Councils are being urged to enter into a statutory ‘enhanced partnership’ or franchising agreements with bus companies in order to receive new funding from the Government.
The prime minister has announced the long-awaited new bus strategy for England, backed by £3bn of government cash.
The strategy includes hundreds of miles of new bus lanes, simpler bus fares with daily price caps, integrated services and ticketing across all transport modes, and all buses to accept contactless payments.
Boris Johnson said that local authorities will need to work closely with bus companies in order to receive the new funding. He also said he expected local authorities and operators to work together to deliver ‘turn up and go’ services on main routes.
In rural and suburban areas, the Department for Transport will allocate £20m from the rural mobility fund to enable on-demand services.
Mr Johnson said: 'As we build back from the pandemic, better buses will be one of our first acts of levelling-up.
'Just as they did in London, our reforms will make buses the transport of choice, reducing the number of car journeys and improving quality of life for millions.'
Later this year, the Government will consult on reforming the Bus Service Operators Grant.
Cllr Darren Rodwell, Local Government Association transport spokesperson, said: 'Councils want to work with government to make sure every community is able to access a local bus service. We would urge government to also plug the £700m annual funding gap councils faced before the pandemic in providing the concessionary fares scheme, which would help to protect local routes and reverse the decline in bus services.
'It is good the Government is also going to consult on reforming the Bus Services Operators’ Grant. Handing councils control over this funding would enable them to provide a more efficient and climate-friendly bus service that meets the needs of local communities.'
However, campaigners called on the Government to have 'much greater ambition' for rural public transport.
Tom Fyans, director of campaign and policy at CPRE, said: 'A one-off investment of £3bn is really just an expensive sticking plaster after a decade of cuts to rural bus services - we need to aim much higher. Our towns and villages need committed, long-term funding to deliver a comprehensive bus network for the whole country, with a reliable service for every community.'
Graham Vidler, chief executive of the Confedederation of Passenger Transport, called the strategy 'a huge opportunity for a step-change in bus use, with a major switch away from cars driving a green economic recovery', but said it 'must now be matched by local delivery and consistent policy across government to put buses at the heart of transport networks'.
He added: 'It is great to see government sharing our ambitious plans to deliver more frequent and comprehensive bus networks, building on private sector investment and in collaboration with local authorities.
'Local targets for passenger growth and quicker journeys will ensure local accountability and a shared commitment to delivering better services for passengers. This should be the focus of everyone involved in delivering bus networks, rather than the distraction of debates over regulatory models which deliver nothing for passengers.”
This story first appeared on localgov.co.uk