Bid to help save some bus services in West Northamptonshire set for green light by councillors
'Enhanced partnerships' with operators are being touted as a way to 'transform bus services'
A bid to help prevent some bus services in the community from being lost due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic is set to be discussed by councillors tomorrow (Tuesday, June 8).
West Northamptonshire Council's cabinet is recommended to approve an arrangement called an 'enhanced partnership', which would allow it to access funding to help 'transform bus services'.
A cabinet report states as the local transport authority, the council has many responsibilities and duties in relation to bus services, but does not have a subsidised bus service budget.
Some services have been sustained by time-limited funding which is now coming to an end and this would see these particular services withdrawn as they are not considered commercial.
The current number of passengers is below the level required for the local bus network to be commercially viable and currently services are only being maintained through government support.
It is expected it will take some time, perhaps several years, for numbers to recover to pre-Covid levels once travel restrictions and social distancing are removed.
At the height of the first lockdown, the number of people using local bus services declined to 15 per cent of normal passenger. By April this year, local numbers had increased to 65 per cent of pre-Covid levels.
Without ongoing financial support, operators will have no alternative but to reduce their services, which is likely to result in some communities losing their services entirely.
The report states: "In March 2021 the government published Bus Back Better, the National Bus Strategy for England, which is backed by £3 billion of funding to transform bus services and help the bus industry recover from Covid.
"The strategy encourages councils to form enhanced partnerships with the bus operators which will enable delivery of improvements for passengers such as improved timetables and multi-operator ticketing.
"The step-by-step timescales for the formation of an enhanced partnership are for the council to commit to form an enhanced partnership by June 30, publish a bus service improvement plan by the of October 2021 and have the enhanced partnership in place by April 2022.
'By forming an enhanced partnership the council will be able to access the funding to help transform bus services."
Bus Back Better sets out a vision to make buses more frequent, more reliable, easier to understand and use, better co-ordinated and cheaper so that increased passenger numbers lead to reduced congestion, carbon and pollution and encourages motorists to use a bus rather than their cars, the report states.
The report adds: "An enhanced partnership is a statutory arrangement under the Bus Services Act 2017 which can specify, for example, timetables and multi-operator ticketing, and allows the local transport authority to take over the role of registering bus services from the traffic commissioners.
"The main difference versus franchising, is that operators in an enhanced partnership have a much greater role working with local transport authorities to both develop and deliver improvements for passengers and having a real say on how bus services should be improved.
"Enhanced partnerships also offer significantly more flexibility than franchising."