Onwards with buses

Kennedynew4x3_head.jpgRoy Kennedy outlines Labour Peers approach to the Bus Services Bill

The Bus Services Bill, which began its parliamentary journey today, in the House of Lords will give a much needed boost to local transport services outside of London. The bus industry beyond the capital has declined in the past three decades while in London, where buses are regulated, usage has doubled. In essence because Transport for London can specify the routes provided and the bus companies then provide them. This Bill allows that model to be implemented in other places, meaning that bus use should become a more attractive – and available - option. 

As it stands, the Bill only automatically makes these powers available to Combined Authorities with Mayors (and Cornwall!) but Labour Peers will seek to ensure that any authority that wants to apply for these powers will be able to. We want effective action to be taken to improve services for all passengers – and potential passengers – and to halt the decline of bus use.

We welcome those parts of the Bill that introduce advanced ticketing and smart ticket schemes. We also welcome those that enable data on bus fares, routes, timetables, tickets and bus company performance on specific routes. All of these moves are a step in the right direction and will make buses more user friendly and accessible.

There are, of course, aspects of the Bill that need to be improved. For example, we are unhappy about Clause 21, which prohibits new municipal bus companies from being formed to run services.  Some of the best bus services in the country are run by such operators, including Nottingham City Transport (three times the UK Bus Operator of the Year, Reading Buses and Ipswich Buses. But government appears not to want this successful model replicated elsewhere.

Accessibility needs to be at the heart of successful bus provision, and we will press Ministers for audio visual systems to be a requirement on all new buses. We also want more disability awareness training for drivers and bus workers to ensure they understand the needs of disabled users.

No debate about transport can overlook the impact that the growing demand on all types of transport has on our environment. Ensuring that buses run on the greenest fuel possible will help reduce emissions and generally improve air quality. The new powers in the Bill that will enable local transport authorities to specify emission standards to be met by local bus services is very welcome.

Unfortunately, the Bill hardly mentions passengers – a major oversight. Labour wants to see an enhanced role for Transport Focus and more in the proposed legislation about how passengers can be more fully involved and consulted about their local services.

We will work with colleagues from across the Lords in scrutinising this Bill and our attempts to improve it. Well-functioning bus services area an integral part of any community, whether urban, rural or half-way between. I look forward to us reaching that destination.

Lord Roy Kennedy of Southwark is a member of Labour’s frontbench in the House of Lords. He tweets @LordRoyKennedy

Published 8th June

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