Inclusion and access should be at the heart of the new Bus Services Bill

A bus in Manchester. Image: Divy/Wikimedia Commons.

Thirty years ago, the British government deregulated the bus market outside London. The move meant the needs of passengers were to be met largely by the market, with some subsidy from local government to incentivise bus companies to meet a greater range of needs through the provision of “socially necessary services”. 

It was known even then this would leave gaps in provision and un-met needs – needs that continue to grow as commercial and subsidised services are withdrawn in the face of cuts to local public spending. But the act of Parliament which deregulated the bus market did at least provide the legal framework for local communities to come together and form their own not-for-profit transport solutions: community transport. 

Too often we still see people excluded from the mainstream bus network due to their rural location, disability, or simply the time at which they want to travel. Now a new Bus Services Bill, which will provide a once in a generation opportunity to create a fundamental shift towards better local transport networks across England, is working its way through Parliament. If we are to develop a bus network that allows people to embrace their full social and economic potential, then we must keep a relentless focus on accessibility in that bill.

To achieve this, it is vital to question the purpose of our bus network, and the motives that fuel its development. In a deregulated market there is not a sufficient framework to enable non-profitable services to prosper. 

This may in part be addressed through the introduction of Enhanced Quality Partnerships in the Bill. These partnerships will enable local authorities, community groups and bus operators to agree standards on a range of measures – fares, bus times, frequency of service, vehicle standards and ticketing products. Passengers should be at the forefront of consultations when introducing new partnerships and deciding which measures to adopt.


What we would like to see is a greater narrative about the importance of accessibility to the bus network. To achieve this, the Bill should advance a measure of accessibility to routes as a key criterion to judging the success of new partnerships between local authorities, communities, and bus networks. 

Of course, one way of increasing the coverage of bus services is by network design through franchising. On its own, franchising might well deliver little that can’t be provided through partnership agreements. But if franchising schemes could provide a framework that encourages collaboration between the not-for-profit and commercial sector from the outset, it becomes possible to imagine a situation where the different strengths of the sector are used to their full potential, to ensure we have a bus network that strives to works collaboratively.

Finally, if we put access as the key measure of success in the Bus Services Bill, this means information also needs to be of a high quality. If we are to have an increase in the accessibility of routes, data needs to be open, to enable greater information and planning of services to enhance our networks and improve travel confidence.

The Bus Services Bill may be our best chance to radically reimagine the way we increase access to the bus network, and in turn improve social and economic opportunities through better transport links. It will be Parliament that decide the bill’s direction – and imaginative local authorities who will decide its impact.

James Coe is policy and public affairs executive at the Community Transport Association, which support the providers of voluntary transport through the UK to deliver inclusive and accessible services. He can be contacted @CTAUK1 and blogs here.

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Which British cities have the bestest ultrafast broadband?

Oooh, fibre. Image: Getty.

The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities. 

Between the dark web, Breitbard News and Donald Trump's Twitter feed, it's abundantly clear that terrible things often happen on the internet. But good things happen here, too - like funny videos and kitten pictures and, though we say so ourselves, CityMetric. 

Anyway. The government clearly believes the internet is on balance a good thing, so it's investing more in improving Britain's broadband coverage. But which cities need the most work?

Luckily, those ultrafast cats at the Centre for Cities are on hand with a map of Britain's ultrafast broadband coverage, as it stood at the end of 2016. It shows the percentage of premises which have access to download speeds of 100Mbps or more. Dark green means loas, pale yellow means hardly any. Here's the map:

Some observations...

This doesn't quite fit the pattern we normally get with these exercises in which the south of England and a few other rich cities (Edinburgh, Aberdeen, York) look a lot healthier than the cities of the Midlands, South Wales and the North.

There are elements of that, sure: there are definitely more southern cities with good coverage, and more northern onse without it. But there are notable exceptions to the pattern, too. Those cities with very good coverage include Middlesbrough (88.0 per cent) and Dundee (89.4 per cent), not normally to be found near the top of anyone's rankings. 

Meanwhile, Milton Keynes - a positive boom town, on most measures - lingers right near the bottom of the chart, with just 12.9 per cent coverage. The only city with worse coverage is another city that normally ranks as rich and succesful: the Socttish oil capital Aberdeen, where coverage is just 0.13 per cent, a figure so low it rings alarm bells about the data. 

Here's a (slightly cramped) chart of the same data. 

Click to expand.

If you can spot a patten, you're a better nerd than I.

One thought I had was that perhaps there might be some correlation with population: perhaps bigger cities, being bigger markets, find it easier to get the requisite infrastructure built.

I removed London, Manchester and Birmingham from the data, purely because those three - especially the capital - are so much bgiger than the other cities that they make the graph almost unreadable. That don't, here's the result.

So, there goes that theory.

In all honesty, I'm not sure what could explain this disparity: why Sheffield and Southand should have half the broadband coverage of Middlesbrough or Brighton. But I suspect it's a tempory measure. 

All this talk of ultranfast broadband (100Mbps+), after all, superseded that of mere superfast broadband (just 24Mbps+). The figures in this dataset are 10 months old. It's possible that many of the left behind cities have caught up by now. But it's almost certain we'll be hearing about the need for, say, Hyperfast broadband before next year is out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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