IPPR calls for new Total Transport Authorities

Think tank IPPR has joined the debate on the future of bus regulation with a call for new Total Transport Authorities in England. The group proposes that these new bodies take charge of all transport-related funding and regulatory powers “in order to sustain and improve vital bus services in our towns and rural areas”.

IPPR points to the growth in bus ridership in London compared to the rest of England as evidence to back up its ideas. Noting that the metropolitan areas are already responding to the issue by trying to re-regulate, the IPPR’s report contrasts this with the rest of the country: “Elsewhere, however – particularly in towns and rural areas – bus services have been decimated by a vicious cycle of falling patronage, rising fares and cuts to services, a process exacerbated by severe cuts to both local authority budgets and subsidies for bus companies,” says IPPR. “This has left many people isolated – particularly those without a car, which includes large numbers of young people, pensioners, disabled people, and those on low incomes or who are out of work.”

It believes new TTAs should cover travel-to-work areas across local authority boundaries. “These new bodies should take charge of all transport-related funding and regulatory powers, and encourage the delivery of bus services by a much wider range of providers, including social enterprises, community investment companies and municipal companies,” says the IPPR. “By first focussing on pooling services already provided by local authorities, and in time taking on responsibility for public transport provided by other public bodies such as hospitals, GPs, further education colleges and higher education institutions, TTAs would promote social justice by improving bus services for thousands in isolated communities, and reduce carbon emissions by providing a viable alternative to car travel.”

Some of the ideas in the report have been welcomed by the Campaign for Better Transport which helped pioneer some of the current Total Transport pilot schemes.

“Our research has shown that many bus services are being cut, especially in rural areas,” says Martin Abrams, public transport campaigner, CBT, “and that this has real social and economic impacts, preventing people taking jobs, making access to healthcare and education more difficult, and leaving older people isolated.

“So we welcome the ideas in this report, which we believe offer new ways forward – we helped promote ‘total transport’ projects and the proposals here would build on those and bring together all the transport services commissioned by public bodies. Different forms of franchising and funding, including with social enterprises, should be promoted - and with the government’s promised Buses Bill coming up there’s an opportunity to get these ideas on to the statute book.”