The Urban Transport Group has today welcomed the intent of new legislation to reform bus services in Scotland but has warned that changes need to be made if the legislation is to be workable in practice.
Under the Transport (Scotland) Bill, the Scottish Government is proposing to give quangos, in the form of panels, the power to veto local plans to re-regulate bus services. In its written evidence to the Scottish Parliament Committee (which is scrutinising the legislation), the Urban Transport Group explained how nearly 10 years passed in which all plans to re-regulate local bus services in England came to nothing because Westminster legislation meant that any such plans were subject to similar unaccountable panels who were under intense pressure to maintain the status quo favouring big bus operators, which currently monopolise local bus services.
Meanwhile, with every passing year, bus services in England (with the exception of London, where services are regulated) continued to decline, patronage fell and fares rocketed. For example, bus patronage in the Metropolitan areas in England declined by 10.8% over the 10 year period to 2016/17.
So ineffective was the English legislation, that the Government brought in new legislation in 2017 which abolished the panels completely (and this new legislation is now being taken up, including in Greater Manchester and in the Liverpool City Region).
Responding as the Scottish Parliament closed its consultation on the plans last Friday, Tobyn Hughes, Managing Director of Nexus and Chair of the Urban Transport Group, said:
“There is much in the Scottish Transport Bill to be commended, and as a whole it goes further than current Westminster buses legislation. However, given our direct experience of giving unaccountable and under-resourced panels a critical role in whether or not buses are regulated, it is important the Scottish Parliament is able to learn from how unworkable this is.
“Getting better bus services is critical to so many of the wider goals that cities have – including reducing congestion, opening up access to opportunity, improving air quality and tackling social inclusion. Bus legislation which is unworkable in practice has been a key factor in the lost decade we have seen on buses in England, and which ultimately led to new legislation with no panels and which is now being actively pursued including in Greater Manchester and Merseyside. We do not want to see a similar lost decade in Scotland and given the rest of the Bill is broadly sound, removing the panels from the legislation opens up a real opportunity to bring back integrated, planned and effective bus services to more places in Scotland.”