Following publication of a National Bus Strategy on 15th March, a report will be taken to City of York Council’s next Executive on 20th May.
The report will set out how the council will support a flourishing network of bus services as York recovers from the pandemic.
The new guidance from the Department for Transport asks local authorities to set up an enhanced partnership with operators to improve services and ensure we build back better. If the report taken to Executive on 20 May 2021 is endorsed, the council will begin to develop a plan to improve the network in conjunction with operators and stakeholders. An early focus is likely to be on how new types of ticketing can be introduced to make it easier and cheaper to travel on any bus in the city. Other work will include improving the information available to passengers, improving passenger representation within the bus partnership and how measures to make bus services faster and more punctual can be introduced in York.
Bus services have been significantly impacted by the pandemic. In spring 2020 the number of people travelling by bus fell to around 10% of pre-covid levels. However, passenger volumes in York are now approaching 50% of the level they were in 2019, and there is an expectation of further recovery as restrictions change later this month.
The National Bus Strategy requires councils and operators across England to form an enhanced partnership with operators by July 2021 or risk losing the covid relief funding which is being paid to keep bus services running whilst passenger numbers are suppressed during the pandemic. Councils must then develop and publish a plan to improve services by October 2021. The Bus Service Improvement Plan will form part of York’s fourth Local Transport Plan and could potentially be used to bid for additional funds from central government – for example to continue the process of electrifying York’s bus network or support lower fares.
Options for the provision of bus services in York include developing the existing quality bus partnership – which is voluntary – into an enhanced partnership (which would be contractual) or franchising bus services. These options will be carefully considered as part of the Bus Service Improvement Plan.
The work being undertaken is funded initially by a one-off grant of £100,000 which the Department for Transport has paid to all local transport authorities in England. It is proposed that a further report is bought to Executive in September 2021, setting out the detail and contents of York’s Bus Service Improvement Plan.