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Emma 3

blog: Buses – Time for a Reset

Author: Peter Hardy

Working with local authorities and bus operators across England provides an interesting perspective on how buses are viewed, how they are performing and the various issues being considered, tackled or ignored. Different local markets, different political stances and interest, different levels of funding support, as well as different commercial views from operators, all create different operating environments. On top of this, are the ongoing problems of driver availability, rising operating costs (including the inefficiencies created by increasing congestion), along with the uncertainties arising from initiatives such as the £2 fare cap, changes in concessionary fares reimbursement and short-term funding support (such as BSIP+). All in all, it makes it difficult to know what the best way forward is.

Neither are such matters restricted to local bus - similar issues are at play across other types of transport, including home to school transport and particularly in the provision of SEND transport, where needs and demands become ever greater and there is insufficient supply of transport.

To move forward we need to bring some order into the chaos. This needs to be at both national and local levels. We need to reset things for the bus (and other forms of passenger transport). We need to decide what we want from the bus in the long term and then take decisive action to achieve that goal.

In terms of local bus services, this isn’t about whether there is franchising or an enhanced partnership. Yes, we need to choose the most appropriate tools to achieve what we want in each area and that respond to local needs.

However, it’s more about having vision, ambition, determination and purpose. It’s about being clear on what we want from the bus and other passenger transport services. It is about agreeing a plan and sticking to it.

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In my mind, there are six foundations to taking things forward:

1. Collaboration

Passenger transport is struggling (increasing costs, driver shortages) – we need to stick together. Productive collaboration between authorities and operators is vital, and across different types of service provision. Share problems and potential solutions under whatever model of transport provision is in place.

2. Vision

Have a clear and concise vision and plan, based on evidence and data, that everyone is signed up to and that different interested parties can buy into. Within this define the objectives sought and the outcomes everyone wants to achieve. Strong policies and political buy-in will help secure the necessary funds to deliver change and improvement and create mindsets that will challenge current positions and compromise.

3. Coordination

Think holistically and laterally about overall transport provision (a Total Transport approach) to achieve new, effective solutions. Integrate school transport requirements into local bus services and with college-funded dedicated transport. Seek economies of scale and efficiencies through the coordination of flexible, responsive public transport, community, health and SEND transport, to reduce costs and improve viability and value for money. Coordination is required at all levels – policy; service planning; procurement; and provision. Budgets need to be combined to provide increased buying power. Reasons for organisations to work together need to be stronger than reasons not to, so that institutional barriers are removed.

4. Influence

All parties need to recognise the influence that they can exert. Local authorities have buying power, contractual clout and can seek commitments from operators through enhanced partnerships (such as network stability and timing of service changes). Operators can also push for commitments from local authorities through enhanced partnerships. Any greater control that an authority might gain through bus franchising may open up more opportunities to link different types of transport, such as using local bus to meet school transport requirements.

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5. Understanding

Plans and actions need to make sense to the public – both service users and non-users (potential service users) – and to other interested parties and stakeholders, to ensure there is buy-in and acceptability. There needs to be strong evidence to justify why things are being done. Good data is crucial in helping to tell the story. Furthermore, it is important to remember that the needs of public transport users are as important as those using private cars.

6. Celebrating success

It is important to identify achievements and to build on things that work. Remember, success builds success and provides encouragement to stick with the vision. Actions that start to achieve growth and improvement will fuel further growth – a virtuous cycle of development. More passengers, means more revenue, which will help to fund more investment. Also, organisations and potential partners like to associate themselves with positive actions and invest time, effort and resources in things that appear to be in a safe pair of hands.

Our public transport team are experts in school transport and SEND, and both rural and urban transport, and support local authorities and other organisations throughout the UK. If you would like to find out more please don't hesitate to get in touch.


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