Department for Transport
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New voice for bus passengers as local transport bill gets Royal assent
Bus passengers will have a new champion fighting their corner thanks to the Local Transport Act, Transport Minister Paul Clark confirmed today. Royal Assent for the Bill paves the way for Passenger Focus to represent bus users in England, who make over 4 billion journeys a year.
From April the watchdog, which currently represents rail users, will begin to take on its new role as "bus passenger champion". One of its first tasks will be to conduct a review into how bus passengers' complaints are handled.
Transport Minister Paul Clark, who saw the Bill through its final Parliamentary stages, said:
"More than two thirds of journeys made on public transport are by bus, playing a vital role in easing congestion and providing a green alternative to the car. We are committed to encouraging as many people as possible to consider switching to buses. The Local Transport Act will ensure services meet the needs of passengers more than ever before, as well as guaranteeing users are properly represented by a new Passenger Champion. I urge local authorities and bus operators alike to work together to maximise services in their area, using the provisions of the Act."
The Act has also been welcomed by Anthony Smith, Passenger Focus chief executive:
"Passenger Focus is delighted to be representing bus and coach passengers in England. Combining independent passenger research and focussed advocacy on behalf of passengers will start to drive improvements in bus and coach services. Passenger Focus's experience at working on behalf of rail passengers will help England's bus and coach passengers get the best deal."
The Act will equip local authorities with a comprehensive toolkit aimed at giving them greater scope for working together in partnership with operators to enhance the standard of services in their areas. The Act will also make it a more realistic option for local authorities to introduce quality contracts schemes. These are similar to the system of bus franchising which exists in London and will help ensure networks are designed with the needs of passengers at the forefront.
The Act will also help bring all modes of transport together, by strengthening the role of the existing Passenger Transport Authorities - to be renamed Integrated Transport Authorities (ITAs) - and by enabling new ITAs to be established. These will help major urban areas outside London to improve coordination of the road network and public transport.
Notes to Editors:
1. The Local Transport Act 2008 secured Royal Assent last night.
2. The Secretary of State announced on 8 April 2008 that Passenger Focus (formally known as the Rail Passengers' Council - the statutory rail passenger watchdog) would widen its role to become the bus passenger champion in England. The Act enables the Secretary of State to extend the remit of Passenger Focus through secondary legislation.
3. The Department expects to consult on the secondary legislation early next year, with a view to it being fully in place no later than April 2010. As the Department wants Passenger Focus to take on this role as soon as possible an implementation plan has been agreed that would see Passenger Focus playing an active role in the bus sector from April 2009, in ways that they are able to without specific additional statutory powers, until those powers are formally conferred on them.
4. London transport users are represented by the statutory London Travelwatch Committee, while bus passenger representation in Scotland and Wales is a matter for the devolved administrations. Passenger Focus will continue to represent rail passengers throughout Great Britain.
5. The Act provides a range of options for local authorities to have greater influence over the provision of bus services in their areas. The 'toolkit' will include voluntary partnership agreements, statutory quality partnership schemes, and quality contracts (bus franchising) schemes. Quality contracts schemes are essentially the same as the London model of bus franchising, whereby the bus network is planned by the local authority and the services are operated by private operators under contract to that authority. Although the statutory powers to make quality contracts schemes have been in place since the Transport Act 2000, they have not so far been used; the Act makes these a more realistic option for local authorities where they are in the public interest.
6. The existing six Passenger Transport Authorities will be renamed "Integrated Transport Authorities" (ITAs) from early in the new year. They will take on full responsibility for local transport planning across their areas. The Act also creates the opportunity for local areas to review their existing arrangements, and to propose reforms (including enhanced powers and boundary changes). The Act also paves the way for the creation of new ITAs in areas where they do not already exist.
7. The various elements of the Act will be implemented in phases over the coming months. Many provisions in the Act will require secondary legislation and guidance, and the Department is planning a programme of consultations (some of which have already taken place). Key milestones are likely to include:
Early 09: A new round of Kickstart bidding - inviting local authorities in partnership with bus operators to bid for a share of £25 million to 'pump prime' new or improved services. Schemes which will utilise the powers in the Local Transport Act, including the revised voluntary partnership agreements and the new statutory quality partnership scheme provisions, will be particularly encouraged to apply for the funding. We hope that Kickstart will allow us to build up good practice examples on the use of these powers.
Amendments to competition law as it applies to voluntary partnership agreements, to help ensure that it does not prevent local authorities and bus operators from coming together at the partnership table
Enhanced Traffic Commissioner powers to tackle poor reliability or punctuality.
Spring 09: Passenger Focus will begin representing passengers in shadow form.
Enhancements to quality partnership schemes, to enable them to include requirements about service frequencies and timings, and maximum fares.
Deregulatory measures to benefit the community transport sector, by relaxing existing restrictions on the sizes of vehicles that may be used under community transport permits and allowing drivers of community bus services to be paid.
Summer 09: Successful Kickstart applicants announced.
Late 09: Legislative reforms about quality contracts schemes come into force, following consultation on the necessary secondary legislation.
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Department for Transport Website: http://www.dft.gov.uk
ANNEX A: STAKEHOLDER REACTION
Local Government Association (LGA)
Cllr David Sparks, Chair of the Local Government Association's Regeneration and Transport board, said:
"Many councils across the country will be pleased to see the Local Transport Bill receiving Royal Assent.
"If the bill works the way the government envisages, it could mean that councils have real power when it comes to providing people with better public transport. Bus operators and councils need to work together better to provide good public transport, and the bill could help that happen.
"Councils will always be at the centre of a good public transport system and if this bill means more buses going to the places where people need them, at the times they want to use them and at prices people are willing to pay, that can only be a good thing."
CONFEDERATION OF PASSENGER TRANSPORT (CPT)
Simon Posner, Chief Executive Officer of the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK said:
"We broadly welcomed the Bill when it was first introduced to Parliament last year and we remain of positive mind now that it has become an Act. We particularly welcome the elements of the Act designed to promote partnership working. We strongly believe that bringing together the skills and expertise of operators and local authorities is the way to deliver passenger growth. We look to the Local Authorities and PTEs to come with us to really make this aspect of the legislation work."
PASSENGER TRANSPORT EXECUTIVE GROUP (PTEG)
Chair of PTEG, Neil Scales said:
"The Local Transport Bill has been a long haul but we are very pleased with the constructive dialogue we have had throughout with Ministers, officials and MPs of all political parties. The end result is legislation which strikes the right balance between national government setting out its ambitions for urban transport policy - and local determination of how that is best achieved on the ground in each of our very different city regions.
"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 get to grips with more of the problems 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."