The new toolkit proposed in the Bus Services (Wales) Bill includes new powers for councils to franchise bus services on routes and paves the way for local authorities to run their own bus companies.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Economy, Transport and North Wales Minister Ken Skates said deregulation of bus services in the 1980s had been an ‘abject failure’ and said action was needed to put passengers first and improve services.
The new Bill introduced into the Senedd also contains powers for new partnership agreements between operators and councils as well as powers to ensure information over timetables and routes are more freely available for passengers and potential new operators.
Ken Skates, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, said:
“Bus services are crucial to our lives. Whether it’s supporting people into work; getting individuals to a vital medical appointment or helping us stay in contact with family, friends and loved ones – every single one of us, in some way or another, depends on bus travel.
“But it’s clear that deregulation of bus services in the 1980s has been an abject failure. Passenger numbers are falling and it’s clear that the free market model simply does not work. Bus services can’t be sold like washing powder or apples – they are a vital public service that need to be planned in a coordinated and rational way for passengers.
“This legislation help us take action to end that free market model. It puts passengers first by giving local authorities the opportunity to better plan and deliver bus services through new franchising powers and by lifting the ban on councils establishing their own bus companies.
“15% of households in Wales do not have access to a car and we need to take action to improve the viability and the attractiveness of alternatives to cars such as buses. Improving public transport is also a critical part of our response to the climate emergency and the need for modal shift in our communities.
“This legislation isn’t a silver bullet – it has to go hand in hand with our investment in Metro systems and plans to tackle congestion. But it is a vital toolkit that can help us deliver on our ambition for an integrated and seamless public transport system that gets people out of their cars.
The Bus Services (Wales) Bill will be introduced to the Senedd and will provide local authorities with an improved range of planning tools. It will also put new information sharing arrangements in place.
- The Bill will enable partnership schemes to be set up between local authorities and bus companies, allowing them to agree how services can be improved. Local authorities may, for example, introduce measures such as enforcement of bus lanes and facilities such as bus stops, whereas operators may agree to provide services at certain times, frequency, and agree ticket prices
- the Bill provides new powers to Franchise services meaning bus companies could be given the exclusive right to run bus services on agreed routes
- local authorities could also run their own bus service, to deliver or fill in gaps in existing bus provision. They could work with other local authorities to run a bus service across different counties
- there will also be powers to facilitate improved information sharing with passengers, so as to allow up to date information to be available to passengers. This could include information on routes and timetables, information on fares and ticket types, and live information about services
- Finally, the Bill will permit information sharing with local authorities where bus companies are proposing to stop or change a service they run. This could include information about passenger numbers and the money the operators make from the service. Having access to this information could help local authorities arrange replacement services if that were considered necessary.
Combined, these measures will help improve bus services as part of the Welsh Government’s wider reform of integrated public transport.