05The Bus Services Act 2017

The Government introduced the Bus Services Act 2017 (BSA) in response to years of lobbying from cities about the challenges that deregulated bus services pose to improving bus services. As well as provisions on data and a tweak of Quality Partnerships (see Box 1) into Advanced Quality Partnerships, the BSA offers two new tools for cities to improve bus services:

Enhanced Partnership Schemes (EPS). All cities can develop an EPS — a non-compulsory agreement between willing operators and cities. It extends what Quality Partnerships can cover (e.g. the colour of buses, frequencies on certain routes, multi-operator ticket pricing) and gives more flexibility on what counts as a contribution from cities (e.g. car parking charges and enforcement). If bus operators running 75 per cent of local bus services support an EPS, the scheme is compulsory for other bus operators. Cities also become the traffic commissioner, responsible for the registration of bus services.

Franchising. Franchising gives metro mayors similar powers to the Mayor of London over buses. On-the-road competition is suspended. Mayors specify the bus service in a city — the routes, fares, frequencies and quality of bus services. This is based upon data from operators on ridership and profitability of the existing network. Operators bid to run services in return for a fixed fee paid by the mayor. Fares are set and collected by the mayor. Bus Service Operators Grant is devolved to mayors.

Box 2: Buses and the devolved administrations

In Northern Ireland, the popular bus and train services are regulated and largely run by Translink, the publicly-owned transport company.39

Scotland has just passed the Transport (Scotland) Bill with even stronger powers to regulate bus services that will allow municipal bus companies.40

In Wales, the Welsh Government will introduce a Public Transport Bill with similar provisions this parliamentary term. 41


How mayors are using the Bus Services Act

In the two years since the BSA was passed, metro mayors have responded to it in different ways.

City Existing Current plans
Greater Manchester Consultation for franchising underway
Liverpool City Region Bus Alliance Preparing strategic business case for franchising – due to report
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Outline business case, no action until 2021
West of England Voluntary partnership No plans
West Midlands Bus Alliance Outline business case commissioned
Tees Valley No plans
Sheffield City Region Voluntary partnership Review commissioned – due to report
North of Tyne No franchising powers

The next section sets out at why every mayor should use the franchising powers of the Bus Services Act.


  • 39 https://www.infrastructure-ni.gov.uk/articles/northern-ireland-transport-holding-company
  • 40 https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/108683.aspx
  • 41 https://gov.wales/written-statement-update-public-transport-wales-bill-and-wider-bus-reform-agenda