Franchised bus networks: Cultivating trust with transport data

The 2024 general election could reshape the UK's public transit landscape. Like many sectors, transit authorities will be assessing how a new government would address the main challenges faced by the industry today. There's no doubt that Net Zero, union strikes, and funding will be placed in the spotlight. But among these priorities, conversations around franchising will continue to take place if a change in government occurs.

Based on the current policy settings, franchising looks here to stay, and if anything, it might only accelerate with a change of government.

Franchised bus services place the design of the network under the control of a regional authority. Meaning that the authority manages routes, schedules and service standards, determining where and when vehicles operate. The overarching objective of franchising is to cultivate a more cohesive and responsive bus network that caters to the unique needs of local communities while aligning with broader regional objectives.

It's a change we've already seen in some parts of the UK. For example, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (LCRA) confirmed its plans to franchise in 2022 following a unanimous vote amongst local leaders. More recently, West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) has begun moving forward with its franchising initiative.

The model represents a significant departure from the current approach to managing and operating bus networks. As more authorities contemplate this transition in the coming years, it's crucial to acknowledge that adopting a franchising model represents its own set of challenges. However, by proactively identifying and addressing these challenges, we can prioritise maintaining an excellent passenger experience throughout the process. By doing this, we can facilitate the implementation of change as smoothly as possible.

The challenge of bus franchising in the UK

In the UK, franchising requires the devolution of funding of bus services from the Department for Transport (DfT) to the regional authority. This introduces a change for bus operators who would previously register a service on their own terms and apply for a subsidy, thereby competing for passengers. In a franchised model, operators are required to compete against each other for a contract from the transport authority.

Operators, accustomed to autonomy, must now adapt to a competitive landscape. Regional authorities grapple with balancing diverse interests while upholding efficient services. Both parties must collaborate to enable a culture of continuous improvement.

A successful franchised network can be characterised by transparency and accountability. Therefore, each party needs to know how their performance is contributing to the overall performance of the network and where improvements can be easily made.

Fostering collaboration with data insights

Snapper Services has first-hand experience helping authorities transition to franchising. In New Zealand, we supported Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) implement its new contract model through the delivery of accurate performance data. Our data analytics toolpresented transit data in an easy-to-digest format, ensured all parties had a clear overview of what was working well and what areas of the network needed improving. This was the birth of Mosaiq Insights.

With the same access to actionable performance data, Snapper Services supported the authority to build a trusting partnership. Here in the UK, we are supporting WYCA as it begins its journey towards a franchising model.

Using Mosaiq Insights, authorities like WYCA can now invite operators to access their unique performance data. While insights are private, having this capability ensures that all relevant parties can quickly identify inefficiencies while working together to make improvements, facilitating communication and collaboration. We want to shift the conversation away from blaming each other for what happened towards how to continuously drive improvements in line with evolving passenger expectations.

Transforming the future of public transit

The UK transit sector is changing. As a growing number of councils take control of their networks, empowering stakeholders with the tools and knowledge required to drive collaboration will be paramount. The industry must work together to assess the opportunities presented by franchising, while creating a culture of trust. Through data, it is possible to foster accessible, sustainable and efficient transit systems that place the passenger at the centre of the network.