Bus services in England outside London Contents


Our inquiry

1.Since the mid-1980s, buses have been deregulated everywhere in England, except London—where Transport for London controls services and fare levels, including specifying service frequency, setting and monitoring quality and safety standards, and setting vehicle capacities and minimum standards. Buses in England are operated by private companies on a commercial basis. Five companies—Arriva, FirstGroup, Go-Ahead, National Express and Stagecoach—account for 70% of the market, with the remainder made up of small, and often local, operators.

2.Bus companies determine what routes they want to run, how they run them and what fares to charge, provided they meet some basic notice and licencing obligations. Bus operators and drivers require a licence to operate and vehicles must comply with certain safety requirements. The Traffic Commissioners have overall responsibility for operator licensing compliance and must be notified of changes to routes, including decisions to withdraw routes.

3.A local authority can only step in where a service it deems to be socially necessary is not being provided by the market. Councils can contract bus operators to provide such services. In some circumstances, councils may face difficult decisions about whether to divert funds from other local services or to not support such bus services at all.

4.The 1984 buses White Paper set out the then Government’s aims of deregulation:

There is good evidence that services could be improved and costs reduced if we went about it in a different way. Without the dead hand of restrictive regulation fares could be reduced now on many bus routes and the operator would still make a profit. New and better services would be provided. More people would travel.

[…] If the customer has the final say, bus operators will look keenly to see where and when people want to travel. If one operator fails to provide a service that is wanted, another will.2

Nicholas Ridley, the then Transport Secretary, stated that the aim of deregulation was “to halt the decline that has afflicted the bus industry for more than 20 years”.3

5.Recent research has shown that the total amount local authorities spend supporting bus routes has fallen and 3,088 routes have been reduced, altered or withdrawn in England since 2010/11.4

6.We decided that the risks presented by declining bus use and continuing financial pressure on local authorities meant it was important that we should hold an inquiry into the health of the bus market. In only a few places is there genuine competition on the road or a choice for passengers. The powers that enable competition for the market on the road5 have yet to be used outside of London. The Transport Act 1985, which deregulated bus services outside of London, promised to deliver lower fares and improved services; it has failed to do so.

7.During the inquiry we received 187 pieces of written evidence and held six evidence sessions, including sessions in Bristol and Liverpool. We are grateful to all those who contributed to our inquiry.6

8.We also held three public engagement events in Leicester, Bristol and Liverpool. We are grateful to the staff of the UK Parliament’s Education and Engagement Service for their help in organising these events, and everyone who came to these events to share their views with us.

2 Department of Transport, Buses, Command paper 9300, July 1984 paras 1.4–1.6

3 HC Deb 12 February 1985, col 192

4 Campaign for Better Transport, Buses in Crisis, 2 July 2018, page 4

5 This means the competition on specific bus routes as opposed to competition within an area.

6 A list of the witnesses the Committee took evidence from, and written evidence submitted to the Committee, is printed in this report. Written evidence and transcripts of oral evidence are available on the Committee’s website.

Published: 22 May 2019