Bus Services Bill [Lords]

Part of Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:12 pm on 1st March 2017.

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Photo of Ben Howlett Ben Howlett Conservative, Bath 4:12 pm, 1st March 2017

It is a pleasure to follow Jonathan Reynolds. As ever, he is an eloquent campaigner for his constituents. I admit that I am excited about this Bill and have been excited for a long time, largely because of the size of my inbox and the number of times I have had to visit the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Andrew Jones, about contact from constituents on bus matters or about bus regulation. I look forward to hearing from him about my hobbyhorse: cycle racks on the front of buses, rather than on the back, of which I know he is a staunch advocate.

I support the Bill, which will provide local authorities, including Bath & North East Somerset Council, with the means to improve local bus services. In a city such as Bath, where air pollution is an increasing problem, anything that makes it easier and more convenient for my constituents to travel by bus, or for people from outside Bath to travel in on a bus, should be encouraged. I am therefore pleased that the Government support local bus services and continue to invest in greener transport. I recently unveiled First Bus’s eight new hybrid double-decker buses, which do not break down on some of the steepest hills going up to Bath’s park and ride and up to the university. They will have a huge impact on air quality across my city and in other parts of the authority area.

The bus industry offers significant potential to improve our environment and the way we travel to and from work or relax at the weekend. Given the number of tourists who visit my constituency and those of other hon. Members, it is important to think about buses as not just a local transport issue, but an economic issue that offers opportunities to grow jobs and utilise economies of scale. Creating a financially sustainable economy of scale will help to drive down costs for passengers, which has ultimately been a great success in London. Areas such as Brighton, for example, have also been able to create economies of scale, and passenger numbers have increased and prices have been driven down as a result.

When he is the new mayor of the west of England, the great Tim Bowles will hopefully be able to work with our local authorities to introduce a smartcard ticketing system in an economy-of-scale franchise—that is to be confirmed—which ultimately helps to deliver real benefits to passengers across the area. However, local authorities need to be able to make changes that help to address their residents’ needs, as local authorities are better aware than anyone else of what will improve the local provision of those services.

The Bill ensures that local authorities will be able to set required standards of service from bus providers, including on ticketing and frequency of services, both of which are an issue in my constituency, where we have multiple bus providers with multiple ticketing options. I have listened to Members on both sides of the House, and unfortunately our system is not the best in the country. It is a good system—do not get me wrong—but it can definitely be improved. We have heard the examples of Nottingham, Greater Manchester and, particularly, London, and hopefully we will be able to share their best practice in Bath.