The thorny issue of compensating private operators if councils introduce bus franchising may not be an obstacle for rural areas, according to an officer from Cornwall CC.
The news comes as the president of council directors' body ADEPT, lent her voice to calls for clarification on the future of bus regulation following a controversial ruling in the North East.
This week the North East Combined Authority’s programme for bus franchising received a blow when the Quality Contract Scheme Board rejected the authority's proposals, while suggesting that compensation of up to £226m should be paid to operators under the plans.
The Board's judgement is just an opinion and does not carry the legal weight of a court, however it does provide ammunition to operators in their fight against franchising.
Cornwall has progressed further than any other shire authority on bus regulation, having had its devolution deal confirmed by the Government including a pledge to provide the unitary with franchising powers under the planned Buses Bill.
Michael Crich, Cornwall CC’s director of economy, enterprise and environment, told Transport Network at the ADEPT conference in Manchester last week that the compensation issue was different for the North East because it was predominantly an urban area.
‘Urban bus networks tend to be profitable whereas rural bus networks tend not to be. We already subsidise a lot of the network [in Cornwall].’
ADEPT president Heather Barnes said authorities wanted clarification from the Government of how the QCS Board’s ruling would affect devolution deals, in which bus franchising powers have featured strongly.
‘We need some advice around how we can create now a different arrangement, and whether that North East example will mean that we can’t proceed,’ she said.
Mr Crich said many Cornish bus routes carried few passengers but others, such as Truro to Falmouth, had plenty of buses in competition with each other.
‘Just the announcement that we will get the [bus regulation] powers has changed the market and the market’s willingness to work with us to integrate,’ he revealed.
‘We’ve won that argument that there’s a reason for bus regulation in rural areas. To get the regulations in place, there’s a timescale for us.
‘In 2018 we will complete the signalling upgrades on the main [rail] line. That’s where the big capacity will be. With a half-hourly service up the main line through Cornwall, integrating with that is where we see the real opportunity.
'We don’t need to have buses going between the major towns and Truro because they’re all accessible by the rail network. It’s about driving the passenger to the most cost-effective way of travelling.’
He said a key benefit of bus regulation would be multi-modal ticketing so that someone could travel across the county on different modes without rebooking.