What is it? Why do you want it?
Imagine a place where buses ran on time, were frequent, cheap, and went everywhere in the city. Enthusiasts say that is what Transport for London has achieved. Yet Transport for London doesn’t run buses. It franchises them.
Under bus franchising, the deregulated bus market is suspended and bus operators are only able to provide services under contract to the local transport authority. This approach is used extensively across Europe, in London and elsewhere as it offers a range of significant advantages:
cross subsidy across bus services and other transport modes
unified marketing i.e. one “brand” (not allowed under deregulation)
Consistent standards of service in vehicles, drivers and customer care
One accountable point of contact for customers
Franchising’s supporters claim it brings together the strengths of private operators in efficient service delivery but within a co-ordinated and planned public transport network. It is a mechanism that allows the sensible co-ordination of bus services within a competitive market that drives operators to deliver better value for the public purse.
So what’s the difference?
Bus services in London are regulated
This means they’re run under different legislation to the rest of Great Britain. (Bus services in Northern Ireland are also regulated.)
The bus network and fares are set by Transport for London. Bus operators submit tenders to operate the routes, times and fares laid down. Transport for London pays the bus company to run the bus route and keeps the fares.
Bus services everywhere else in the UK, including Bristol, are deregulated.
Bus companies are free to run services where and when they choose, and can set their own fare levels. They do have to have a licence issued by the Traffic Commissioners. They have to register bus services with Traffic Commissioners, giving them full details of the route and timetable and 56 days notice. However if they want to stop running a service, if it’s not profitable for example, they can do so after giving 56 days notice to the Traffic Commissioner. If a local authority deems a route socially necessary, but it is unprofitable it has to pay an operator to run it.
Franchising for Bristol?
The Bus Services Act 2017 provides Mayoral Combined Authorities (e.g. the “Metro” Mayor) with the powers to implement bus franchising in their area. In effect, the system operated by Transport for London. Other local authorities (e.g. Bristol Council) are able to apply to Government for access to the same powers.
As many bus journeys are now made in London as are made in the rest of England put together, around 2.3 million a year. Many people believe this system would provide better bus services elsewhere. There is a petition requesting a Bristol City Council debate on franchising for Bristol.
You can sign it at: https://www.change.org/p/bristol-city-council-take-control-of-bristol-s-buses
Please do so!