New cross-boundary 'total transport authorities' (TTAs) should be set up in towns and rural areas to provide integrated delivery solutions and take control of devolved powers and funding, a leading economic think tank has urged.
Building on work already started within local government under the 'total transport' pilot schemes, the Institute for Public Policy Research has recommended the initiative be taken even further in light of cuts to local services.
'We believe that there is a compelling case for the creation in towns and rural areas of new ‘total transport authorities’ that would bring together decision-making on bus services and other sustainable, public transport in travel-to-work areas,' the report states.
'These bodies should be empowered to take on regulatory powers to franchise bus routes in their area, bring together all public funding for buses and other sustainable public transport – initially from local authorities but, in time, from other public bodies – in their region, and encourage innovation and cooperation by bus operators.'
The reforms could encourage the delivery of bus services by a much wider range of providers, including social enterprises, community investment companies and municipal companies, IPPR suggests, as the TTAs would 'pool capacity and expertise rather than creating new bureaucracy'.
A similar system has already been proposed for Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, evolving from the Network Northamptonshire total transport project, which is expected to deliver savings of as much as £1 million per annum.
IPPR suggests that the Government’s Buses Bill - announced in this year's Queen’s speech - which allows authorities outside London to taken control of the deregulated bus market, could be amended to allow these reforms to take place.
The report authors state that while bus services have 'thrived' in London under its franchise model, elsewhere they have been 'decimated by a vicious cycle of falling patronage, rising fares and cuts to services, a process exacerbated by severe cuts to both local authority budgets and subsidies for bus companies'.