UK Government

Department for Transport: New powers put bus passengers first

Press Release   •   Dec 10, 2009 11:36 GMT

Local authorities throughout England will be given tough new powers to determine routes, timetables, fares and other aspects of bus services, Transport Minister Sadiq Khan announced today.

New legislation, which will come into force in January, gives local authorities greater freedom to put in place Quality Contracts Schemes (QCS). The new powers will put passengers first by allowing local authorities to decide which bus services are required locally before entering into contracts with operators to run those services.

QCS, which are the London-style model of bus franchising, could include performance targets for operators and make sanctions against contract operators who fail to meet those targets. Those sanctions might include financial penalties or, in extreme situations, termination of the contract.

Transport Minister Sadiq Khan said:

"Buses are, and will remain, the most important public transport option for most local journeys.

"Although there are many examples of high-quality bus provision throughout the country, there are still too many places where services are falling short of the standards that passengers have a right to expect.

"Today's announcement sends out a clear message to the bus industry - it is absolutely imperative that decisions about services in the local community have passengers' interests firmly at the core.”

Currently QCS in England are only allowed under very restrictive conditions and with the approval of the Secretary of State. Thanks to provisions in the Local Transport Act 2008, English local authorities will now have the freedom to decide whether QCS are right for their area.

DfT also announced today that it has started recruiting a QCS Board panel.

QCS boards will provide an impartial opinion as to whether QCS proposals meet the statutory public interest criteria and that due process has been followed.

Notes to editors

1. The following has been announced today;

  • confirmation that the new statutory arrangements for QCS in England will come into force on 11th January 2010 (it is a devolved matter for the Welsh Ministers to bring the new arrangements into force in Wales; Scotland is subject to different, devolved, legislation).
  • publication of the Government’s response to its consultation on the draft Regulations that are needed to give full effect to the provisions in the Act and the draft statutory guidance. The Regulations are now being laid before Parliament in the usual way.
  • publication of statutory guidance about QCS in England, which will take effect when the new arrangements come into force on 11th January.
  • Now that the new statutory arrangements have been finalised, it is for local authorities to determine whether – and if so how – to take forward proposals for QCS.
  • Relevant publications are available for download at: www.dft.gov.uk/localtransportact.

2. Local Transport Act

The Local Transport Act 2008 gives local authorities the powers they said they needed to secure better bus services for local passengers.  The three main options for local authorities are:

  • Voluntary partnership agreements (VPAs);
  • Quality partnership schemes (QPS); and
  • Quality contracts schemes.

Today’s announcement confirms that the full set of powers will be available to English local authorities from January.  The VPA and QPS related measures in the Act are already fully in force, so those powers are already available for local authorities to use.

3.      Quality contracts schemes

A QCS would operate in much the same way as the London model of bus contracts.  It would involve the local authority deciding what bus services will operate in the area of the scheme, with bus operators bidding for contracts to operate those services.  Local authorities could specify a wide range of matters in quality contracts – for example routes, timetables, fares, vehicle standards, arrangements for smart and integrated ticketing, standards of driver training and customer care.

Under the Transport Act 2000, a QCS could be made only if the local authority could show that it was the “only practicable way” to achieve its local transport policies – a test that has proved too high a hurdle in practice. The Local Transport Act 2008 replaces this “only practicable way” test with a more balanced set of public interest criteria.  It also removes the existing requirement for QCS proposals in England to be approved by the Secretary of State.  Local authorities will instead be free to decide whether to proceed with a QCS, having first consulted (and responded to the opinion of) an independent board constituted specially for this purpose.

The Government has previously indicated that it would be prepared to devolve Bus Service Operator’s Grant to local authorities in areas which put in place QCS.

More information about Quality Contracts can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/transportgovuk

4.      Quality Contracts Scheme Board panel

The closing date for applications is midday 29th January 2010.  Further information about this role, including how to apply, may be found at:  http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/regional/localtransportbill/

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Department for Transport Website: http://www.dft.gov.uk

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