08What needs to change
Every metro mayor should take up bus franchising powers in the Bus Services Act. Franchising offers cities the clearest mechanism to increase modal share by bus and the benefits this brings. It will bring competition into bus markets that deregulation failed to spark, and provide the control and guiding hand that public utilities and natural monopolies require. And metro mayors with ‘skin in the game’, financially and reputationally, will be more active and interventionist to improve the vital transport, economic and social infrastructure that the bus
Enhanced Partnerships Schemes may improve bus services. But the appearance on the surface of a branded integrated bus or transport network without the fundamental institutional and financial rewiring of franchising will fail to resolve the issues deregulation caused, while opening city leaders up to expectations of accountability and improvements that it is not in their gift to deliver.
Government should provide £50 million for the short-term, up-front costs that the introduction of franchising will create. The Bus Services Act 2017 is an important piece of legislation that enables mayors more easily to take action to get the benefits that higher levels of bus use provide. But government should provide extra funding to help mayors take on these powers. £50 million for metro mayors is equal to £4.50 per person, the price of an adult all-day bus ticket in most cities. This must be matched by continued clear public and institutional support for cities to introduce franchising, as the Prime Minister has done for Greater Manchester so far.
Government should allow all cities to introduce franchising without application to the Secretary of State. Currently, cities without a metro mayor face a complex process and rely on the agreement of the Secretary of State to introduce a bus franchising scheme. The risk of this approach is significantly higher and less achievable than for metro mayors. But all upper tier authorities should also get the automatic right to franchise. Not all may decide to introduce franchising, but the option should be there for those that wish to.