Ministers have published the Bus Services Bill, which will introduce new partnership and franchising powers and provide ‘a step change’ in the information available to passengers.
The Bill and an overview document give new detail of the framework for franchising, including the mechanism for allowing authorities without an elected mayor to apply for franchising powers.
Good bus services can help cut congestion
Roads minister Andrew Jones said: ‘Good bus services can help cut congestion and deliver better journeys for hard-working people, helping them get around and get on. We are determined to increase bus usage and these measures are designed to give councils access to a range of powers to help deliver regular, reliable services for all.
‘We are also looking to end the frustration of not knowing when the next service will turn up, by giving software developers the data they need to produce new apps.’
As set out in last week’s Queen’s Speech, combined authorities with elected mayors ‘will have automatic access to franchising powers with no further input from central Government, while, other local transport authorities may get franchising powers 'where the capability and track-record of the authority concerned is sufficiently strong and where there is an appropriate economic geography'.
The Bill confirms that Cornwall, which will not have an elected mayor, will also have franchising powers as part of its previously agreed devolution deal.
To introduce franchising, authorities will have to prepare an assessment of their scheme and consult the public. Key elements of the assessment will have to be assured by an independent auditor.
All councils will be able to enter into new ‘enhanced partnerships’ with bus companies, setting standards for services, including vehicle specifications, branding, ticketing and service frequencies.
Ministers said existing Quality Partnerships will be made more attractive by removing the need for specific facilities such as infrastructure to be provided.
Data about fares, timetables and routes will be made openly available so software developers can produce apps that tell passengers when the next service will turn up.
Ministers estimated that this will lead to an extra five million journeys a year.
Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) welcomed the Bill. Cllr Andrew Fender, chair of the TfGM Committee, said: ‘Under a franchised system the elected mayor for Greater Manchester will have the ability to decide the routes, frequencies, timetables, fares and quality standards for bus services in the city-region.
‘This will help deliver a consistent, integrated transport network and make it possible for every passenger to use their tickets on any bus in Greater Manchester, as well as other forms of public transport.’