In the UK Parliament, the Bus Services Bill is continuing its journey towards receiving Royal Assent. The Bill, should it come into force its current form, will introduce significant reforms to the local bus passenger transport market in the UK outside London (London has a regulated bus market, administered by TfL). The principal reforms will relate to:
- Open data – all bus operators will be required to make data about routes, fares and times open and accessible. The aim is to allow app makers to develop products that passengers can use to plan their journeys.
- New partnerships – new, enhanced, partnerships will enable local authorities and bus operators to agree their own standards for services in their area, including the introduction of common branding, marketing and ticketing rules if appropriate.
- Franchising – to honour the Government’s devolution deal commitments (most notably with the “Northern Powerhouse” cities), local authorities will have the choice to use new powers to franchise bus services in their areas, akin to the way in which TfL operates in London.
These proposals are controversial. Opinion within the bus industry and passenger interest groups is divided as to the merits of certain reforms, particularly the franchising option. At the latest Transport Select Committee hearings held on 12 September 2016, Claire Walters (Chief Executive of Bus Users UK) expressed the view that local authorities should have a statutory duty to provide buses where it is socially necessary and that the best interests of passengers must be at the heart of any structural changes proposed by local authorities should they be given these new powers. Likewise, at a recent panel session during the 2016 European Bus Forum, chaired by Osborne Clarke’s Marc Shrimpling, strong views were expressed from all sides of the debate.
We will continue to monitor the passage of the Bill through Parliament, with Royal Assent expected in mid-2017.
For further information about the Bus Services Bill and its potential impact on the UK bus market, please contact one of our experts.