Bus franchising on the cards for Scotland, as English services cut again


The Scottish Government plans to introduce bus franchising to reverse a trend of declining usage.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson confirmed that a planned Transport Bill would likely introduce franchising and allow local authorities to set up municipal bus companies.

Scottish transport Minister Humza Yousaf

Transport Scotland said the Bill, whose timing is yet to be confirmed, provides an opportunity for the whole sector to tackle declining patronage by improving the options available to local authorities, including local franchising 'where there is a case for it'.

Transport minister Humza Yousaf said: 'We are concerned about the state of the bus industry, with patronage that has been continually declining since at least the 1960s.

'We will look at whether local transport authority powers can be further improved and what additional support and guidance might be helpful to them. We will also consult on other measures, including local franchising.'

Mr Yousaf told a newspaper last week that the Bill would clear up the 'legal dubiety around whether other local authorities could create a similar model to Lothian Buses...so if a local authority wants to go down this road then they can'.

The UK Government’s Bus Services Bill, which is currently in the Commons, will introduce franchising for some councils but will explicitly bar councils from setting up their own companies.

The news comes as subsidised bus services in England and Wales have been cut again.

The Campaign for Better Transport (CfBT) has published new research showing that two thirds of councils in England and Wales have reduced their spending on supported bus services, with another four authorities cutting subsidies altogether.

CfBT’s ‘Buses in Crisis’ research shows that nearly £30m has been cut from local authority supported bus funding in the last financial year, an 11% reduction in England and 7 % in Wales, compared to 2015/16.

The research also shows that local authority bus funding has fallen by 33% since 2010, with cuts of over £100m and 2,900 bus services suffering cutbacks.

CfBT campaigner Lianna Etkind said: ‘Year on year we are seeing more bus services lost, with some local authorities stopping supporting buses altogether.

'These cuts come on the top of cuts to school transport and the underfunding of free pensioner travel; together these threaten the viability of whole bus networks and will lead to "transport deserts" in some rural and suburban areas where there is no public transport at all.’

She added: ‘We urge the Government to ensure that all local authorities have the full range of powers at their disposal; and to put in place a plan to ensure buses have the funding they need.’

CfBT said Lancashire County Council initiated the biggest cut this year, cutting its entire £7m bus support budget, while maintaining a Community Transport budget of £2m. Middlesborough, Isle of Wight and Torbay Borough also made 100% cuts to bus subsidies in 2016/17.

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