This paper explains the policy background to and contents and purpose of the Bus Services Act 2017. It will be updated as the Act is brought into force and implemented over coming years.Jump to full report >>
The Act has been a long time coming. In the mid-1980s the Conservative Government deregulated the bus industry across Great Britain, except in London. From almost the moment deregulation was introduced in October 1986 there have been calls to reregulate it, particularly from the local authorities and Passenger Transport Executives in the metropolitan areas outside London.
These calls have been based on concerns about the decline in passenger numbers; requirements for local authorities to step in and subsidise ‘socially necessary’ services which are commercially unviable; uncertainty about services and timetables; and a lack of coordination particularly as regards fares.
The private bus industry has defended its record, arguing that since deregulation there has been massive investment and modernisation and that it has successfully navigated changes in passenger expectations based on accessibility, the environment and technology.
The Labour Government introduced a type of reregulation in 2000 in the form of a Quality Contract Scheme (QCS). However, no area has ever introduced such a scheme, largely due to concerns about the complexity of the process and a lack of protection from legal challenge on the part of incumbent private bus operators. The closest anyone has come to introducing a QCS is the North East, whose plans eventually fell by the wayside late in 2015.
Since 2010 Conservative-led governments have been moving slowly towards some sort of reregulation for those parts of the country that want it and which meet certain requirements (i.e. a combined authority with an elected mayor). This significant policy change has largely been driven by the ‘devolution agenda’ for England.
The 2017 Act is essentially an enabling Act, extending the ability of local transport authorities to introduce franchising or a new partnership arrangement called an Enhanced Partnership. It also made amendments to Quality Partnerships and renamed them Advanced Quality Partnerships in England and aims to make it easier to introduce multi-operator ticketing and improvements to enhance passenger accessibility and information. The Government has since brought forward new regulations and guidance under the Act.
In May 2017 six regions of England held elections for newly created combined authority mayors (Tees Valley; Greater Manchester; Liverpool City Region; West Midlands; Cambridgeshire & Peterborough and the West of England). A mayor was also elected in the Sheffield City Region in May 2018. These mayors have automatic access to the bus franchising powers contained in the Act. It remains to be seen who will take them up, how and when. Greater Manchester is most advanced at present in its plans.
Further information on bus policy can be found on the bus briefings page of the Parliament website.
Commons Briefing papers CBP-7545
Authors: Louise Butcher; Noel Dempsey