Council chiefs and directors have warned that the Bus Services Bill could disadvantage rural areas and even leave their bus services ‘less sustainable than before’.
The Bill currently provides bus franchising powers – which allow authorities to dictate services in their local area through contracts with operators - only to areas that have chosen to be governed by mayors, or if they get special permission from the transport secretary.
Buses Bill could leave some areas 'less sustainable'
Council directors’ body, the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) has warned this raises concerns over how rural and urban areas with different systems would co-exist.
Parvis Khansari, chairman of ADEPT engineering board said: ‘Some of our members are concerned about parts of the city region devolution proposals on transport. In particular the decision to bring bus services under the powers given to mayors could make bus services in adjacent rural areas even less sustainable than they are now.
‘Similarly devolution of highways asset management and funding in these areas could make it difficult to apply principles of good asset management to local networks. ADEPT believe that the Department for Transport should be involved in the negotiations around City Regions, as they have the expertise to comment on consequence of separating transport strategies in City Regions.’
Ahead of the Bill’s second reading in the House of Lords this week, county leaders wrote to buses minister Andrew Jones to voice concerns, urging ministers to make bus franchising powers available to all counties to prevent rural face authorities ‘being left behind in public transport reforms’.
The County Councils Network (CCN) also highlights that under austerity ‘cutbacks to bus services have had an impact on isolated communities that truly do see public transport as a lifeline’.
In a statement, CCN referenced Campaign for Better Transport’s Buses in Crisis report, which at the time of publication showed that since 2010 £78m had been axed from local authority bus funding in England and Wales, resulting in over 2,400 bus services being reduced, altered or withdrawn.
Cllr Anne Western, CCN economic growth spokeswoman, said: ‘It is crucial the Government pass on franchising powers to all councils, not simply areas that have chosen to be governed by a mayor. Rural communities arguably need sustainable bus services more than their urban counterparts, yet this policy favours the city, not the shire.
‘We want to work with Government to design a Bill that both sustains and improves bus networks, but also ensures that counties are empowered to redesign services, otherwise a golden opportunity to put public transport back on an upward trajectory will be missed.’
She added that there was a lot to be welcomed in the Bus Services Bill, which ‘has the potential to halt the decline in bus usage and create sustainable routes that give passengers a better experience’.