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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Buses Bill should bring back bus regulation to help pensioners in rural areas

Funding cuts and rising fares have hit local bus services hard. The government should use the Buses Bill to help pensioners in rural areas and others who rely on buses, according to our new report.

The Government should use the Buses Bill to help pensioners in rural areas and others who rely on buses, according to a new report from the think tank IPPR, published today. The report says the Government should enable local authorities in towns and rural areas to combine forces, in order to franchise commercial bus services and pool budgets.

The report shows that in many towns and rural areas, bus services have been decimated through a vicious cycle of falling patronage, rising fares and cuts to the services funded by local government. It shows that for the second year running there are more passenger journeys in London than in the rest of England combined.

The report argues that there are four areas of England that are learning the lessons from London’s success:

  • The Greater Manchester Combined Authority is taking on regulatory powers over the buses in its devolution deal;
  • Nexus, Tyne and Wear’s passenger transport executive, is applying for the legal power to re-regulate its local bus routes”;
  • The West Yorkshire Combined Authority is also investigating bus re-regulation; and
  • Cornwall recently became the first rural authority to benefit from devolution, and its devolution deal with government will give the Council the option to franchise bus services by 2018.

The report recommends that the Buses Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech, enables local government in towns and rural areas to combine forces in the form of new “Total Transport Authorities” so that they have the capacity and resource to:

  • take on the powers of franchising;
  • pool revenue and capital expenditure spent by the public sector on buses within their area; and
  • support local innovations like smart-ticketing, alternative business models, municipal ownership and Uber-style ‘dial-a-ride’ initiatives.

The report identifies five groups who rely heavily on buses: older people, younger people, the unemployed, low-income workers and disabled people.

The research also investigates how innovative solutions – in alternative business models, partnerships and new technology – are helping these groups across the country.

Luke Rakes, IPPR Research Fellow, said:

“The lack of commercially viable bus services in towns and rural areas, combined with the cuts to local government funding for non-commercial routes, has meant a downward spiral of higher fares, lower patronage and poorer services in many areas
“Buses get people to work and get jobseekers to interviews, they bring families to shops and to schools and hospitals and they give older and disabled people the freedom to travel in their local community.

“London-style franchising could be an important part of the solution for many areas, but isn’t the only approach. It has worked effectively in London for 15 years and is now being adopted in Greater Manchester and possibly in Tyne and Wear, West Yorkshire and Cornwall. Its main advantage is to retain fare revenue within a locality and allow it to be used more strategically to cross-subsidise uncommercial routes. Franchising also allows greater democratic accountability over fares, services and routes, and makes network integration, multi-operator smart ticketing and data sharing more viable.

“Beyond that, authorities need to encourage and support the many innovative transport solutions – such as social enterprises and municipal companies – that have emerged over the years, and may come forward in future.”

Notes to Editors
IPPR's new report – Total transport authorities: A new deal for town and rural bus services – is available here.

There are 2.5 million bus commuters, and a further 1 million people use the bus as a back-up if their primary method of transport fails. This is around 12 per cent of the working population. One in 10 bus commuters would be forced to look for another job if they could no longer commute by bus. Jobseekers are more than twice as likely to use buses as the rest of the population.

It is estimated that every £1 spent on concessionary bus travel generates at least £2.87 in benefits to bus pass users and the wider economy.

Richard Darlington, 07525 481 602, [email protected]
Danny Wright, 07887 422789, [email protected]