Department for Transport Bus Reform Workshops Roundup
by James Coe
Policy and Public Affairs Executive
Over the last few months the Department for Transport (DfT) has held a series of Bus Reform workshops across the country. The purpose of these workshops was to give local authorities, interested stakeholders, and other stakeholders an opportunity to discuss the future of bus franchising, the Buses Bill, and alternatives to franchising. In total 185 organisations attended the events across the country, including the CTA.
We have picked out some of the key points from the workshops as part of our ongoing work to keep our members informed of the changing policy landscape.
Franchising was the first issue discussed across the sessions. These discussions ranged from developments on the Devolution Deal and The Buses Bill, to the principles and mechanisms of franchising, to the role of statutory guidance in the implementation of franchise deals.
Operators and local authorities both expressed a view that independent scrutiny of any business case should be required. There was a difference in feeling over how this scrutiny should be applied, some suggested that the final decision whether or not to move to franchising should be undertaken by independent individuals or panels. Others suggested that the role of independent scrutiny should be used to prove to local authorities that the business case was appropriate. In addition to this, some workshop attendees suggested that current operators who did not win franchise contracts should be compensated for loss of business.
In terms of the regulation of franchising there were a number of competing views. The regulation and feasibility of permits was discussed, with some attendees believing that central guidance of the use of permits was necessary, while others believing it should be to the discretion of franchising authorities. Alongside this, some attendees raised concerns over the size of contracts and the geographical boundaries in which contracts operate. Passenger groups generally thought statutory guidance on franchising was important, whilst some local authorities believed it was unnecessary.
The second theme discussed was the use of open data and bus registration. The attendees of the workshop broadly supported the use of open data, with some concern over commercial sensitivities. There was also broad support for an easier, simpler, and cheaper electronic bus registration, particularly in supporting small operators.
Following on from this there were then discussions on the use of smart ticketing. The participants reflected much of the research we have been looking at over the last few months in suggesting that passengers are expecting increasingly advanced tickets. The discussion on smart ticketing generally talked about means of electronic payment, and there were points made on how this can be made more accessible for smaller operators, and how this may not be appropriate for all bus users, especially those without bank accounts. Importantly, there was recognition that ticketing schemes should work in tandem with one another, for the benefit of passengers.
Finally, the other important concern raised for community transport operators was a recognition from all groups was the need to provide a better service for passengers, particularly those with disabilities. Additionally, workshop participants expressed a desire that any changes should be made in the spirit of intergraded transport, they should be easy to understand, and available in rural as well as urban areas.
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