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22 May 2007 11:31 AM
Draft Bill to improve public transport and tackle congestion

DEPARTMENT FOR TRANSPORT News Release (049) issued by The Government News Network on 22 May 2007

A draft Bill to help improve public transport across the country and cut congestion in our towns and cities was published by the Government today. The draft Bill sets out proposals to restructure how local transport is delivered within communities. It would mean that the travelling public could benefit from local authorities taking local action to meet local transport needs.

If approved by Parliament the draft Bill would:

* Give local authorities the right mix of powers to improve the quality of local bus services, as proposed in Putting Passengers First last December following an extensive bus policy review.

* Empower local authorities in our major urban areas to review and propose their own arrangements for local transport governance to support coherent and effective transport planning and delivery.

* Update existing powers so that where local areas wish to develop proposals for local road pricing schemes, they have the freedom and flexibility to do so in a way that best meets local needs. It is expected that any scheme would be part of a wider package of measures to address local congestion problems and the draft Bill would require that the proceeds from any local schemes are spent on local transport. The draft Bill would give local authorities the flexibility and powers to deliver a tailored transport system better suited to the needs of the local area. For instance local authorities could:

* Introduce 'quality contracts' schemes to specify bus networks, timetables and fares in their local areas and to let contracts to bus operators to run those services.

* Propose reforms to the existing responsibilities of Passenger Transport Authorities and district councils in major conurbations outside London to enable a more coherent integrated approach.

* Propose new Passenger Transport Authorities in areas where they do not currently exist, and changes to the boundaries of existing Authorities where it makes sense to do so.

Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said:

"Improving public transport is vital if we are going to tackle congestion and climate change.

"Two-thirds of public transport journeys are made by bus, so it is only right that this Bill focuses on how we improve bus services.

"The measures we have published today will give local authorities the powers they need to ensure that local bus services meet local needs as part of a broader package which will give them the flexibility they need to tackle congestion."

The draft Bill is now made available for Parliamentary pre-legislative scrutiny by the House of Commons Transport Committee alongside a full public consultation.

In addition to publishing the draft Bill the Government also announced the first payments from the Urban Congestion Performance Fund totalling £2.2 million. The fund is designed to encourage local authorities in the ten largest urban areas to outperform their local congestion targets. The fund is worth £60 million in total over four years.

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1. The draft Local Transport Bill and the related consultation documents are available on the Department's website. The consultation closes on Friday 7 September.

2. The Eddington Transport Study, published last December, made a number of timely recommendations to enhance the delivery of transport in the UK's cities. These recommendations were aimed at better equipping us to address the high potential future cost of congestion and ensure transport can continue to sustain economic growth. They include reforming decision-making at the sub-national level to ensure the relevant bodies have the right powers and responsibilities for transport with the right geographical scope, and improving provisions for bus franchising. The Study drew attention to the substantial costs of road congestion for business and the economy and estimated that, without further action, congestion could cost an additional £22 billion in wasted time for road users by 2025.

3. 'Putting Passengers First' was published by the Department for Transport in December 2006. This report was the culmination of an extensive review of bus policy, and set out the Government's initial proposals to improve the quality of local bus services. It emphasised how buses play a crucial role in the UK's transport system, with over two thirds of all public transport journeys made by bus. This year, public expenditure on buses will have increased to around £21/2 billion a year, up from £1 billion a decade earlier. The Government has put in place free local bus travel for older and disabled people within their local areas, and will extend that to cover local bus services across England from April 2008.

4. The draft Bill would not provide the legal powers that would be needed for a national system of road pricing. The Government has made clear that decisions on that can be taken only in the light of further practical experience of local schemes. Further, separate, legislation would be needed if in future a decision was taken to move towards a national scheme - and there would need to be a full and informed public debate.

5. The first tranche of payments from the congestion performance fund announced today are distributed as follows:

West Midlands     £585,000 West Yorkshire    £510,000
      South Yorkshire:  £401,000 Tyne and Wear:    £336,000
      Leicester         £198,500 Nottingham        £208,000
      TOTAL             £2,238,000 



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Department for Transport Website: http://www.dft.gov.uk