The essence of the Bill is that franchising will be available to mayoral authorities automatically, but to deliver change, they will still have to demonstrate that it would benefit passengers. They will have a legal duty to do that, otherwise their decision will be subject to judicial review. Other authorities will have a duty to demonstrate to the Secretary of State that they will transform services to get permission to make a change. Ultimately, the Bill is about the passenger, who has to come first.
Bus networks in England’s six metropolitan areas are estimated to generate £2.5 billion of economic benefits every year. They are a lifeline for many rural communities, which I will talk about shortly.
Let me make it very clear: the Bill does not introduce wholesale re-regulation of the bus market. It is not a return to a pre-1986 world of local councils running bus services. Private operators will continue to dominate the bus market. They will still deliver services, whether through the current arrangements, improved partnerships or franchising. The aim of the Bill is to increase bus passenger numbers and to improve bus services by giving local authorities and operators new options. The Bill builds on existing partnership powers, making them more attractive and easier to use, and introduces new, enhanced partnership scheme powers, which will enable local authorities to work with bus operators and introduce a set of standards for bus services in their areas. They both operate in a deregulated environment where commercial operators can make decisions about where and when buses run.
The Bill also refreshes bus franchising powers, honours our devolution deal commitments and recognises the successes of the franchising model that was introduced for London in 1984. One of those successes is the easy access that London bus passengers have to information about their bus services, with over 500 smartphone apps available. The Bill will make it easier for passengers throughout England to get such information on timetables, fares and routes. That is particularly valuable in rural areas where bus services may be less frequent.