Council leaders have welcomed plans to extend bus franchising powers to authorities outside London but criticised ministers for restricting these powers to combined authorities with elected mayors.
As part of the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday, ministers confirmed that they would bring forward a Bus Services Bill to give ‘London-style powers to franchise local services’ only to mayoral combined authorities, plus others on a 'case by case' basis.
Cllr Peter Box, transport spokesman at the Local Government Association, said: ‘With government forecasts of an increase in traffic levels of up to 55% by 2040, the ability for local areas to take responsibility for bus services through the option of franchising and greater access to buses data will help councils struggling to avoid gridlock on their roads and local people to access vital services.’
But he added: ‘Franchising should be available to all local authorities who wish to improve bus services in towns, villages and rural areas that are poorly served at present. It should not depend on having a directly-elected mayor.’
Cllr Box also said that the option to franchise ‘needs to go hand in hand with the devolution of bus subsidies’.
Cllr Anne Western of Derbyshire and the CCN
Cllr Anne Western, leader of Derbyshire CC and the County Councils Network’s economic growth spokeswoman, said: ‘The Buses Bill is a golden opportunity to give bus networks the extra assistance they sorely need. Giving councils the ability to franchise services, set their own routes, and set smart ticketing will be invaluable for counties, with rural services seen as a lifeline in isolated communities.
'However, signing up for a mayor should not be the pre-requisite for being granted these powers to improve services, which could halt the decline of bus usage in large pockets of the country.’
She added: ‘The Buses Bill, and appropriate Government funding, is our best opportunity to ensure public transport in counties can continue to support communities and avoid more substantial cost later down the line.’
Labour has previously said it would seek to amend the Bill if it restricted franchising in this way.
Nathan Marsh, smart transport director at EY (Ernst & Young) said the Bill 'could herald just the beginning of a journey to smarter travel and paves the way for cities and regions to reap the benefits of a London-style network'.