Bus operators and public authorities in the West Midlands have entered a new wide-ranging partnership including the creation of a new body, The Bus Alliance, which will oversee the establishment of mandatory quality standards for bus services across the region.
The Bus Alliance will enforce minimum standards on vehicle emission levels, branding, maximum fares and frequency that bus operators will now be required to meet in order to operate in the region, using Statutory Quality Partnership powers under the Transport Act 2000.
An SQP has been used since 2010 by Centro and Birmingham City Council to set a minimum standard of quality for buses operating in the city centre. These will now be rolled out over the entire region under the banner of the Alliance and unlike previous bus agreements, this is no longer voluntary.
The ITA warns operators that they will have to abide by the new standards if they want to run buses in the region. “Before, this was done voluntarily and bus companies that did not take part were still able to operate on the lucrative routes and locations around the region.
“Now this is no longer the case and it will allow the Alliance to tackle quality issues identified across all the districts of the West Midlands, such as working to remove older and more polluting buses.”
The Bus Alliance has been created by the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority and Centro and is chaired by John McNicholas, the chair of the ITA delivery committee.
“Previous partnerships have worked well and the Bus Alliance will allow us to continue the good work by achieving even higher standards,” says McNicholas. “Crucially, we will be working with the smaller bus operators to help them meet those new standards and ensure the network is not monopolised by the bigger companies.”
The Alliance will be run by a board comprised of councillors, and representatives from bodies including local authorities, bus operators, the ITA, West Midlands police, Transport Focus and is supported by the Department for Transport.
It will be enforced by the traffic commissioner in the same way as the SQP in Birmingham city centre, where bus companies failing to comply have been barred from operating.
The ITA’s bus policy which will be implemented by the Alliance includes objectives to increase bus patronage by 5 per cent, improve peak time journey speeds and maintain customer satisfaction levels at over 85 per cent. The ITA is also aiming for fare rises of no more the RPI +1 per cent per annum, discounted young person’s travel for everyone under 19-years-old and an increase in bus patronage of 5 per cent.
The ITA says that the initiative will see £150 million invested by operators and partners between now and 2021.
“It will further strengthen the relationship between our West Midlands local authorities, the transport delivery body and all bus operators, large and small,” says Roger Lawrence, the ITA chair.
Speaking on behalf of the operators, Peter Coates, National Express West Midlands managing director says: “This agreement is great news for bus users in the West Midlands.
“It will deliver quicker journey times, newer buses, better on-board services and limit fare increases. It is the first time that bus companies, highways departments and leaders of local councils have come together to deliver such a raft of improvements.”