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Unlike previous Acts, Bus Services Bill ‘must simplify franchising process’

The Bus Services Bill will only succeed in its goal if it learns from previous legislation and offers local areas a simpler franchising process, the Urban Transport Group (UTG) has said.

The Bill offers local combined authorities Transport for London-style control over bus franchising.

In its latest policy paper, the UTG said that it supported the idea of giving local authorities control over transport.

However, it warned that the Transport Act 2000 and Local Transport Act 2008, which were both intended to create local bus franchising powers, have “made the route to franchising too convoluted, complex or restrictive”.

It therefore said it would “strongly support” the Bill, but only if the final legislation provides “a workable, straightforward and proportionate process for the introduction of franchising”.

In addition, it said the Bill should include powers for areas that do not wish to seek franchising powers to improve what can be achieved from a deregulated market, and more open data measures to improve bus franchises’ accountability.

In a recent interview with PSE, Cllr Andrew Fender, chair of the Transport for Greater Manchester committee, warned that there is a risk of bus companies trying to “water down” the Bill.

The UTG also said that bus service funding should be reformed to “reflect the cross departmental and cross-sectoral benefits that buses bring”.

The report added that in recent years, national transport spending has experienced “greater certainty” thanks to five-year funding periods, investment programmes, and the National Infrastructure Commission.

In contrast, it said, funding for local transport has faced “deep spending cuts” and seen block grants replaced by competition funding.

It recommended placing local transport funding on a more certain basis, to keep pace with national transport funding, and exploring new revenue streams, such as the hypothecation of a proportion of Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) to urban areas.

Furthermore, the UTG called for strengthening of the regulatory framework to make it easier to establish smart ticketing in local areas, and national strategies on promoting cycling and walking and combatting air pollution.

Dr Jon Lamonte, chair of the UTG and CEO of Transport for Greater Manchester, said: “From the major expansion of Manchester Metrolink to the total overhaul of the Tyne and Wear Metro and from cycle superhighways to the roll out of smart ticketing, our urban transport networks are being transformed through the significant investment programmes that we are delivering.

“At the same time more devolution of transport responsibilities and powers to more focussed governance in the city regions is paying off, including through better performing and more responsive local rail networks.

“We now want to build on these foundations - and this report shows how. It takes the detailed policy development work that the Urban Transport Group has undertaken in recent years and turns that into a route map for what an effective working relationship between Government and the city regions should look like on transport.”

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