Local Transport Act gets Royal Assent

PTEG has heralded the new Local Transport Act, which received Royal Assent this week, as a "historic opportunity for transport in the city regions, probably the biggest breakthrough since Barbara Castle’s 1968 Transport Act which first created the PTEs".

Chair of pteg, Neil Scales says: "We are particularly pleased that we now have a far more effective set of options and powers to improve bus services.

"The bus dominates public transport provision outside London, yet for too long it has been allowed to slip into decline. Now we - and the traffic commissioners - have more of the powers we need to work with operators to tackle the real issues behind this decline. This ultimately includes Quality Contracts - the power to franchise networks of bus services in the same way that buses in London, and trains throughout Britain, are currently provided."

The Campaign for Better Transport also welcomes the new legislation. "The Act is good news," says Cat Hobbs, the group’s public transport campaigner. "Local authorities now have a big opportunity to improve buses for passengers, by using their new powers to improve bus networks and set up Integrated Transport Authorities.

"The government must support this work by providing ring-fenced funding to stop fare rises and bus cuts. Buses have huge potential to help us reduce traffic, congestion and carbon emissions.”

One of the measures that the Campaign for Better Transport says it successfully lobbied for was the inclusion in the Act of a new statutory role for Passenger Focus as the bus passenger watchdog. Bus Users UK which has been carrying out this work to date without any statutory basis says it is already working closely with Passenger Focus. Bus Users UK chairman Gavin Booth says: "We are looking forward to strengthening what is already a good relationship between us. 

However Bus Users UK says it has yet to be convinced that Quality Contracts will necessarily deliver the right results. "There has been a lot of talk as to whether some sort of franchising will be better than the current system," says Booth. "We are concerned that bus services can all too easily become a political football, and we hope that any such arrangements will contain safeguards to prevent bus services being used for political expediency rather than really benefiting users.

"But we will be happy to be proved wrong and will remain open-minded until we see how any Quality Contract works out in practice. We don’t wish to prejudge the issue."