Select Committee on Transport Third Special Report



Buses play a crucial part in the transport system with over four billion passenger journeys a year, two-thirds of all public transport journeys.

Since 2000 the numbers of bus passenger journeys has been increasing but this has largely been driven by large increases in London. A more recent development is the impact of free concessionary fares for older and disabled people which since April 2006 has given a boost to patronage in areas in England outside London, especially the non-Metropolitan areas. Despite these increases in patronage, outside of London the underlying trend is of patronage decline interspersed with areas that buck the trend.

It was because of this continued general decline in bus use that the Government decided to undertake a review of bus services. "Putting Passengers First: The Government's proposals for a modernised national framework for bus services" was published on 12 December 2006. A draft Road Transport Bill is due to be published in Spring 2007 to take forward the majority of these proposals.

In developing its proposals the Government was grateful for - and took due account of - the Committee's report into bus services.

1. Bus patronage figures have been in decline since the 1950s. Nationally, that decline has not been reversed since the introduction of deregulation in 1985, although journeys in London have increased. We welcome the Government's commitment to look at this problem from first principles and to put into place any new arrangements that may be required. Modal shift from car to bus is vital if the United Kingdom is to properly tackle congestion and reduce carbon emissions. (Paragraph 17)

The Government agrees with the Committee that the decline in bus patronage outside London is a problem, and that buses can play an important role in mitigating the problems of congestion, including its impact on the environment. The recent boost in patronage following the introduction of free concessionary travel in April 2006 has meant that for metropolitan areas total patronage has remained static, largely because all of them already offered free or cheap fares to their elderly and disabled residents. In non-metropolitan areas outside London strong growth has been experienced, though this is not expected to reverse the underlying decline in bus use.

It was for these reasons that the Government decided to undertake a review of bus services, announced by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, Gillian Merron MP, at the Committee's hearing on 28 June 2006. The conclusions from this review, "Putting Passengers First: the Government's proposals for a modernised national framework for bus services", were published on 12 December 2006. The document sets out the Government's thinking on the future direction of bus policy.

The Government has announced that it will publish a draft Road Transport Bill in Spring 2007 that will include the powers necessary to facilitate improvements in the regulation of buses.

2. Quality Contracts would provide Passenger Transport Authorities with the security and control that they require to implement efficient, desirable bus networks within their areas. The Committee is concerned that no Authority has felt able to apply for such a Contract given their evident dissatisfaction with the present arrangements. (Paragraph 30)

3. As part of any move to simplify the Quality Contract procedure and enable Passenger Transport Authorities to implement them in their areas it is important that an objective analysis is made of the difficulties Authorities and operators have in working with one another in Partnership. Even with enforceable contracts, it is vital that a détente is reached between these two groups to ensure that bad relationships do not persist into any new arrangements. (Paragraph 31)

4. It is not clear whether the London system could be transplanted wholesale into other metropolitan areas. While some of the measures that have been implemented so successfully in London are available to PTA areas, they have not been used. Our evidence indicates that this is because the PTAs are not confident that the efforts that have been put in so far are met by a reciprocal commitment by operators to improve services. (Paragraph 35)

5. If PTA areas are to get the bus improvements that they need, there must be a system available for the Authorities to use to guarantee that investment on their behalf will be met with improvements on the part of operators. Quality Contracts are the way to do this. (Paragraph 36)

6. The Department told us that it was willing to look at 'new approaches' to providing bus services. It should therefore back some trial areas in PTAs within the next year or two which could try different variations of the 'London system' and Quality Contracts - with no strings attached. (Paragraph 44)

7. In the longer term, Quality Contracts would enable PTAs to develop the integrated network they - and passengers - want. The Department must recognise the futility of continuing to insist that the PTAs work within a system that they do not like and apparently do not feel that they can trust to deliver a better bus service. To this end, the Department should revise the Quality Contract process with a view to making them easier to obtain. The wording should be changed to facilitate a Contract - if it is demonstrated to be the 'best' way of implementing a clear transport strategy aimed at increasing use of public transport, rather than the 'only practicable way' approach currently applied. (Paragraph 45)

8. This Committee is clear that any threat of legal action by bus operators against PTAs who wish to introduce a Quality Contract is tantamount to intimidation and is unconscionable. If Quality Contracts are to work, the Department must find a way of indemnifying PTAs from any such legal action or propose changes to the law which would make such a challenge impossible. We are concerned that the Department does not know itself what the legal position is in terms of the Human Rights Act 1998 and its implications for Quality Contracts, if indeed there are any. We would like the Department to issue firm guidance on this matter and also to make available any relevant legal advice it received at the time of the Transport Act 2000. (Paragraph 46)

The Government agrees that local authorities should have the option of utilising Quality Contracts scheme powers where they would best address the problems facing their areas. To date, no authority has submitted such a scheme to the Secretary of State for approval. This is due in part to the difficulties of taking a scheme through the statutory process.

Following its bus review, the Government has concluded that the current powers around Quality Contracts schemes need to be reformed in order to make this form of competition a realistic option where circumstances demand it. In doing this it will be important to ensure that local authorities are aware of their obligations, for example in relation to financial support and the provision of bus priority measures, and that the contracts procured make best use of the expertise of the private sector operators and promote continued competition.

The Government has proposed the following changes to the Quality Contracts scheme regime:

  • to revise the legal test which must be met for a Quality Contracts scheme to be approved. In particular it is proposed that the "only practicable way" test should be replaced by more appropriate "public interest" criteria;
  • to remove the Secretary of State's approval role. The Government's view is that this places decision making at the wrong level and inhibits the Department from working with stakeholders in working up such schemes. The proposal is therefore that a panel of expert assessors, headed by the Senior Traffic Commissioner, will approve Quality Contracts schemes, with a right of appeal to the Transport Tribunal;
  • the Government is considering whether the current time limits on contract duration could be extended, taking into account the emerging European Union Regulation on Public Passenger Transport Services. Longer contract periods could improve the conditions for operators to invest and innovate.

A key component of delivering good bus services is constructive partnership between local authorities and bus operators. At the national level the Government has encouraged this through the work of the Bus Partnership Forum, a group comprising both local authority and operator representatives. The Forum will be central to the work to develop the proposals flowing from the bus review. A sub-group of the Forum has been looking for some time at how best to enhance partnership arrangements and their views have informed the bus review. Further groups have been formed to advise on the detailed implementation of policies on Quality Contracts schemes and punctuality arrangements.

The Government is sympathetic to the view that early experience in some areas will help inform the roll out of the policy tool kit in Putting Passengers First. It is envisaged that the new criteria and guidance should encourage a phased approach to the introduction of any such schemes. We would not want to see local authorities introducing a Quality Contracts scheme for the whole of an urban area at the same time under one contract, but rather let contracts for smaller parts of the network. This would have the benefit of facilitating bids from small as well as large operators, encouraging a competitive market for future contracts, as well as providing an opportunity to test the regime on part of a bus network and use that experience to improve future contract arrangements. It is worth noting that the tendering arrangements in London were introduced gradually and that good practice there has evolved in the light of many years' experience.

The Government agrees that it is not clear that the London experience can be replicated wholesale in other metropolitan areas. London is unique on many counts and it is not easy to isolate the reasons for their success on increasing bus patronage. The route franchising system has been successful but it is resource intensive, both in terms of management and funding. However, the Government believes that the potential benefits of a franchising-style system should be made realistically available through a revised Quality Contracts scheme regime.

9. Whilst PTAs insist that they have the 'public interest' at heart, it is important that the Contracts themselves are democratically accountable. This means that all affected local authorities in a PTA area must be party to any Contract. Local authorities should retain their highway powers and become partners with the PTAs, with a duty to provide priority measures and traffic constraint. Contracts will also have to be enforced. (Paragraph 47)

The Government agrees that effective joint working between public authorities is essential. The current local government structure in metropolitan areas may not be best suited for the successful delivery of Quality Contracts schemes. In particular, there are concerns about the decision making structure in PTAs given that district authorities rather than the PTEs hold all the roads, traffic and parking powers. The PTA/PTE has no direct control over the delivery and enforcement of bus priority measures. All of these are key elements in delivering successful bus services.

The Government considers that governance reform would be an important part of any proposal to introduce a Quality Contracts scheme in a metropolitan area. It is proposed to facilitate more effective local transport leadership through the draft Road Transport Bill. The legislation will recognise that no one governance model will suit all six PTA areas and we would want to work closely with local authorities on any reforms.

It is envisaged that the enforcement of Quality Contracts schemes, as at present, would be a matter of contract management for the local authority in accordance with the terms of the contract. In metropolitan areas that would be the PTA/E.

10. The Committee commends the important work done by the Traffic Commissioners, despite their limited numbers and resources. (Paragraph 53)

11. It is critical that the Commissioners are retained as an independent entity. In our view, the Commissioners need a much higher profile and more resources - both in terms of money and people. This is an important investment for the future of the bus industry, and one the Department must make. The advantage of the independence of the Commissioners cannot be understated if they are to take a stronger enforcement role, and we believe that they should. (Paragraph 54)

12. The powers of the Commissioners should be strengthened to allow them to enforce Quality Contracts in PTA areas and partnerships elsewhere in the country and to penalise both operators and local authorities/PTAs when they do not meet their obligations. The Commissioners must have the powers to allow them to guarantee a certain quality of service. (Paragraph 55)

13. While we welcome the apparent willingness of some bus operators to share journey information with the Commissioners, the present arrangements are inadequate. It is vital that the Commissioners have the information they need to do their job properly. To this end, we recommend that the Commissioners should have an automatic right to any journey information held by the bus operators. If there are commercial sensitivities in any such information, the Commissioners will have a duty to keep it confidential. (Paragraph 57)

The Government joins with the Committee in commending the work done by the Traffic Commissioners.

The Government's bus review examined the role of the Commissioners, in particular in relation to their powers to penalise poor performance on punctuality. The Government agrees with the Committee that Commissioners could deploy their powers more effectively if they had better punctuality information at their disposal.

Following the bus review, the Government has proposed to initiate work with stakeholders to develop a new performance regime which:

  • places bus operators under a duty to provide regular, reliable data to the Traffic Commissioner;
  • enables Traffic Commissioners to investigate problems of reliability and punctuality, and call for evidence from local authorities and operators and require them to plan remedial measures; and
  • allows more proactive implementation by means of the current and/or new powers in relation to both operators and local authorities if performance fails to improve.

Consideration will be given to the resources and the type of support which the Traffic Commissioners will need to carry out this work, and other new functions proposed for them in "Putting Passengers First".

It is not intended that the Traffic Commissioners would enforce any Quality Contracts schemes. That would be for the contracting local authority.

14. It is clearly important, particularly for PTAs who often lack trust in their relationships with operators, to establish the minimum profit bus operators (of all stripes) need to stay afloat and fund investment and to what extent this is being achieved or exceeded. We recommend that the Government commission a study on this aspect of the bus industry. (Paragraph 61)

Defining the terms of such a study would have many problems. For any given company the appropriate level of profit and return will be highly dependent upon a large range of factors including: different costs, revenues and patronage and expectations over how these change over time, the level of risk on activities, the asset base including the age and quality of vehicles and current and future investment plans. The different ownership structures would also complicate the analysis. For example, the larger bus operators have diversified into light and heavy rail and some have extensive overseas operations. Different accounting policies and allocation of common costs would constrain any comparisons of returns to individual operations.

All these factors suggest that a general statement about the appropriate profit level would not be tenable. The level is likely to be different for each operator in each PTA area.

A high proportion of profit is reinvested in new vehicles, so higher profits can have a crucial role in allowing bus operators to grow the market, and providing a reward for having done so. However it is also important that bus operators act in the interest of bus passengers. The greater use of new regulatory and partnership models should allow more benchmarking and comparison of bus operators' performance between different areas and under different regulatory regimes.

15. 'Competition' is clearly failing many non-core routes and the communities that depend on them. The current situation cannot go on. Local authorities' budgets are stretched. We see no reason why a different kind of Quality Contract could not be employed by local authorities, outside of the PTAs, to secure socially necessary services. In some areas, where partnership is working well, there will be neither the desire nor the need for change. Change should not be forced upon them. However, for those areas where there is a problem, there should be a better solution available. The Department should look seriously at this and any other suggestions for tackling the problems outside PTAs and report back to the Committee on its conclusions before July 2007. (Paragraph 65)

Local authority support for socially necessary services is an important aspect of overall bus subsidy provision. It therefore forms a part of our current review of whether changes to bus subsidy arrangements would contribute to improved delivery of our objectives.

A number of initiatives by the Department in recent years have sought to assist local authorities in getting best value from expenditure on subsidy of socially necessary services; for example:

  • the introduction of accessibility planning which will help authorities to target effectively their support for meeting the public needs for access to education, health, leisure and other services in the area;
  • the publication of revised and updated Best Practice Guidance on tendering; further work on encouraging improvements in tendering practice is being taken forward under the Gershon Efficiencies programme;
  • an increase in local authority freedom to award subsidy contracts without using competitive tenders in cases where they consider direct award is justified and good value for money.

We recognise that local authorities often face difficult decisions on priorities, and that cost pressures have added to the demands on local bus budgets. However, it is worth noting that Revenue Support Grant settlements, the main source of local authority support for bus services, have risen in real terms every year since 1997. In addition, the Government provides over £50 million a year to local authorities in the form of Rural Bus Subsidy Grant.

Quality Contracts schemes will remain as available to rural areas with a higher proportion of supported non-commercial bus services as to a PTA. We agree that Quality Contracts schemes are only one option and may often not be the appropriate one. Where partnership is working well, it should be encouraged and there are proposals in "Putting Passengers First" to strengthen partnerships.

16. Community transport helps the most disadvantaged in our society and relieves local authority resources. The Government must hold a consultation on reform of the community transport system, offering options of modifying the current permit scheme or a complete overhaul and a unified permit scheme, as it promised two years ago. (Paragraph 68)

The Government agrees that the voluntary sector could potentially play a much larger role in providing transport, particularly in rural areas.

The White Paper "Our Countryside: the future - A fair deal for rural England" (Cm 4909, November 2000) announced that the Government would consult on possible changes to the eligibility rules governing community transport so as to reduce the barriers to further expansion of the sector. The draft Road Transport Bill provides the legislative opportunity to follow up on this recommendation. The Government will discuss some or all of the following with interested parties in advance of the draft Bill:

  • amendments to section 22 of the Transport Act 1985, regarding permits for the provision of local services for the general public, to allow drivers to be paid and allow vehicles capable of carrying more than 16 passengers to be used;
  • amendments to section 19 of the Transport Act 1985, regarding permits issued to bodies concerned with education, religion, social welfare etc that are not allowed to carry members of the general public, to allow the use of vehicles capable of carrying fewer than 9 passengers, and to simplify the permit system so that all permits are issued by the Traffic Commissioner.

In taking this work forward, it will be necessary to take into account not only the views of community transport providers but also the concerns of smaller commercial operators that serve similar markets.

The Department also launched a report on Social Enterprise Day (16 November 2006), "Enterprising Approaches to Rural Community Transport", which looks at the role of social enterprise in community transport and how these approaches can benefit their organisations, and their respective customer groups. We are working with the Plunkett Foundation and the Community Transport Association on taking the recommendations forward.

17. It is ridiculous that bus operators are forbidden from providing through-ticketing and co-ordinating scheduled services. There must be a thorough review of how the Competition Act applies to bus services. The Office of Fair Trading states clearly that it does not view the bus as being in competition with the car. This is wrong. It must look again at the reality of competition 'on the road'. If necessary, the legislation should be amended to reflect this. (Paragraph 71)

Co-ordinating services that run "end to end", rather than along the same route, is not an anti-competitive practice. The OFT has already considered aspects of this issue and, with regard to ticketing, a number of jointly marketed multi-operator tickets and travelcards are permissible under the Block Exemption Order, which has recently been extended and revised to make it more flexible, in particular in the revenue-sharing arrangements permitted.[1]

Following consultation with transport operators and local authorities, the OFT published updated competition law guidelines on the public transport ticketing schemes block exemption on 30 November 2006. The guidance takes into account the amendments to the Block Exemption Order that came into force in January 2006, and provides further clarification as to how OFT will apply the block exemption to public transport ticketing schemes, including bus schemes.

The Block Exemption Order allows, among other things:

  • multi-operator travelcards;
  • through tickets;
  • multi-operator individual tickets (allowing choice of operator over a single journey);
  • add-on tickets.

In Putting Passengers First, the Government has proposed to introduce a new legal test to facilitate voluntary arrangements between local authorities and more than one operator, covering frequencies, timings and, where appropriate, maximum fares. The Department is working with the OFT on the competition aspects of this.

18. Congestion is acknowledged by all those involved in the provision of bus services to be a major contributor to the unreliability of bus services. This is particularly worrying because passengers who are driven away from buses because of unreliability are likely to switch to the car, thereby exacerbating the problem. We are concerned that the Government has not acknowledged the role that congestion plays in undermining the provision of bus services and we urge the Government to give a high priority to tackling congestion, in partnership with local authorities, as a central part of the provision of integrated transport services. (Paragraph 74)

The Government agrees that congestion plays a role in undermining the reliability of bus services and that improving bus services can contribute towards tackling congestion.

The Department has set a new congestion PSA target, made up of local targets for the ten largest urban areas. These targets are based on journey times experienced by people rather than vehicles, because of the importance of buses in urban areas.

In its guidance for Local Authorities on developing Local Transport Plans, the Department specifically emphasised the Government and Local Government Association's shared priority for transport, which includes improving accessibility and public transport and reducing problems of congestion. Most local authorities were asked to include strategies for tackling congestion in their Local Transport Plans. In addition, all local traffic authorities are required to set out their approach for how they intend to manage their road networks to secure the expeditious movement of traffic (including buses) under the Traffic Management Act 2004.

The draft Road Transport Bill is scheduled to be published this Spring, supporting the Government's efforts to cut congestion and improve public transport. Local authorities will be given greater flexibility to implement innovative proposals for tackling congestion, with the aim of putting in place packages of measures including local road pricing schemes and complementary transport investment (including buses). 

Ten areas are already benefiting from funding to develop such proposals under the Department's Transport Innovation Fund (TIF). Detailed proposals are expected to be submitted to the Department later this year, and the first scheme could be operational in around four years' time. Up to £200 million per year will be made available from TIF between 2008/09 and 2014/15, if suitable schemes are developed by local authorities. If high quality schemes to a higher value emerge then further funding may be made available. 

In Putting Passengers First, the Government has outlined proposals to develop a new punctuality performance regime for buses. A key element of this is a proposal to bring local authorities within the scope of the regime for the first time by making a clear link with the Traffic Management Act 2004. This is to ensure that local authorities are held to account if bus punctuality is adversely affected by congestion.

19. Highway authorities must recognise that priority measures are in the interests of the entire community. Where possible, and particularly in metropolitan areas, bus lanes should be co-ordinated across local authority boundaries. Bus lanes must also be rigorously enforced by the police or safety cameras in order to actively discourage car drivers from flouting the law. Priority measures, such as bus lanes, should also be open to community transport as a matter of course. It is an anomaly that these vital services do not receive priority on the roads. (Paragraph 76)

The Government agrees that bus lanes should be co-ordinated across local authority boundaries. Guidance published on behalf of the Bus Partnership Forum (The Way Ahead - Bus Priority Resource Pack) describes improvements to bus operations by bus priority measures implemented along a whole route or corridor rather than piecemeal improvements. Typically this could include crossing local authority boundaries.

Camera-based enforcement of bus lanes began in London nearly 10 years ago. It is now for the most part enforced by the London traffic authorities. Transport for London has recorded significant compliance improvements. As part of the integrated approach to bus provision in London, including demand management through the congestion charge, these compliance improvements have contributed to a reduction in average bus waiting times from 6.75 minutes in 2000 to 5.75 minutes in 2004.

Building on that experience, Statutory Instruments enabling traffic authorities in England outside London to enforce bus lanes using cameras came into force in November 2005. Following the subsequent establishment of an independent adjudication service, civil enforcement has, as of 1 December 2006, begun in three authorities: Essex County Council, Reading Borough Council, and Manchester City Council. We understand that a further six authorities currently intend to follow suit within the next 12 months.

During this year, the Department will consult on a rationalised England-wide civil enforcement regime under the Traffic Management Act 2004, which will cover bus lanes and certain other moving traffic offences.

The Government agrees that there are very important benefits in allowing community services to benefit from priority measures. Local authorities can choose which vehicles to include or exclude in a traffic lane and need not be bound by any standard definitions (subject to appropriate traffic signs being designed and authorised).

20. The concessionary fares system in England is a mess. The Government requires local authorities to provide a minimum concession without providing, in the view of many authorities, sufficient funds to do so. The Government plans to put concessions for the over 60s and disabled people on a national footing in 2008. This does not however mean that concessionary national travel will be permitted, just that there will be a uniform minimum standard for all local schemes. It is not clear how this will be administered or even if the amount of funding the Government has announced for the scheme will be adequate. We seek reassurance from the Department that they have begun work on determining how this important policy will be introduced and administered. (Paragraph 84)

There are acknowledged problems in the way concessionary fares are administered in some areas. These largely stem from the need to ensure robust arrangements for reimbursing operators. We are aware of complaints from some that the current arrangements are too complex and open to interpretation. The Department is working therefore with operators and local authorities to put in place more efficient arrangements for the new national concession. It is important that we secure the best deal for the taxpayer, at both local and national level, and reduce the burden placed on the bus industry.

The Government has provided significant funding for the statutory minimum concession. An extra £350 million was provided to local authorities for 2006-07 to fund the introduction in April last year of free off-peak local bus travel within council boundaries. A further £367.5 million will be provided for next year for this. In addition, up to an extra £250 million per year has been earmarked for the new national bus concession available from April 2008. We are confident that this further funding is sufficient to meet the extra costs of the improvements to the statutory minimum concession.

Any local enhancements to the statutory minimum, such as peak bus travel, are funded direct from authorities' own resources, at their discretion, based on their assessment of local need and their overall financial priorities.

To clarify, the new national bus concession which will come into effect from April 2008, will entitle persons 60 and over, and disabled people, to free off-peak local bus travel anywhere in England. So for the first time eligible people will be guaranteed off-peak bus travel across local authority boundaries. The Concessionary Travel Bill (introduced 27 November 2006) will preserve the flexibility for local authorities to offer enhancements or alternatives to the statutory minimum entitlement.

21. There is clearly a problem with the way concessionary fare monies are distributed to local authorities. Neighbouring authorities can be at the opposite end of the spectrum - one having plentiful resources to provide a full concessionary service; the other having to cut back other services to pay for concessions. This needs to be fixed, perhaps by the Department or the Treasury administering the proposed national scheme from 2008. (Paragraph 85)

The Government is aware that some authorities are not satisfied with the existing formula grant system. Equally, local authorities have long argued in favour of unhypothecated 'single pot' funding. The Department, in discussions with Communities and Local Government and HM Treasury, is looking at a number of options for distributing the existing and the extra funding as well as exploring options for how the concession is administered. It is in all our interests that local authorities are adequately funded for providing the statutory concession.

22. Concessions for pensioners clearly promote bus use. Indeed, ridership in many areas may have increased by the end of 2006 thanks to the extension of this scheme. (Paragraph 86)

Bus patronage has increased significantly since the introduction of the free off-peak local bus travel within council boundaries last April. The Department agrees that the improved concession has contributed to this increase.

23. It is right that minimum statutory concessions are currently targeted at disabled persons and the over 60s. There is however a case, made by many witnesses, for an extension of the mandatory concession scheme to the under-16s and others in fulltime education. Concessions for children to use buses to and from school would cut down on the school run and for those in full-time education might cut the numbers of 17-25 year olds who learn to drive and buy a car as soon as possible. A good experience using buses when young could also influence travel choices later in life. Local Authorities must always have discretion to provide higher than minimum standards. (Paragraph 87)

The Government acknowledges that there would be benefits of concessionary travel to other groups of people, such as the young and those in full-time education. It is already open to individual local authorities to offer concessionary travel schemes to children and young people aged 17 or 18 who are in full time education (that power applies to all journeys by young people, not just to and from school or college). And many local authorities choose to do so. In addition, many bus operators do offer reduced fares and season tickets for young people at school or college.

There are no plans at present to make concessionary travel a statutory entitlement for young people. It should be noted that there is no upper or lower age limit on the qualification for statutory bus concessions on the grounds of disability.

Following the introduction of the new national bus concession for older and disabled people, the Government will be spending £1 billion per year on concessionary travel. Any extensions to the statutory scheme need to be fully funded and extending free bus travel to young people would be very expensive, in the order of a further £1 billion a year.

24. There persists a perception that bus services are generally unreliable and of a poor quality; that vehicles are old and inaccessible; that drivers are rude; and that passengers are unsafe and uncomfortable. This image must be countered, not ignored. Although local authorities and operators can clearly be effective, particularly when they work in partnership to 'brand' and promote local services, the Department must realise that it, too, has a role to play. The Department should be prominent in promoting bus use not only to the public but through public policy and guidance. It could do more to monitor the industry or at least give the Traffic Commissioners the tools they need to do it. (Paragraph 93)

The Government agrees that there is a problem regarding the perception of the quality of bus services. Department for Transport surveys of those alighting from buses have shown that bus passengers are generally satisfied with the overall service and this satisfaction has been increasing since figures were first collected in 2000/01. However, household surveys show that those who make little or no use of bus services are less satisfied than those who do. The Government's bus review highlighted this difference in perception as both a challenge and an opportunity. Both sets of surveys also show that while matters such as comfort, cleanliness and driver attitudes are important, none of these rate as high as punctuality and reliability. For that reason, there is an emphasis on punctuality and reliability in the Government's proposals for changes to the bus regime.

As outlined earlier (conclusion 13), the Government's bus review examined the role of the Traffic Commissioners, and changes are being considered that could improve their ability to investigate problems of reliability and punctuality.

25. The public must play its part too. By anti-social behaviour, vandalism, and littering, buses can be made unpleasant and hostile places in which to travel. Sadly, it appears that this type of behaviour is often shown by young people. Schools, particularly those that use a regular bus service, must play a part in tackling this behaviour and educating pupils to respect both the vehicle and fellow passengers. It would be unfortunate if this kind of careless behaviour forced operators to take steps - such as banning food and drink from vehicles - which they should feel entitled to do if things do not improve. We recommend that the Department for Transport work with the Department for Education and Skills to develop policies for encouraging responsible behaviour by students travelling to and from school by bus. None of this, however, should relieve operators of the responsibility for providing a safe, clean environment for passengers by investing in CCTV and other security technology, or by providing security personnel on particularly difficult routes. (Paragraph 94)

Children and young people are perceived to be the source of much anti-social behaviour on public transport. Other passengers report feeling harassed and intimidated, staff experience abuse and violence, and waiting areas and vehicles are damaged by vandalism and graffiti.

But young people are also victims of crime - from adults and other young people. Young people are important users of public transport and surveys show that they have similar fears to adults when travelling.

The Department for Transport developed and disseminated 'The School Run' training programme for bus companies to try to improve the sometimes difficult relationship between young people and bus drivers. In addition to the training, the programme includes a number of 'good practice' checklists to give guidance to schools, bus companies and Passenger Transport Executives on measures they can take to support the drivers e.g. through helping pupils develop more positive perceptions of bus travel.

A number of local authorities, Passenger Transport Executives and transport companies have close relationships with schools to help raise awareness of transport issues and to help young people feel confident and safe in travelling independently on public transport.

The Department has worked to improve safety and perceptions of safety on buses for passengers and staff. For instance, the Safer Travel on Buses and Coaches Panel (STOP) was established in 2002 to look at ways of combating crime and anti-social behaviour on the bus network. Following consultation with the STOP panel, the Department issued guidance in 2002 to local authorities and bus operators on improving personal security for passengers and staff called Get on Board: An Agenda for Improving Personal Security. It covers all parts of the journey, including stations, stops and shelters as well as on vehicles. The Department is considering updating this guidance to take into account recent measures taken by authorities and operators.

26. We commend those cities and counties that have made the deregulated bus system work for them, we rather suspect that they have done so in spite of the arrangements they work within, not because of them. It is clear, however, that for many areas, including all of our major metropolitan areas outside London, the current regime is not working. It has been over twenty years since deregulation, six years since the Transport Act 2000. This leads us to conclude that the current arrangements cannot be made to work. We therefore support the introduction of some flexibility into the system, allowing those transport authorities who feel they need a more structured network, to apply for a reformed Quality Contract. These Contracts should be enforced by the strengthened Traffic Commissioners and will, we hope, deliver the much needed improvements that our cities have long required. Traffic Commissioners should be given the resources to monitor the speed of travel of buses on routes in their areas and have the power to require local authorities to draw up traffic management plans to deal with delays where they require bus priority, or traffic management measures. In more rural areas, authorities should also have the flexibility to apply for Contracts to supply those socially necessary services which currently have to be supported by the public purse. (Paragraph 95)

The Government joins the Committee in commending those local authorities, and bus operator partners, who have made buses a success in their areas. The Government believes that this is due in large part to effective partnership working, with a shared willingness to work together to invest in the long-term future of the bus sector.

However, although some authorities have been able to make the current framework work for them, this has not been the case in many areas. The Government wants to see success in more local authority areas and the aim of the bus review was to identify how the bus policy framework could be made fit for purpose in a variety of situations. The Government believes that the proposals outlined above covering such issues as Quality Contracts schemes, Quality Partnerships and the role of the Traffic Commissioners will achieve that objective.

1   The Competition Act 1998 (Public Transport Ticketing Schemes Block Exemption) Order 2001 (SI 2001 No 319) amended by SI 2005 No 3347. Back

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