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“Take back control of buses” Greens tell council

Sheffield Green Party has called on the Council to make use of new legislation which will make it easier to bring in a Quality Contracts Scheme(QCS) giving it more power over bus services. From 11th January 2010, local authorities throughout England will be able to decide which bus services are required in the area before entering into contracts with operators to run them, and be given tough new powers to determine routes, timetables and fares,Transport Minister Sadiq Khan announced last week [Dec 10th].
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The QCS, a London-style model of bus franchising, could include performance targets for operators and make sanctions against contract operators who fail to meet those targets. Those sanctions might include financial penalties or, in extreme situations, termination of the contract.

Coun Bernard Little said, “The Transport Minister’s announcement sends out a clear message to the bus industry – decisions about services in the local community must have passengers’ interests firmly at the core.

“Buses are the most important public transport option for most local journeys. Yet First Group has just announced (The Star 11th  December) that most single ticket prices for buses are going up from January 3rd by between 10p and 30p, and monthly bus passes in Sheffield are up from £68 to £74.70.  QCSs could be used to curb these fare rises, but are now only allowed under very restrictive conditions.”

He added, “The Tories have said that if they win the general election they will scrap the Bus Quality Contract process. So in order to put the control of our bus services back into public hands we must act now”.

Notes

1. The following was announced on Dec 10th

* confirmation that the new statutory arrangements for QCS in England will come into force on 11th January 2010 (it is a devolved matter for the Welsh Ministers to bring the new arrangements into force in Wales; Scotland is subject to different, devolved, legislation).

* publication of the Government’s response to its consultation on the draft Regulations that are needed to give full effect to the provisions in the Act and the draft statutory guidance. The Regulations are now being laid before Parliament in the usual way.

* publication of statutory guidance about QCS in England, which will take effect when the new arrangements come into force on 11th January.

* Now that the new statutory arrangements have been finalised, it is for local authorities to determine whether, and if so how, to take forward proposals for QCS.

* Relevant publications are available for download at:http://www.dft.gov.uk/localtransportact.

2. Local Transport Act

The Local Transport Act 2008 gives local authorities the powers they said they needed to secure better bus services for local passengers. The three main options for local authorities are:

* Voluntary partnership agreements (VPAs);

* Quality partnership schemes (QPS); and

* Quality contracts schemes.

The announcement on Dec 10thconfirms that the full set of powers will be available to English local authorities from January. The VPA and QPS related measures in the Act are already fully in force, so those powers are already available for local authorities to use.

3. Quality contracts schemes

A QCS would operate in much the same way as the London model of bus contracts. It would involve the local authority deciding what bus services will operate in the area of the scheme, with bus operators bidding for contracts to operate those services. Local authorities could specify a wide range of matters in quality contracts ,for example routes, timetables, fares, vehicle standards, arrangements for smart and integrated ticketing, standards of driver training and customer care.

Under the Transport Act 2000, a QCS could be made only if the local authority could show that it was the “only practicable way” to achieve its local transport policies, a test that has proved too high a hurdle in practice. The Local Transport Act 2008 replaces this “only practicable way” test with a more balanced set of public interest criteria. It also removes the existing requirement for QCS proposals in England to be approved by the Secretary of State. Local authorities will instead be free to decide whether to proceed with a QCS, having first consulted (and responded to the opinion of) an independent board constituted specially for this purpose. The Government has previously indicated that it would be prepared to devolve Bus Service Operator’s Grant to local authorities in areas which put in place QCS.

More information about Quality Contracts can be found at:

http://www.youtube.com/transportgovuk

Topics: Bernard Little, City Wide, Privatisation, Transport

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