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Nestrans response to the consultation on proposals for a Bus Regulation (Scotland)

Bill by Iain Gray MSP - 28th August 2013


Nestrans welcomes the opportunity to provide comments on the proposal for a Bill to provide
transport authorities with greater powers to set service levels for local bus services, including
power to group profitable routes with non-profitable routes before they are put out to tender
with operators.
Nestrans is the Regional Transport Partnership for the North East of Scotland and covers
the two local authority areas of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire. As such, the region
covers a variety of areas from urban and suburban areas, towns, rural villages and more
remote rural areas. Nestrans does not operate any public transport services but works with
the two Councils and the two main bus operators in the region, First in Aberdeen and
Stagecoach Bluebird, through a voluntary Quality Partnership Agreement to improve bus
provision across the region.
The North East Bus Quality Partnership was established in 1998 and re-freshed in 2010.
The partners meet regularly and have delivered and are actively pursuing a number of
partnership initiatives. Given the current success of this collaborative working Nestrans
currently has no plan to enter into either a statutory Quality Partnership or a Quality Contract
at this time, although the former would be considered if the voluntary partnership was no
longer deemed to be effective and it was considered in the best interest of the partners and
the travelling public.
We have considered each of the questions posed in the consultation paper and our
response to each is detailed in the points below:
1 Do you support the general aim of the proposed Bill?
Yes. Nestrans recognises that the current arrangement fails to protect those that depend on
local services. We recognise the significant social problems that can occur due to lack of
public transport provision and the isolation and lack of opportunity that can result, particularly
in rural areas but also in towns and urban areas, particularly in the evenings and at
weekends.
Nestrans generally supports the principles and aims of the proposed Bill, to provide transport
authorities with the power to enter into franchising agreements with bus operators to deliver
bus services, however we are unclear how the proposals would be implemented in practice,
what they would deliver beyond mechanisms currently available and the cost implications of
franchising.
2 What would be the main practical advantages of the legislation proposed?
The main advantage of the proposals would potentially be a more stable bus network.
Greater stability in the network would provide greater clarity to the travelling public as well as
the maintenance of bus links that may otherwise be lost. Greater integration of services and
reducing the barriers to the introduction of multi-operator ticketing arrangements would also
have significant benefits. Opportunities to specify other factors of the bus network such as

fares and the quality of vehicles could also help to contribute to wider objectives, such as
improving air quality as well as potentially improving the perception of bus travel.
However, whilst these advantages could all be achieved, they could only be delivered
through potentially significant increases in public funding for bus services. The example of
London is given with the recognition that the system there is supported by a high level of
public subsidy.
Local authorities currently have powers through tendering procedures to take more control in
determining what services should be provided and specifying the routes, standard and
quality of services and fares. Nestrans supports the aim to provide transport authorities with
greater powers to compel operators to provide a minimum level of service, however this
power is already available through provisions for statutory Quality Partnerships and Quality
Contracts and we are unclear how the proposals would add to or change these powers.
Nestrans agrees that greater clarity or a relaxation of the requirements around proving
market failure would perhaps be helpful in terms of not waiting until the complete failure of a
service before efforts can be made at initiating improvements, however we dont believe that
this is the only barrier to establishing Quality Contracts. The cost and risk to the local
authorities of taking on the delivery of local services in this manner is also a significant
barrier.
There is also a risk that private sector innovation, for example in the areas of marketing and
promotion, may be stifled unless franchise agreements can be set up to retain some degree
of operator flexibility and incentivisation.
3 In what ways do you envisage re-regulation being used to improve bus services?
Re-regulation could bring greater service integration and greater network stability as well as
improvements in vehicle quality and greater control over fares charged, all of which could
address wider objectives of the public sector such as improving air quality, reducing social
exclusion and encouraging mode shift. However, as stated above, such changes would
come at a potentially significant cost and risk to the franchising authority.
We support the aim to provide transport authorities with greater powers to compel operators
to provide a minimum level of service, however powers to specify services and fill gaps in
provision are already available to local authorities through the tendering process.
4 How can community transport be better utilised to serve local communities and
particularly low passenger volume routes?
Community transport and demand responsive transport both have a key role to play in the
overall public transport network, particularly for people in rural areas and those who are
unable to use other public transport services. A number of demand responsive and
community transport services operate in the north east, some of which are supported by the
local authorities.
Although we support the statement that the importance of community transport and dial a
bus services must also be considered when thinking about how transport can operate more
effectively for everyone it is difficult to envisage how discretionary powers to transport
authorities to enter into bus service franchise agreements would have any material effect on
community transport.

5 Do you agree that the Traffic Commissioner should be able to impose greater
financial penalties on operators who a) fail to meet the terms of the franchise or b)
walk away from the franchise altogether?
Any franchise agreement would require a contract between the franchising authority and the
operator with appropriate contractual elements to be included within it to account for such
situations with appropriate penalties to ensure compliance. It may be appropriate for the
Traffic Commissioner to have a role in the enforcement and arbitration, in the case of
dispute, of agreements although this should not be the only means of redress available to
the contracting authority who should be able to impose sanctions using the appropriate
provisions within the contract.
6. What is your assessment of the likely financial implications of the proposed bill to
you or your organisation? What other significant financial implications are likely to
arise?
As Nestrans does not operate or tender any public transport services nor does it have
access to detailed financial / cost information on the commercial bus network we do not have
a detailed insight into the likely financial implications of entering into franchise agreements.
However, based on experience from elsewhere, significant additional cost would be
anticipated and be dependent on the scale of the franchise, the level of service / quality
specified, the infrastructure required and the level of interest shown by prospective
operators. Increased bus monitoring would also be required to ensure operators are
adhering to the terms and conditions of the agreement and this would require additional
resource from the franchising authority.
Currently, the Councils have a duty, under sections 63-64 of the Transport Act 1985, to
secure the provision of such passenger transport services as it considers appropriate to
meet any public transport requirements in its area which would not, in its view, be met apart
from action on its part. In many areas, including the north east, budget pressures mean that
there has been a reducing budget available within local authorities to provide these services.
The comparison provided in the proposal of subsidy in the rail industry in comparison to bus
is a stark statistic and, along with the comparison with the London system, highlights a key
issue which is lack of funding both at a national and local level for provision of bus networks.
7. Is the proposed Bill likely to have any substantial positive or negative implications
for equality?
If the proposals were to result in more comprehensive bus networks, providing services to
areas and parts of the community that do not currently have good access, enhances the
quality of the fleet in terms of accessibility and addresses current local concerns regarding
fares, then this would have significant positive benefits for equality of access.
8 Do you have any other comment or suggestion that is relevant to the need for or
detail of this Bill?
As outlined at the beginning of our response, a voluntary quality partnership is currently
operating successfully in the north east and current legislation already places a duty on local
authorities allowing them to address deficiencies in service provision through the tendering
process. Due to budget constraints however, local authorities across the country, including
those in the north east, are less able to plug these gaps or enhance service provision.

Although franchising would give more control over the network this wont be possible without
substantial public subsidy. We also have a concern that the introduction of such powers
could lead to raised public expectations which, given current funding constraints, could not
be met.