‘Give transport power to regions’

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THE regulation of trains and buses should be shifted to powerful regional transport bodies, according to a new report.

Awarding rail franchises and controlling the way bus services are run should be the responsibility of authorities modelled on Transport for London, it recommends.

The report by the IPPR thinktank says the deregulation of buses almost 30 years ago has had a damaging impact outside London with bus usage in Yorkshire down by more than half.

It argues that Transport for London, which has much stronger powers over the bus network in the capital, is the key to success in the capital and the model should be repeated in other parts of the country.

It points out that while rail receives a lot of public attention, more than one in five people of working age outside London use the bus at least once a week.

Research by Leeds University suggested close to a fifth of workers had turned down a job because of poor-quality bus services.

Will Straw, associate director at IPPR, said: “London has the best buses in Britain and that’s no accident. Transport for London has been a great success while the deregulation of buses outside London has largely failed.

“Outside London, bus passenger journeys are down and fares are rising higher than inflation. Examples of successful bus markets outside London are all too rare so local transport bodies should be given greater powers to hold uncompetitive providers to account.

“As well as regulating bus services, routes and fares, these new bodies should have a wider role of encouraging better integration between buses and other modes of transport including rail.

“This will help increase the number of passengers using public transport.

“Responsibility for transport related to schools and hospitals should be devolved to these regional transport bodies with any savings made from achieving efficiencies retained and reinvested in other local sustainable transport projects.”

Transport authorities outside London are able to take more powers over buses through a measure known as a ‘Quality Contract Scheme’. But the IPPR report argues the bureaucracy and expense involved makes it very difficult for transport authorities to put them into place.

Coun James Lewis, chairman of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s transport committee, said: “This report echoes the work we have been doing in terms of recognising the symptoms that negatively affect bus services in West Yorkshire.

“It supports the steps we have taken to strengthen regulation and partnership in order to try to reach a satisfactory outcome that delivers the service improvements and good value fares for passengers that we want to see.”

“We have been saying for the past four years that there needs to be a change in the way that bus services in West Yorkshire are coordinated to ensure more integration, better value for money in terms of the public subsidy of bus services and a simpler ticketing scheme.”

Councils in the North have long lobbied for regional bodies to be given control over rail franchises.

The IPPR report published today echoes that call and argues public sector operators should be allowed to bid for rail franchises pointing out that foreign state-owned firms already can.

The head of rail franchising at the Department for Transport recently voiced his support for a greater local voice in the process.

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