Bus services in England outside London Contents

2Delivering bus services

Bus use in England outside London

9.Most journeys on public transport in Great Britain are made by bus.7 In 2017 6% of all journeys—4,941 million journeys—in the Great Britain were made by bus compared with 3% by train.8 For many people buses are essential to their quality of life. Buses allow people to travel for work, education or leisure and provide access to vital services, including hospitals, schools, and community services. Bus operators should put passenger needs first and recognise the extent to which particular groups—young people, older people, and people with reduced mobility or other specific needs—depend on them. Where bus services do not work for passengers it can seriously disrupt people’s lives and reduce their choice and opportunities when it comes to work, education and leisure. People who use buses are largely satisfied with the service they receive. The annual Transport Focus Bus Passenger Survey in 2018 reported that passenger satisfaction with their most recent journey was at 88%.9 This of course does not include people do not use the bus or who have had their bus services withdrawn—who are, unsurprisingly, very dissatisfied. In its evidence to us the Department for Transport recognised the importance of buses:

Buses serve city economies by helping people access work, deepening labour markets, and helping to tackle congestion. They also have an important contribution to make in reducing emissions in cities through moving people from cars onto cleaner ultra-low emission buses. Outside of city centres, they provide access to jobs and services, especially for those without access to a car.10

10.Car use and congestion are both increasing.11 While a few areas of England, mainly cities, are increasing bus use and growing their networks, in most areas fewer people are using buses.12 Across Great Britain the number of passenger kilometres fell by 38% from 2002 to 2017.13 In England, this compares to a 9% fall in the average number of trips across all modes.14 Bus services have been in long-term decline and many individuals and communities who depend on buses have become isolated. This will happen to more individuals and communities if bus services continue to be reduced and withdrawn.

11.In most places local authorities help to fund socially necessary services, which are not being provided on a commercial basis by a bus operator. Spending by local authorities on supported bus services is not ringfenced and has fallen in recent years. In England it fell by £171.6 million between 2010/11 (£374.3 million) and 2017/18 (£202.7 million)—a 46% reduction.15 In many rural and urban areas services have been withdrawn when they are no longer funded by local authorities.16

Bus operating models

12.Bus services in England, Scotland and Wales are devolved. They are also deregulated, except in London, where buses are regulated and operate under a franchising model. Deregulation means that bus operators can determine how, when and where they run their services as well as setting their own fares, as long as they meet certain basic requirements. In England there are six municipal bus companies, where a local authority-owned company operates some local bus services.17 These municipal companies are open to competition from private bus companies, so are not a local monopoly.

13.In London, where bus services were not deregulated, Transport for London (TfL) controls fares and routes, including specifying service frequency, setting and monitoring quality and safety standards, and setting vehicle capacities and minimum standards. It lets contracts to private companies on a route-basis. There have been calls for all parts of England to be able to use similar franchising powers should they so wish. Successive governments have proposed various types of partnership and contracting to improve deregulated bus services and give local authorities outside London a greater say in the provision of bus services. It is too early to say whether the latest attempt, as set out in the Bus Services Act 2017, has been successful. Previous efforts have done little more than slow the decline in bus use that has continued since the 1950s.

14.There are a number of ways that local authorities can work with bus operators. These include voluntary partnerships, statutory partnership schemes and under a franchising model. Many areas choose to implement voluntary partnerships—where local authorities and bus operators work together voluntarily to improve local bus services. When voluntary partnerships are not possible, statutory partnerships can be used.18 Bus partnerships have been encouraged since the publication of a White Paper in 1998: A new deal for transport: better for everyone,19 which proposed statutory Quality Partnerships Schemes (QPS). This allowed local authorities and bus companies to enter into mutual agreements to provide services and infrastructure. This operating model was made easier to implement by the Local Transport Act 2008.20 The main changes were the replacement of the requirement that a scheme must be the “only practicable way” of implementing the policies of the local authority’s bus strategy with a new set of criteria, abolition of the requirement for schemes in England to be approved by the Secretary of State, a new right to appeal for bus operators, and employment protections for affected workers.

15.The Transport Act 2000 provided for Quality Contract Schemes (QCSs).21 In theory these were available for local authorities to regulate their local bus services. QCSs were a similar scheme to franchising where local authorities had “similar powers to grant exclusive operating rights on defined routes or within a defined area”, on the basis of “best value”.22 To implement a QCS a local authority had to jump through a number of hoops.23 To date no local authority has implemented a QCS. Nexus, the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive, worked on a QCS from 2012 to 2015,24 but the QCS Board decided that Nexus was unable to proceed with the QCS.25

16.The Bus Services Act 2017 provided for several models of partnership working,26 building on QPSs, but not every local authority is automatically able to use the full suite of models. The 2017 Act also ruled out the creation of new municipal bus companies. The Government’s view is that passengers will see the most benefit where the commissioning and provision of bus services are kept separate.27 Voluntary partnerships are more widely used as bus operators and local authorities are encouraged to look at the voluntary option first, as it may be able to deliver change more quickly.28

17.Local authorities are under no obligation to tell the Department about any voluntary partnership they have entered, making it difficult to know how many exist. The Department for Transport’s annual bus survey appears to be the best source of information about partnerships. The Minister, Nusrat Ghani MP, told us 20% of bus operators were involved in some kind of partnership,29 either voluntary or statutory. The annual bus survey reports that those who responded to the survey said they were involved in 107 voluntary partnerships in 2017/18. As some local authorities may have a voluntary partnership with more than one operator, this might not mean that 107 different local authorities have bus partnerships.30 Legislation requires that local authorities must inform the Traffic Commissioner when a statutory partnership is created. There are 22 separate statutory partnership schemes in England linked to 14 authorities.31

Bus Services Act 2017—Franchising

18.Franchising allows local authorities to decide how bus services are provided, determine routes, and set fares and standards of service within an area. It is available to all local authorities but only Mayoral combined authorities, and Cornwall as part of its devolution deal, have an automatic right to franchise bus services.32 All other local authorities must apply to the Secretary of State for permission before they can use franchising for provision of bus services in their area. A franchising scheme may be made by one authority, or two or more acting together, and can cover the whole or any part of their area.33 No authority has yet exercised these powers. Franchising has only been an option for a short period of time and there are requirements that must be met before franchising can take place.34 Greater Manchester Combined Authority said that they are looking into using the franchising powers and were preparing an assessment of a proposed franchising scheme.35 Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, told us “We are moving, as quickly as we can, towards using the powers in the 2017 Act.”36

19.The Department for Transport said that “by the end of [2018], all the necessary guidance and secondary legislation will be in place for local authorities to use the full suite of franchising and partnership powers.”37 This has not yet happened. The Minister told us on 13 February 2019 that it would be done “later this year.”38

Bus Services Act 2017—Partnership working

20.The 2017 Act provides for two types of statutory partnership: Advanced Quality Partnership (AQP) and Enhanced Partnership (EP) schemes. AQPs extend the measures that local authorities can offer as part of a partnership from purely infrastructure facilities, such as bus lanes, to service-based initiatives such as parking restrictions and traffic management policies. The Bus Services Act 2017 broadens the requirements that can be placed on operators under an AQP to include the marketing of services, tickets and fares.39 AQPs rely on good relationships between the local authority and the bus operator. EPs go further than AQPs. The local authority and bus operators can agree shared standards. These can include route requirements (such as frequency and timetables) and operational requirements (such as branding, payment methods, ticketing structure and real time information). An EP can only be implemented if a “sufficient number”40 of operators of qualifying local services do not object.41

21.Advanced Quality Partnership Schemes are in use in Birmingham,42 Solihull and Wolverhampton.43 There are no EP schemes currently in use in England, although the DfT said that they are being considered in some areas.44

Voluntary bus partnerships

22.A voluntary bus partnership is an agreement between local authorities and bus operators, whether contractual or not, regarding the provision of bus services. Voluntary partnerships can take many different forms. A partnership allows a local authority and bus operator to make joint commitments to invest in local bus services. For example, a local authority could invest in bus stops and the bus operator will invest in low emission buses.

23.Bristol is an example of a voluntary partnership—between a large operator, FirstGroup, and the local council—that has seen ridership increase. 14.2 million more bus journeys per year have taken place in the City of Bristol from 2009/10 to 2017/18.45 While it has seen ridership increase, Tim Bowles, Mayor of the West of England, told us that there had been problems.46 We heard from the public during our visit that there were continuing issues around the delivery of reliable services. In Merseyside, voluntary partnerships with two large operators, Arriva and Stagecoach, saw the introduction of a new young person’s ticket in July 2015, which has increased the number of young people using buses by 168%.47 Brighton and Hove, where the main provider is Go-Ahead, has seen a 50% increase in bus journeys from 2004 to 2014, which has been attributed to the voluntary partnership.48

24.Matthew Goggins, from MerseyTravel, told us that partnerships work well when both the bus operators and the local authorities have similar aims.49 Anecdotally we have heard that the success of these relationships, which lack the structure of statutory partnerships, can also depend on the individuals involved.

25.A range of bus service operating models is available across England, but only some areas have automatic rights to certain models, while others must apply for these rights. The Government has also put in place legislation to prevent local authorities from creating new municipal bus companies. We do not see why all local authorities should not have access to all bus operating models. We believe that local authorities should be able to choose the best model for their area and all areas should have the same rights to manage bus services using the full suite of operating models in a way that they believe best meets their local needs.

26.We recommend that the full suite of operating models, including franchising, should be available to all local authorities, without the extra condition of going through the Secretary of State. In addition, all local authorities should have the option of creating a municipal bus company. The Department for Transport should not be the gatekeeper for which operating models local authorities decide are most appropriate for providing bus services in their areas. This should be left to local authorities to decide for themselves.

27.It is difficult to understand why the Secretary of State has not brought forward the necessary orders to enable franchising to proceed. We recommend that the Government do so immediately.


7 In England, outside London, 59% of public transport journeys were by bus in 2017/18. Department for Transport, Transport Statistics 2018, 6 December 2018, page 14

8 Cars account for 62% of trips and walking 26% of trips. Department for Transport, Transport Statistics 2018, 6 December 2018, page 4

9 Transport Focus, Bus Passenger Survey – Autumn 2018 report, in England, outside London, 14 March 2019

10 Department for Transport (BHC0052)

11 Department for Transport, Transport Statistics 2018, 6 December 2018, page 16

12 Department for Transport, Annual Bus Statistics, 30 January 2019, page 1

13 Department for Transport, Passenger transport by mode since 1952, November 2018, Table TSGB0101

14 Department for Transport, National Travel Survey 2017, 26 July 2018, NTS0101

15 Campaign for Better Transport, Buses in Crisis, 2 July 2018, page 9

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

17 Blackpool Transport Services Ltd.; Halton Borough Transport Ltd.; Ipswich Buses Ltd.; Nottingham City Transport Ltd.; Reading Buses; and Network Warrington

21 Transport Act 2000, sections 124–134

22 Department for Transport, From workhorse to thoroughbred: a better role for bus travel, March 1999, chapter 6

23 Department for Transport, Quality Contract Schemes: Statutory Guidance, December 2009, Annex A

24 Traffic Commissioners for Great Britain, QCS Board publishes report on Tyne and Wear scheme, 3 November 2015

25 North East Combined Authority (NECA) (BHC0138)

27 Bus Services Bill Committee, 14 March 2017, Col 57

28 Department for Transport, Bus Services Act 2017, Enhanced Partnerships Guidance, 27 November 2017, para 2.4

29 Q474 [Nusrat Ghani]

30 Letter received 5 March 2019 from Nusrat Ghani MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Transport

31 Letter received 5 March 2019 from Nusrat Ghani MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Transport

32 The Secretary of State has said he is minded to grant franchising powers to Cornwall upon request – this is not automatically granted on the face of the Act. The Secretary of State’s reasoning is set out in: Department for Transport, The Bus Services Act 2017: Franchising Scheme Guidance, 2017, p9

33 Transport Select Committee, Bus Services Bill Inquiry, 25 November 2016, paragraph 12

34 See House of Commons Library Briefing Paper: Bus Services Act 2017, page 32–3 for more detail

35 Transport for Greater Manchester, The future of bus services, accessed 21 November 2018

36 Oral evidence taken before the Transport Committee on 7 March 2019, Active Travel, HC (2017–19) 1487, Q191

37 Department for Transport (BHC0052), paragraph 10. We do not have a definitive list of the powers that are not enacted.

39 House of Commons Library Briefing Paper: Bus Services Act 2017, page 31

40 “Sufficient number” means such number of persons as together provide certain proportion of qualifying local services (by number of operators and/or market share). These percentages will be defined in secondary legislation. Explanatory notes to the Bus Services Bill, [Bill 100 (2016/17) - EN] para 162

41 Transport Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2016–17, Bus Services Bill, HC 611, para 12

42 It was originally a Quality Partnership under the Transport Act 2000 and was converted into an AQP following the passage of the 2017 Act.

43 Transport for the West Midlands, Bus Alliance, accessed 31 January 2019

44 Department for Transport (BHC0052), paragraph 12

45 Department for Transport, Local Bus Passenger Journeys, 30 January 2019, table BUS0109a. The data set starts in 2009/10.

47 Merseytravel/Liverpool City Region (BHC0071), paragraph 21

48 Brighton and Hove City Council, Brighton & Hove: A bus success story, slide 4, accessed 3 July 2018




Published: 22 May 2019