20 August 2015
Article by Andrew Minnis, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The Enterprise and Business Committee of the National Assembly for Wales (E&B Committee) is carrying out an inquiry into Bus and Community Transport Services in Wales. This blog post sets out the background to the inquiry addressing declines in the provision of bus services and the number of passengers in Wales, changes to bus policy, and proposals surrounding devolution of powers.
You can access the inquiry page with terms of reference, evidence received etc. via the inquiry page.
You can also follow the E&B Committee, including this inquiry, on Twitter: @SeneddEcon
Provision of bus services and passenger numbers decline
The provision of bus services and the number of passengers using them has declined in Wales (Figure 1). The Traffic Commissioners’ Annual Reports indicate that the number of registered bus services in Wales declined by approximately 25% between March 2005 and March 2014. Department for Transport (DfT) quarterly bus statistics show that bus passenger journeys have also declined by about 18% from their peak in 2008-09 to March 15. This decline in passenger numbers is greater in Wales than any other part of Britain. By comparison bus journeys in England outside London declined by just over 6% in the same period, and just under 16% in Scotland.
During its inquiry the E&B Committee are planning to look into the current condition of the bus and community transport sector in Wales, including the reasons for the recent decline in both registered bus services and bus passenger numbers. It will also explore the social, environmental and economic impact of the recent decline in bus services and passenger numbers.
Figure 1: British passenger journeys on local bus services by country (Index: 2004-05 = 100). Source: DfT Bus Statistics Series, passenger numbers are in BUS0106 (notes and definitions of these statistics)
Bus policy in Wales
Bus policy in Wales has undergone significant change in recent years with changes to the Welsh Government funding mechanisms and levels. For example in January 2014, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport announced the replacement of the Regional Transport Services Grant (RTSG) with a Bus Services Support Grant (BSSG) allocated directly to local authorities. In real terms this resulted in cuts in funding. For further details see previous posts on Funding for bus services and Changes to transport planning and funding in Wales. In addition to this there was the abolition of the Regional Transport Consortia last year.
The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport commissioned a review of bus policy which was published in July 2014. The review focussed on; measures to improve operator’s commercial performance to reduce their reliance on public subsidy; accessibility for disabled passengers; and options to support young people’s transport needs. The report makes 29 recommendations including recommendations for action by local authorities, bus operators, Welsh Government and other organisations to work more closely to organise and integrate bus services more effectively. Following on from this the new National Transport Finance Plan commits to implementing the ‘responses to the recommendations arising from the bus policy review’.
During its inquiry the E&B Committee will investigate the steps which should be taken to ensure bus and community transport services meet the needs of Wales.
Devolution of powers
While the Welsh Government is responsible for bus policy and funding in Wales, the bus industry in Britain was deregulated during the 1980s and the Assembly cannot currently legislate to change bus regulation arrangements in Wales.
The UK Government set out proposals to devolve powers over bus registration in its Command Paper – ‘Powers for a Purpose: Towards a Lasting Devolution Settlement’ in February 2015. However, devolution of wider bus regulation powers has not been proposed to date, but the Welsh Government has said it believes devolution of these powers is needed.
During its inquiry the E&B Committee are planning to look into the potential benefits or otherwise of devolution of bus registration powers, and whether further powers to regulate the bus industry are desirable.
The E&B Committee will be taking evidence from stakeholders during the coming months as the inquiry progresses.