Campaign for Better Transport | People need buses: give us a better Bus Services Bill

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Progress in the Bus Services Bill

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The Bus Services Bill continues its journey through the House of Lords: the next reading will be on 23rd November, before the Bill moves to the House of Commons. We are thrilled that the Lords successfully passed an amendment which would make franchising powers automatically available *everywhere*, not just in cities with an elected Mayor.

But the Government have made clear they want to remove this amendment, and it risks being struck out by MPs.

Right now, the Bus Services Bill is going through Parliament. The Bill will give new powers to local authorities outside London to plan and set standards for their bus networks. Local authorities would be able to set fares, to plan a joined-up network of bus routes, and introduce integrated ticketing so that tickets can be used across different bus operators or even on trams and rail in the same city. Thousands of passengers across the country stand to benefit from these new powers.

But the Bill doesn’t do enough to protect bus services outside cities, which have already faced huge cuts. In addition, it restricts how areas without elected mayors would be able to use the powers in the bill. We want to ensure that these new powers benefit bus passengers everywhere, including in towns and villages most urgently in need of reliable, frequent buses.

The Government must back a strong Bus Services Bill that will benefit bus users outside of regions with an elected mayor. A Bill that will protect the bus services so many of us rely on.

Take action today. Ask your MP to support a Bus Services Bill that works for all passengers.

Down at the bottom of this page you’ll see the main changes we are asking for in the Bus Services Bill. You can email your MP using the form below. Personalising your email by referring to your area, and your own experiences of buses, will make your message more powerful.

(A face-to-face meeting with your MP can be even more effective in influencing them. Why not invite your MP to come on a bus trip with you?)

Here are the changes to the Bus Services Bill that we’re calling for:
  • Enabling community groups to nominate bus routes as an Asset of Community Value. This would ensure that any bus routes designated as Assets of Community Value would have a six month moratorium on closing them, to allow time to find an alternative.
  • Strengthening the duty on local authorities to carry out an Assessment of Need for public transport services in their area. Buses aren’t an end in themselves – they’re there to ensure that people can reach work, school, shops and healthcare. There’s already a duty on local authorities in caselaw to carry out an Assessment of Need for public transport, and to, where possible, meet this need, but too often, it’s ignored. The Bus Services Bill is an opportunity to clarify that bus services are there to serve local people; and thereby protect bus routes that connect people to education, employment and public services.
  • Ensuring that all local authorities automatically have the full range of powers to plan their bus services and manage their traffic, not just those areas with an elected mayor. We think that every local authority should be able to choose how best to manage buses, and enforce traffic offences, in the way that’s best for their area.
  • An Investment Strategy for buses. Rail, road, cycling and walking all have a Government investment strategy. We think that if the Government is serious about growing bus passenger numbers, it needs to give buses the same recognition as every other form of public transport, and enable local authorities and bus operators to plan for the long term

People need buses: give us a better Bus Services Bill

Dear Ben Bradshaw MP,

I’m writing to you to support a strong Bus Services Bill that works for passengers.

As you already know, the route of Stagecoach SW’s P Bus does little or nothing to help elderly residents of Higher St Thomas [formerly known as Cowick] to reach their local health centre on Cowick Lane. There is no direct bus service, meaning that they either have to take 2 buses or face a long walk up Cowick Street from St Thomas Shopping Centre. This means they can never arrange an early appointment if they use their free bus passes since the schedule means catching a bus at 09:40 and arriving at the GP’s surgery at about 10:20. This is not good enough

The Bus Services Bill will give new powers to local authorities to plan bus services in their area, ensuring that timetables, routes, ticketing and fares work in the interests of passengers. It holds real potential to ensure buses better meet people’s needs, and to increase bus passenger numbers.

However, buses in the UK have suffered years of cuts, and over two thousand routes have been cut or reduced since 2010, and fares have risen. These cuts have had a devastating impact on rural communities, leaving many people completely isolated and cut off from work, education, healthcare and friends. In its present form, the Bus Services Bill risks doing little or nothing to improve buses in rural areas where bus cuts have hit hardest.

I’m therefore asking you to support the powers in the Bus Services Bill being automatically available everywhere, not just in regions with elected Mayors, so that rural local authorities can also have the full range of powers to plan and improve bus services in their area. I’d also like to see local authorities granted the full range of powers to manage traffic, for example, to enforce bus lanes. Congestion is one of the main barriers to punctual, reliable bus services, and it’s important that local authorities are empowered to keep traffic flowing.

I’d also like to ask you to support an amendment in the Bus Services Bill to enable communities to register a bus route as an asset of community value. This would strengthen communities’ ability to protect threatened bus routes which connect local residents to shops, public services and employment. In addition, I’d like you to support an amendment to the Bill to make clear the duty on councils to carry out an assessment of need for local bus services. This is a duty that already exists in case law, following the Three Rivers case, but is too often ignored by local authorities. Making this duty clear will help ensure basic networks are maintained, communities are not cut off from vital services, and long term planning is fostered.

Finally, without a funding strategy, there’s a risk that local authorities will have the powers to plan integrated bus networks without the financial assurances to plan for the long term. More journeys are made on buses every day than on any other form of public transport. Yet whilst we have a Roads Investment Strategy and a Rail Investment Strategy, and we’ll shortly have a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, there is no investment strategy for buses.

This is not a call for more funding into buses. It’s simply calling for parity between buses and other transport modes. More than three times as many journeys are made by bus as by rail each year, and we need a joined-up strategy for how different aspects of local and central funding (concessionary passes, the Bus Service Operators Grant, local authority funding for socially necessary routes, the Green Bus Fund and others) can support bus passenger growth into the future. Please support a National Bus Strategy. Without this, rural buses will remain in inexorable decline.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Paul

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One thought on “Campaign for Better Transport | People need buses: give us a better Bus Services Bill

  1. Thank you for contacting me regarding the Government’s Bus Services Bill which was introduced in the House of Lords on 19 May 2016.

    I appreciate how important affordable and reliable transport is and I am concerned about the impact of Government cuts on local bus services in recent years.

    Bus use is in long-term decline in most areas outside London, and thousands of routed have been cut or withdrawn since 2010. I know that the withdrawal of services and fare increases are particularly keenly felt in rural areas.

    I support the Bus Services Bill in principle and welcome its aim to improve bus services for those that use them. However, like you, I do not believe it goes far enough in empowering local authorities to make real decisions about the shape of services in their area.

    Before Report Stage [on 12 October 2016] in the House of Lords, my Labour colleagues tabled an amendment to provide for the designation of certain bus routes as assets of community value [Amendment 97]. This would give communities some protection from these routes being withdrawn without warning, and would be particularly relevant to isolated rural areas and areas where the local bus route is a lifeline for the local community. This amendment was rejected by the Government, but Labour will continue to pre Government on how bus services in rural areas can be improved.

    The Government also rejected an amendment [Clause 18] to require county councils in non-metropolitian areas to consult on the needs for local bus services.

    I believe we need a national bus strategy, and Labour in the House of Lords tabled an amendment [Amendment 113] which would have made this a requirement. The amendment was supported by Labour Peers, but the Government voted against it and it was defeated.

    However, following pressure from my Labour colleagues in the Lords, the Government has made a number of significant concessions.

    For example, Labour recently won a vote in the House of Lords on powers to re-regulate bus services being extended everywhere, and not just to areas with elected Mayors.

    Clause 21 of the Bill sought to ban local authorities from setting up new publicly owned bus companies. I believe this would do nothing to improve bus services. Remaining municipal bus operators provide some of the best services in the country, and local communities should be able to take control of their buses. In the House of Commons on 24 October, my Labour colleagues tabled an amendment to remove this clause from the Bill and I am pleased that the Government was defeated on this, and the amendment passed.

    I can assure you that I and my Labour colleagues will do all that we can to defend these achievements when the Bus Services Bill comes to the House of Commons.

    I believe that the Government needs to form a long-term, logical strategy for bus funding, and I can assure you that I will continue to make the case for local communities to have the power to make bus operators provide the services that local people need, and to press for a better Bus Services Bill as it make it way through Parliament.

    I hope this is helpful, but if you have any further points or questions, please don’t hesitate to get back in touch.

    With very best wishes

    Ben Bradshaw MP

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