County councils have welcomed the Government’s National Bus Strategy for England, which they said, ‘puts councils in the driving seat of reforms’.
The strategy was published on Monday, more than a year after prime minister Boris Johnson pledged that ‘bus services across the country will be transformed with simpler fares, thousands of new buses, improved routes and higher frequencies’, backed by £3bn of government cash.
As well as repeating a pledge to deliver 4,000 new zero-emission vehicles, the strategy includes a promise to increase councils’ access to franchising powers and ‘review whether it remains right that local authorities cannot set up new bus companies’.
Cllr David Williams, chairman of the County Councils Network, said: ‘This long-awaited bus strategy puts councils in the driving seat of reforms, which is right: they know their communities best and where the gaps in service coverage are.
‘We are very pleased that the National Bus Strategy does not focus on the major cities at the expense of other areas, as the County Councils Network has argued. Offering county authorities the ability to franchise local buses is something we have long called for, and asking the question as to whether the Bus Services Operators Grant should be devolved to councils is a positive step in the right direction.’
Cllr Keith Glazier, chair of sub-national transport body Transport for the South East, described the strategy as a ‘welcome step in the right direction’ but delivering the scale of change needed to shift car users onto public transport will require ‘a long-term, sustainable funding model to drive investment in the years to come’.
He said: ‘Working together, local authorities and bus operators have invested heavily in bus lanes and priority routes, new low- and zero-carbon bus fleets, better real-time journey information and new and easier ways to plan and pay for journeys across different transport modes.'
Laura Shoaf, chair of the Urban Transport Group, which represent large transport authorities, said: ‘We welcome the national bus strategy’s positive and ambitious vision for the future of the bus and its commitment to giving locally accountable transport authorities a key role in determining the future of their local bus services – either through more tightly regulated agreements with existing operators or through the franchising of networks of services.
‘The bus strategy needs to be followed by both a streamlining of the legislation, so we can move more quickly to introduce franchising or enhanced partnerships, as well as by simpler, enhanced and devolved bus funding for transport authorities so we can move rapidly to support better bus networks and cheaper fares.’
Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram, said he would be ‘studying the details closely to see if it matches my ambitions for the future of bus services locally and talking to ministers about securing the funding we need to make our plans a reality’.
Paul O'Neil, managing director of Arriva UK Bus, said it was ‘crucial’ that operators are at the heart of shaping local strategies, ‘agreeing shared commitments with authorities’.
He said: ‘Arriva brings experience of successful bus partnerships and looks forward to working closely with Government and local authorities to help deliver these important ambitions, ensuring a thriving and sustainable bus sector throughout the country.’
The strategy was also welcomed by Campaign for Better Transport, whose chief executive, Paul Tuohy, called it a 'hugely ambitious and much needed boost for local buses'.
He said: 'We are pleased that the Government not only accepted our calls for a National Bus Strategy, but that the Strategy aims to deliver many of our key asks. As ever, the devil is in the detail, but this is an important step for local buses and, if combined with measures to reduce car use, will help to truly make public transport the first choice for journeys.'