
Notes to Editors
- Campaign for Better Transport is the UK's leading authority on sustainable transport. We champion transport solutions that improve people's lives and reduce environmental damage. Our campaigns push innovative, practical policies at local and national levels. Campaign for Better Transport Charitable Trust is a registered charity (1101929).
- Read the Department for Transport’s press release on the Buses Bill here - New Buses Bill to deliver a better deal for the public
- There are 11 areas outside London which have so far agreed devolution deals with central Government.