ZoneCard price hikes – we need bus regulation now! Tell SPT to scrap BSIPs & fast-track public control Big win for the Better Buses campaign Make your voice heard for better buses! Please come to our AGM to find out more
Strathclyde Regional Bus Strategy

Tell SPT to scrap BSIPs & fast-track public control

Following Better Buses for Strathclyde’s first big campaign win on Friday 15 March, the fight goes on to take our buses back into public control.

Our regional transport authority – Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) – is now running a public consultation on their proposals for bus reform, which closes on Monday 13 May 2024.

We Strongly Support SPT’s plans to commence work on bus franchising (re-regulating the bus network) and to develop a business case for a new publicly-owned bus company for Strathclyde. These are our two key campaign asks.

However, we Strongly Oppose SPT’s proposal to sign a so-called ‘Bus Service Improvement Partnership’ (BSIP) with the private bus companies. This would be a massive waste of time and money, and would lock us into the failing deregulated system for years to come.

The BSIP must be stopped!
We need SPT to use all their resources to fast-track public control instead.

Complete the Consultation

It is really important that all our campaign supporters take 5 minutes to respond to SPT’s consultation before the deadline at midnight on Monday 13 May 2024.

Please use our suggested answers below focussing on the important Questions 8-11, as well as the optional Question 19.

Question 8: Business as Usual and Voluntary Partnerships

  • Rule out business as usual – Suggested Answer: Strongly Support
  • Rule out voluntary partnerships – Suggested Answer: Strongly Support

Question 9: Local services franchising and Bus Service Improvement Partnerships

  • Take forward Local services franchising – Suggested Answer: Strongly Support
  • Take forward BSIPs – Suggested Answer: Strongly Oppose

Question 10: Municipal Bus Company

  • Investigate municipal bus operation – Suggested Answer: Strongly Support

Question 11: Further Explanation

You can leave Question 11 blank or – if you have time – please write some comments in the boxes provided to explain why you support or oppose SPT’s five proposals.

Feel free to use information from the Better Buses for Strathclyde petition, the campaign briefing or some of our suggested comments below (in italics).

Please try to put these points in your own words, as this will have more impact when the consultation results are analysed.

Rule out business as usual – Strongly Support

I strongly support SPT’s decision to rule out continuing with ‘business as usual’.

Here you can also write about how the present bus system is failing you and why you think public control of the network is now vital.

Rule out voluntary partnerships – Strongly Support

I strongly support SPT’s decision to rule out continuing with voluntary partnerships.

We have had these ‘partnerships’ in Scotland since the Transport Act 2001, and they have completely failed to deliver positive change.

Over this time, we have lost millions of miles of routes, fares have risen well above inflation, meaning fewer and fewer people are able to use the bus.

Take forward local services franchising – Strongly Support

SPT should focus all its resources on fast-tracking franchising.

The franchising powers in the Transport Act 2019 offer SPT a once-in-a-generation opportunity to end the chaos caused by bus deregulation and bring our bus network back into public control.

It is only by taking this approach that we can deliver a fully-integrated and coherent network across bus, Subway, rail and ferries; we can reconnect isolated communities, cut and cap fares and deliver one simple affordable ticket across all transport modes.

This is why many regional transport authorities in the north of England are now moving ahead with bus franchising, including in: Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire.

They know it is the only way to deliver the transformational change to our public transport system needed to address poverty and inequality and meet pressing climate targets.

If SPT does not follow their lead – and focus all resources on fast-tracking franchising – we will fall even further behind.

But SPT also has an advantage over the English city regions, in that it has the additional power to set up a new publicly-owned operator for Strathclyde (this power is not available in England).

It is therefore vital that SPT uses these two powers in tandem so that franchising can be delivered in a much more cost effective way in the longer-term (see further comments under ‘municipal bus operations’ below).

Take forward BSIPs – Strongly Oppose

SPT must scrap the plan to sign a BSIP with the private bus companies.

A BSIP would severely delay – and potentially sabotage altogether – plans for franchising and municipal ownership, locking us into the failing deregulated system for years to come.

There is a huge amount of evidence (including in Centre for Cities’ most recent ‘Miles better’ report) that no partnership model, no matter how it is framed (i.e. neither voluntary partnerships nor statutory BSIPs), can deliver the transformational change to our public transport system that we need.

A BSIP would simply maintain the failing status quo that has been highlighted so well in SPT’s Case for Change. This fact was put most succinctly by the former UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty & Human Rights, Professor Philip Alston, when he wrote in his 2021 report into the UK bus sector, “It is time partnerships are recognised as a tried-and-failed approach that should be retired in favour of actual regulation of public transport.” (p.33)

This is why none of the English city regions currently pursuing bus franchising (Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire), first entered into a statutory ‘Enhanced Partnership’ (the English equivalent to a BSIP) with bus companies before or whilst developing their franchising frameworks.

If SPT was to take this misguided approach it would be a costly waste of time which would only delay even further – and potentially sabotage altogether – the complex, but essential process of taking the bus network back into public control through franchising.

Systra’s research shows that it could take 1-2 years and cost £1.5 million to establish a BSIP, and cost £40-60 million annually to run. This is money which would be much better invested in accelerating the franchising process.

Any proposal to enter into a BSIP also has to be put out to another full statutory public consultation – at which point it will face fierce public opposition for all the reasons described above. This will just lead to further delays.

If, despite this public opposition, the BSIP is still signed, it can then only be “varied or revoked subject to agreement from operators” – something the private bus companies will never agree to as all they care about is maximising their profits in the deregulated system. It is therefore essential the BSIP is avoided at all costs.

There is no financial incentive for entering into a BSIP, as Transport Scotland have confirmed that funding from the ‘Bus Partnership Fund’ for bus priority measures can still be accessed if SPT is working towards franchising or municipal ownership (if and when this Fund is ‘unpaused’).

This means SPT would still be able to make improvements to the bus network in the medium term without the need for a statutory BSIP with bus operators. And, in fact, this would be by far the most sensible thing for SPT to do, as previous Centre for Cities research has shown that any investment in bus priority measures linked to a partnership model, primarily benefits the private operators (through increased profits) instead of the transport authority.

Further investigate municipal bus operations – Strongly Support

I strongly support SPT’s proposal to develop a business case for a new municipal bus company. However I want this to be far more ambitious.

The whole aim of bus reform should be to reduce fragmentation and deliver a coherent and joined up service across the region. It would therefore not be sensible to set up multiple new operators using this power.

I want SPT to set up one new publicly-owned bus company for Strathclyde, co-owned by the region’s 12 local authorities through SPT, which in the future has the potential to offer us the same great quality of service as Edinburgh’s successful and affordable Lothian Buses.

I’m aware that this cannot be done overnight, but the process can begin immediately with SPT setting up the new public operator to start taking over subsidised services across the region.

As Highland Council has shown with its pilot scheme launched in January 2023 (saving £1.4 million a year across just 10 previously contracted-out routes), this is a much more cost effective way of providing these services in a deregulated system. It would also give SPT the opportunity to build up experience and capacity running bus services while the franchising framework is being developed, so that the new publicly-owned operator is in a position to bid for contracts when they are ready.

Using this approach (not available in England), SPT has a distinct advantage over the English city regions currently pursuing franchising to deliver it in a much more cost-effective way in the longer-term:

Firstly, because it will ensure that there is always a public sector benchmark to check that private operators are not tendering over the odds for contracts.

And secondly, because SPT can also directly award contracts to the new public operator cutting the costs of managing the franchising process.

I want to see SPT use this approach to gradually take more of the network back into direct public ownership – so we can eventually re-build a municipally-owned regional monopoly, like Edinburgh’s Lothian Buses.

Question 19: Final Comments

Use this space for any comments you would like to add for SPT. You could remind them about the huge public support for the Better Buses for Strathclyde petition:

I am one of more than 10,000 people who have signed the petition calling on SPT to “Take Strathclyde’s Buses Back into Public Control”, which was formally presented to SPT’s Vice Chair Alan Moir on 23 February 2024.

This petition calls on SPT to take forward the powers for franchising and to set up a new publicly-owned operator for Strathclyde in tandem, as soon as is practicably possible.

The petition explicitly demands that SPT “rejects the idea of entering into a so-called ‘Bus Service Improvement Partnership’ with the private operators which would simply maintain the status quo”. It is therefore vital that this demand is listened to and that the proposal to sign a BSIP is scrapped.

Once SPT moves forward with developing plans for bus franchising and setting up a new publicly-owned bus company for our region – these 10,000 people will be 100% behind you. We will then turn our attentions to the Scottish Government to ensure that the funding is made available to implement the plans and deliver the transformational change to our public transport system that we urgently need.

Complete the Consultation