Government Replies To The Transport Select Committee Bus Inquiry!

I have been involved in the UK Bus industry for my entire career, indeed I could argue, my whole life as I was born into the bus industry, and my young future was shaped by my fathers career as a senior manager within the National Bus Company. Anyone who has been kind enough to read these blogs will know of my deep and passionate promotion of the cause of the good old humble Omnibus as the champion of the public transport cause. Therefore I must confess that I was genuinely pleased when I read of the recommendations made by the Transport Select Committee, following long and detailed discussions with all elements of the industry, including CILT.

So, it was with anticipation that I read the response from the Government that was published this week. And I have to admit that after many years of indifference to the bus industry there finally appears to be a genuine and sensible approach to developing the real contribution that the bus can make through the long overdue introduction of a national bus strategy. This is exactly what the Industry and more importantly society needs to instigate and deliver, all as part of one national coordinated strategy. The Government report addresses all the 21 suggestions addressed by the bus inquiry. The top 5 headlines I have para phrased below are as follows;

1 While the Government agrees with the implementation of what it calls the “full suite” of operating models to local authorities that does include franchising and municipal operators”. The government does not believe that at this point in time there is any real appetite for introducing franchising for Local Authorities, this is predicated on the fact that no Local Authorities have to date expressed a genuine desire to instigate a franchising regime, in addition there has not been any serious interest in setting up any new municipal Bus Companies. The Government take the view that not implementing franchising legislation would encourage operators to invest, after all why pump millions in buying new vehicles if you might find that the business might find itself under threat if a franchising process was implemented and the investing Company lost.

2. The Government would also seek to introduce a “more stable multi-year funding module’ for local transport that would include buses, that would be introduced by next summer. In addition it may consider other reforms to transport funding at the next spending review which will commence in the summer of 2020.

3 BSOG reform was also on the horizon, reviewing exactly what it was intended to achieve, and how it will be reformed in order to achieve its objectives. The logic would also include promoting the update of zero emission for all buses, and “provide support to marginal rural bus services”. It did however disagree with the suggestion to review how concessionaire passes are funded. The reason for this is because at present a Government department are presently reviewing this as part of a larger project.

4 On Bus priority the reply stated that ‘There are still further actions Government can take, and as part of the preparatory work for its new national Bus strategy. This will include discussions with the Confederation of Passenger Transport, the Local Government Associations, amongst others, in order to promote the value of bus priority measures. In addition it announced that the Real Time Information platform it is funding will go live from January 2020. This will require operators to provide routes and timetables data, and from 2021 bus Companies will be required to supply basic fares and tickets data, covering the most common and basic fares and ticket types.

5 The other key issue that it intends to tackle is recruitment and staff retention and just how this eternal challenge can be improved. It is intended to convene a round table involving bus operators, trade associations, and trade unions, before the summer of 2020. I personally would very much like to be involved in this process, which will also quite rightly include drivers hours, and the duty on operators to manage the risks of fatigue under health and safety legislation.

In conclusion reading this report was quite honestly refreshing and uplifting because for someone like me who has devoted my entire career to promoting the bus against a depressing background of passenger numbers declining, and congestion getting worse. At long last the powers that be are listening and acting. Pivotal in this reform I’d Lillian Greenwood MP, Chair of the all party transport select committee. She has done a detailed and patient job with her team in delivering the report that if implemented will secure the future of the bus industry and its vital role in serving the nation and the communities within it. Just marvellous, well done .

Written by Austin Birks

October 21, 2019

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