Council bosses have called for automatic access to franchising powers after new polling showed that two thirds of residents want councils to decide on bus services in their local area.
The Local Government Association(LGA) said its polling found that 69% of residents think local councils should be the main decision-makers on bus services.
It called on ministers to give all councils oversight of local bus services ‘so they can maintain and improve them, and protect local routes so older and vulnerable people don’t get left behind’.
In particular, the LGA said councils should get automatic access to franchising powers and control over the Bus Service Operators’ Grant so that public subsidies can be better targeted.
Latest government figures show continued falling passenger numbers with 4.31 billion bus passenger journeys made in England in 2018/19 compared to 4.627 billion in 2014/15 – a drop of 317 million.
LGA transport spokesman Cllr David Renard said: ‘As our polling also shows, the vast majority of residents want to see councils take control over how bus routes operate in their local area.
‘With proper funding and by giving all councils oversight through automatic franchising powers, councils will be better placed to boost ailing passenger numbers and enable more people to use the bus services they rely on every day.’
Graham Vidler, chief executive of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, said: ‘Bus services with fast and reliable journey times, investment in clean and well-equipped buses and straightforward competitive pricing are goals everyone shares and the industry has set out its ambition to achieve a billion more bus journeys by 2030.
‘This will be best delivered by local authorities and operators working in partnership with shared responsibility for improving services.’
He added: ‘While funding from local authorities for bus services has fallen by half since 2010, and resulted in routes being withdrawn, this approach is proven to increase passenger numbers and avoids council tax payers taking on the risk and cost of council control.’