'You wait for ages for DfT bus strategy guidance and then only one turns up'

The Department for Transport (DfT) has issued Guidance to local authorities and bus operators on Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs), which local transport authorities (LTAs) are required to publish by October.

However the Government admitted that current guidance on other aspects of the new models for improving local bus services may not be compatible with its flagship National Bus Strategy.

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By the end of next month, LTAs are required to decide – and state – which of two statutory options they plan to follow – an Enhanced Partnership (EP) Scheme or a bus franchising assessment.

By the end of March 2022 LTAs must have either an Enhanced Partnership (EP) Scheme in place or be following the statutory processes to develop a bus franchising assessment, if they are to receive government funding under the new strategy.

However, the latest DfT guidance on both options was published in 2017, shortly after the Bus Services Act 2017. In its guidance on BSIPs, the department states that the earlier guidance is ‘being reviewed to ensure that it is fully consistent with the National Bus Strategy, and a new version of the EP and franchising guidance will be published shortly’.

It adds: ‘In the meantime, it is important to note that only underlined text in those documents is statutory guidance. Where there are any potential conflicts, this document and the National Bus Strategy represent the Government’s current views and supersede the non-statutory aspects of the guidance.’

Although LTAs are required to opt either for an EP or franchising by the end of June, the guidance notes that LTAs that are not mayoral combined authorities do not have automatic access to franchising powers, which will require secondary legislation and the consent of the transport secretary.

It states: ‘We support the use of franchising and will allow any LTA which has the capability and intention to use franchising powers at pace to deliver improvements for passengers.’

The guidance adds: ‘However, it will not be possible for an LTA to issue a franchising notice until it has been granted franchising powers and failure to issue any notice will result in the LTA being unable to access new funding. Therefore, any LTA which wishes to request access to franchising powers should issue a notice of intent for an EP by the end of June.’

Emily Yates, co-founder of the Association of British Commuters, said the DfT had failed to come through with the most urgent documents promised in the National Bus Strategy and called delay 'completely unacceptable', with combined authority mayors having to go down both routes simultaneously, 'which wastes resources and creates an even more complex negotiation with bus companies'.

She told Transport Network: 'Under Enhanced Partnerships, local government is in for never-ending negotiation and trade offs with bus operators - our public investments for their increased profit.

'The National Bus Strategy looks like more deregulation under another name, and is sure to worsen the imbalance of power between bus companies and local authorities.'

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