July 29 2021

This week’s blog post is from CPT Scotland’s Director, Paul White. Paul writes about why we must embrace partnership working to improve bus services, generate modal shift and progress other shared aims.

Last month the Scottish Government announced initial awards of £23.6m of its Scottish Bus Partnership Fund £500m budget. Eight partnerships will start work on introducing measures to tackle congestion, priority bus and drive modal shift.

This is a fantastic good-news story and is step one of what will hopefully be a transformative process for local bus policy and road space allocation, with each local partnership committing to match government support with ‘match in kind’ investments.

However, not all parties have welcomed the Bus Partnership Fund, or the Bus Service Improvement Partnership model that it advocates. Certain pressure groups are calling for a halt in the Fund to prioritise regulatory change and the introduction of municipal bus operations and/or franchising.

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on Implementing the bus provisions of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. This consultation will shape the regulations and guidance for the Act and extend the ‘toolkit’ available to local authorities to influence bus service provision – be that through partnerships, municipal operation or franchising. These options are all laid out within the Act and CPT does not shy away from future conversations around regulation. However, Scottish Government, local authorities and bus operators cannot down tools and wait for this debate around the future of bus regulation in Scotland to conclude.

We are at a pivotal point in bus provision. The Scottish Government has committed £500m to improve bus infrastructure and we have a National Transport Strategy that overtly prioritises sustainable and active travel. If operators and authorities do not take this chance to tackle congestion and deliver better bus services we might not get another.

 Regardless of who operates the bus, the passengers inside deserve a reliable and comprehensive service, quicker journey times and affordable fares. These are the aims of the Bus Partnership Fund and the BSIPs it will create.  

Improving bus services and generating modal shift will also progress other shared aims around decarbonisation, inclusion, and accessibility.

In reality, we share similar goals as pro-franchising campaigners. However, let’s not halt current work to deliver bus service improvements to continue the decades-old debate on what regulatory model is best suited to deliver bus service improvements! I know my focus remains on ensuring the Bus Partnership Fund is successfully delivered to the benefit of bus users, local and national government and CPT members.