Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Seventeenth Report


  1. Through the course of this wide ranging inquiry, the Committee has reached a number of conclusions about actions required to improve bus services in England. The conclusions and actions recommended are listed below and cross-referenced to the paragraphs from the main text of the report where more details can be found.
      • Bus companies must commit to a fixed schedule of locally agreed timetable changes to enable the provision of co-ordinated and up-to-date information. To ensure that a stable network of bus services is provided, there should be no need to change the timetable more than six times a year (paragraph 30).
      • The Office of Fair Trading must allow services to be co-ordinated. If the application of the Competition Act to the current de-regulated regime does not permit this then it is clearly at odds with the Government's aim of providing a truly integrated transport system (paragraph 39).
      • We find it unacceptable that the Competition Act is being applied without sound evidence, based on observation and research from the bus industry and bus users. There are significant negative side effects of on-the-road competition, including unco-ordinated services, instability of the network and restrictions on ticket use. Local authorities should be able to make common sense agreements with bus companies about services in their area without fear of investigation by the Office of Fair Trading. Co-operation and co-ordination are not synonymous with collusion. The application of the Competition Act, or the Act itself, must be adjusted to this sensible outcome. If it is not, many local authorities will request quality contract powers as the only means of ensuring a co-ordinated network of bus services (paragraph 40).
      • Bus companies must push ahead with the introduction of multi-operator Travelcard schemes. They should not use the Competition Act as an excuse for failing to progress such schemes. New schemes should adopt Smartcard technology wherever possible, to reduce boarding times (paragraph 41).
      • Bus lanes must be enforced to be effective. The police have a responsibility to police bus lanes and must do so. The Government has promised to decriminalise enforcement of bus lanes fully by the end of the year. We welcome this initiative as it will allow a combination of static cameras, on-bus cameras and mobile patrols to catch offenders (paragraph 45).
      • The Traffic Commissioners should continue to take local traffic conditions into account when assessing the reliability of bus services (paragraph 46).
      • The Department should issue guidance on how to reduce the time taken to design and implement bus priority schemes. It should assess what regulatory burdens can be removed. The responsibility for implementation lies with local authorities. These schemes must be implemented if the speed and reliability of bus journeys are to be improved. The Department should link future local capital funding settlements to progress made in this area (paragraph 47).
      • Bus service withdrawals in one area are not 'offset' by improvements elsewhere. Improvements to other services do nothing for those left without a service or with a reduced service that provides inadequate timings and connections. The trend of increasing service withdrawals is worrying, as it can leave those most dependent on public transport without a service (paragraph 52).
      • The Department must provide more revenue support to ensure that increasing service withdrawals and rising tender costs do not leave areas with inadequate public transport provision. More cost-effective public transport solutions should be sought to improve non-commercial services. It may prove more cost-effective for local authorities to run some non-commercial services. The Department should support the purchase of buses with local transport plan funds where local authorities demonstrate the value in doing so (paragraph 57).
      • The Government must face up to the need for greater revenue support for local public transport. This will benefit both low and high income groups (paragraph 60).
      • The failure to provide adequate public transport has significant hidden costs to the public purse. In particular, we believe the Department should:

    • support the integration of health, social care, school and subsidised transport services through more co-ordinated centres such as that in Cheshire. Greater revenue support will be needed to establish these centres. However, the savings are likely to far outweigh these costs and provide a much better service, achieving better value for money.
    • Commission research into what the costs of failing to provide adequate public transport are to other Government Departments and the economy.
    • Ensure that local transport plans include social exclusion targets such as reducing the number of people whose transport needs are not met and determine whether wider minimum concessionary fares standards can reduce social exclusion (paragraph 65).

      • New targets for bus growth outside London are required. These targets should take into account regional variations in conditions. The targets must be challenging and should be set to achieve a minimum of 10 per cent growth in bus use outside London (paragraph 69).
      • The Department has set targets for improving bus services, particularly reliability, which are welcome. However, the targets relating to the age and accessibility of the bus fleet are not ambitious and should be revised. The Department must also ensure that all aspects of the bus journey including information, pavement quality and easy access bus shelters are improved to make travel easier, not just the bus (paragraph 71).
      • The Police must give greater priority to reducing anti-social behaviour on and around public transport. Attacks on public transport users and staff are as serious as any other form of anti-social behaviour. Bus companies must use the Department's guidance on improving security in partnership with local authorities and police authorities (paragraph 73).
      • Bus services in the areas surrounding London are a poor relation to those services running into and around the capital. This disparity is difficult for the travelling public to understand. Local authorities surrounding London should develop bus strategies to address these problems including, where appropriate, the use of bus quality contracts. The Department should provide greater revenue support for these new strategies to ensure that a stable network of integrated services is maintained (paragraph 76).
      • Bus quality partnerships have shown the benefits of bus companies and local authorities working together. However, bus quality partnerships will only improve services in some parts of major towns and cities, effectively creating a two-tier bus service. Whilst this will help to reduce congestion in major cities, it will offer little to improve services in smaller towns and across rural areas and there is a danger of these services deteriorating still further. The Department must ensure that operators have obligations to improve services outside quality partnership routes. Bus quality partnerships should be strengthened by allowing local authorities to agree minimum service frequencies and fares with operators using the route. Where road space is handed over to buses, the local authority must have some guarantee of the quality and level of service provision (paragraph 86).
      • London has achieved an impressive growth in bus use. The wide variety of factors that contribute to this growth mean it is not possible to attribute this growth to the use of a tendered system of bus procurement. However, there are a number of separate and strong arguments in favour of an approach similar to London being used in other large cities. London has achieved an expansion of services and a level of integration of information, ticketing and fares not seen elsewhere in England. The experience in London shows that if large amounts of public subsidy are used to improve bus services, quick and significant improvements can be made. If such investment is to be made elsewhere, tendering may offer the best way of ensuring accountability for public funds (paragraph 100).
      • The Department should encourage those local authorities that have a strong case for introducing quality contracts to do so. It must remove the barriers to introducing quality contracts, such as the 21 month waiting period for which there appears little justification. The Department must also be prepared to find additional revenue support for areas seeking to boost bus use, particularly to pump-prime new services. It must ensure however, that those authorities given extra resources achieve best value in improving their bus networks and that the money is not siphoned off to other areas. The Department should monitor the first few quality contract schemes closely to ensure that the costs and benefits of quality contract schemes are properly understood in a variety of different geographic areas (paragraph 102).
      • The bus industry should take a more positive approach to bus quality contracts. Instead of down playing contracts as heavy handed regulation, the industry should engage in developing forms of contract that allow for innovation and flexibility for bus companies whilst at the same time allowing local authorities to have influence over minimum service requirements and most importantly, co-ordination of services between operators and modes. Some of these desirable outcomes do not appear possible under de-regulated operation with the current application of the Competition Act. We believe that the bus companies preferred solution of quality partnerships works, but only for some areas and in a limited way (paragraph 103).
      • The Department should investigate whether the quality network proposal can be developed further. In particular, the Department should examine how agreements can be negotiated within the current Competition Act and how this might need to be altered. It must also examine what contractual obligation to the agreements might be required. Local authorities and bus companies should work together to bring forward collaborative proposals showing the extra benefits to the passenger of this new approach (paragraph 108).
      • It is clear that the Department must continue to provide extra funding for rural services to recognise the challenges of rising tender costs and to enable the most successful and cost-effective services to continue to operate once the challenge funding comes to an end. Few schemes will be commercially viable. The Department should publish urgently the results of its study into the effectiveness of the various schemes to enable all rural areas to benefit from the best practice it identifies. The Department should also reduce the bureaucracy surrounding Challenge Fund bids. We recommend that future bids be made as part of Local Transport Plan strategy progress reports (paragraph 115).
      • It is currently too difficult for local authorities to put in place all of the innovative public transport improvements that they desire. A maze of regulations exist, dating from a time when many of these new schemes were not in place and they require simplification. Local authorities should not have to find ways around existing legislation to enable them to introduce new schemes that will benefit the public. We recommend that the Department undertake a full review of the regulations and legislation surrounding flexible transport services to remove these barriers (paragraph 116).


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