Campaigners have accused the Scottish Government of ‘a brazen attempt to revive the failed policy of bus deregulation’ by ‘coercing’ local authorities into signing up to bus partnership models at the expense of possible public control.
The Association of British Commuters (ABC) said Scotland’s approach was ‘a clear imitation of England’s National Bus Strategy’, which it has also criticised on the same grounds.
A consultation on the implementation of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, which in theory gives local authorities the right to choose between bus partnerships, franchising and municipal ownership, closed on Wednesday (6 October).
However, the ABC said Transport Scotland had already thrown a huge obstacle in its path with the Bus Partnership Fund, which makes forming a deregulated ‘bus partnership’ a condition of access to £500m bus infrastructure funding.
It accused Transport Scotland of pressuring local authorities to sign up to deregulated bus partnerships since before the consultation began, ‘reflecting the coercive approach of England’s National Bus Strategy’.
It said the fund means ‘the Scottish government has effectively committed to continued bus deregulation as their default position’ and that its stance ‘completely rules out the possibility of cross-subsidy; as well as the integration and growth of Scotland’s bus networks’.
According to the Transport Scotland website, the Bus Partnership Fund will enable local authorities to work in partnership with bus operators, to develop and deliver ambitious schemes that incorporate bus priority measures.
It adds: ‘The Fund will focus on the evidence of how bus services will be improved by addressing congestion, but the partnership approach is also expected to leverage other bus service improvements.’
A Transport Scotland spokesperson told Transport Network: ‘We expect Bus Partnership Fund (BPF) applications to be from local authorities in partnerships working towards Bus Service Improvement Partnership (BSIP) status, as defined by the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019.
‘This link is to ensure that the measures sought by local transport authorities are relevant to the needs of services and passengers across their network, so the funding leverages further action and investment from partners via match in kind.
‘A bid for funding through the BPF does not prevent a local authority from exploring any of the toolkit of options offered by the Act and there are no restrictions within the fund criteria on the ownership or management model associated with an application bid.’
Road Expo Scotland and Bridges Scotland will take place from 1-2 December 2021, returning to the purpose-built SEC Glasgow.