* Wiltshire Council Survey closed 23.8.2021
* Wilsthire Council Climate consultation open until 17.10.2021
* See http://old.option247.uk for the old (2016) campaign site
* These pages being updated regularly for the "Bus Back Better" partnership work.
Public Transport 2021 - Bus Back Better - the way forward
• Option 24/7 was set up in 2016 to work for better bus service for passengers, operators and local government. See old.option247.co.uk for previous site.
• In 2016 we succeeded in preventing a major reduction of routes, frequency and hours.
• The Government's "Buses Back Better" policy was published 15.3.2021 ... and it aligns rather well with Option 24/7 view.
• Biggest change since bus deregulation in 1986. Our initial response - ((here))
• Government paper mirrored ((here))
• Option 24/7 meeting - 29.3.2021 - slides ((here))
• Option 24/7 meeting - 19.4.2021 - slides((here))
• 17th September 2021 - Draft BSIP, Improvements for current (financial) year and Option 24/7 master organisation document via http://option247.uk/bbb_202109.html
- Who are Option 24/7
- Our base proposals, from 2016
- Buses back better - the Department for Transport bus strategy, 2021
- How our proposal set the scene and direction for 2021
- Looking forward
Who are we (the Option 24/7 team)? - by Lee Fletcher - 20.3.2021
Back in the mid-2000s we at what was then the Save The Train Campaign and the Melksham Rail Development Group combined sound business case principles with what both current and potential passengers told us they wanted, in order to create the most credible proposal possible for an appropriate TransWilts rail service.
As we all know, it was a long haul to get there, but in December 2013 we finally got that appropriate TransWilts rail service, and when the first full set of passenger figures came in, the value of our approach was fully recognised as it became clear that our projections were far closer to those numbers than the official consultant's projections had been. Our follow-up plans, along with a lot of volunteer hard work from all involved, built up the significant early rises in those passenger numbers to such an extent that Mark Hopwood himself referred publicly to it as "the TransWilts Success Story".
With the TransWilts rail service safely established, we turned our attention in the mid-2010s to applying similar sound business case principles and knowledge of customer needs and aspirations to the local Wiltshire bus network. This was initially done through a combination of Graham's work on a more balanced distribution of vehicle resources that were at that time deployed in cut-throat competition between First and Faresaver on the main interurban bus services that ran through Melksham, and my own research into Quality Contract Schemes, which were the embryonic version of what would become the method of Bus Franchising that was introduced as an option in the Bus Bill legislation of that period.
Option 247 proposals from 2016
This work, and the proposals put forward around this time by Wiltshire Council to make substantial cuts to the public transport budget which would in turn have caused consequential significant cuts to local bus services, came together to form the catalyst for the original Option 24/7 proposals. These aimed to provide a better, more efficient bus network more tailored, as with the TransWilts rail proposals before, to what both current and potential passengers told us they wanted. This in turn would initially deliver the budget savings that Wiltshire Council required without the need for cuts to local bus services, while in later years the subsidy requirement would continue to fall as a result of the more passenger-focused network delivering sustained increases in passenger numbers.
The Option 24/7 proposal also set out a number of principles to be adhered to, relating to such subjects as:
• Network Design
• Punctuality and Reliability
• Integration with other modes such as Rail, Cycling and Walking
• Consistent network branding, and promotion in partnership with the community
• Fair, easy to understand and integrated Fare Structures that link to each other, such as through Rail and Town Bus designation
All of this would be overseen by local public transport committees, with equal weight given to local authorities with their planning and funding responsibilities, operators with their operational and commercial expertise, and crucially, passengers, the local community and their representatives.
We put the best possible team together for the negotiations with Wiltshire Council, comprising of Graham (Ellis), Peter (Blackburn) and myself, along with bus industry expert Natacha Tagholm. Between us, as well as our rail experience we had:
• Business and community experience
• Council experience
• Bus company experience
• Travel planning experience
• Political experience
I had also received expert training from senior officers involved in live bus franchising schemes from Tyne & Wear, and Greater Manchester.
Although negotiations with Wiltshire Council were cordial and professional, it became clear over our several meetings that we had a number of differences on approach that ultimately proved too difficult to bridge, and they decided that did not want to proceed with implementing the Option 24/7 proposal at that time. Not so much of a loss - more of a compromise in that cuts planned as parts of the consultation did not materialise ;-) - GE
So where are we now in 2021?
Now in 2021, the DfT have produced a bus strategy that contains everything that our Option 24/7 proposal did, but with two key differences. The first is that Wiltshire Council can no longer simply decide that the proposal is not for them, as the strategy makes clear that this is the way things must be done from now on. Furthermore, access to both current and future streams of funding will depend on full adherence to the strategy.
Summary of what Local Transport Authorities (LTAs) and bus operators must do to access COVID-19 Bus Services Support Grant from 1 July 2021 and transformational funding from April 2022:
• By the end of June 2021 LTAs will need to commit to establishing Enhanced Partnerships under the Bus Services Act or the LTA should begin the statutory process of franchising services. Operators in those areas should cooperate with those processes.
Those LTAs who do not have access to franchising powers at present, but consider that it is the best route to adopt in the interest of passengers and that they have the capability and resources to deliver it, should progress with the implementation of an Enhanced Partnership alongside applying to the Secretary of State for access to franchising powers.
• By the end of October 2021 each LTA will need to publish a local Bus Service Improvement Plan. Each plan will need to be updated annually and reflected in the authority’s Local Transport Plan and in other relevant local plans such as Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs)
• From April 2022, LTAs will need to have an Enhanced Partnership in place, or be following the statutory process to decide whether to implement a franchising scheme, to access the new discretionary streams of bus funding. Only services operated or measures taken under an Enhanced Partnership or where a franchising scheme has been made will be eligible to receive the new funding streams.
What changes from 2016 to 2021?
Under Enhanced Partnerships, bus operators will have more rights and and a higher level of input than under full franchising. However, when it comes to LTAs and bus operators delivering what they sign up to or being held to account, then passengers will notice very little difference between the two schemes. This is because the requirements of the Bus Service Improvement Plans will be exactly the same for both, and because Bus Service Improvement Plans will need to explain exactly how passengers, the local community and their representatives have been involved in formulating all aspects of the plan, including network design, in order for the plan to be considered valid.
The second key difference is that unlike the original Option 24/7 proposal which focused on using existing resources in a better and more efficient way, this time there will be genuine new funding available, which will allow both new bus services to be introduced and existing bus services to be enhanced as well.
Most of this new funding will be released after April 2022, after the final stages of moving to an Enhanced Partnership or full franchising have been put into place. However, some will be released in the early stages of the process, partly to help train local authority officers in how to implement an Enhanced Partnership or Franchising scheme.
Looking forward to the future
This is where we in Wiltshire will have a key advantage, as both the Option 24/7 and Wiltshire Council teams had to learn how to implement these kind of schemes in order to be able to progress the original negotiations. Graham, Peter and myself will be returning to move the new Option 24/7 strategy forward, and key members of the Wiltshire Council team remain in post today as well. When we begin fresh talks on how to formulate the Wiltshire Bus Service Improvement Plan together in partnership - as we are about to formally request - then this will give us a head start on finally giving our area the bus network we have all always aspired to, as part of a wider truly integrated public transport and active travel network fit for a brighter post Covid-19 future, and ready for the challenge of the Climate Emergency ahead.
Make no mistake, this is the most pivotal moment in the history of the bus industry since deregulation in the 1980s, and a once in a generation opportunity to move on from where that led our bus network to where we truly want to take it. If YOU want to join our active team, then please sign up to the Facebook groups @Option247 or @MelkshamRUG or visit http://option247.uk/ and http://mrug.org.uk/