Transport after the General Election: A conference report

Session 3: Devolution and Transport

Moves towards franchising and integration

Chairing the third session, Consumer First Partnership Director, Anthony Smith, pointed out that research showed that transport users didn't care who ran services – they just wanted them to be on time and reliable. So how would devolution make a difference?

Transport for West Midlands executive director Anne Shaw OBE started from the demographics of the region. The West Midlands had 3 million residents, 100,000 businesses and 1.3 million workers. The population was ethnically diverse, but there were also large areas of deprivation.

Devolution aimed to provide an economic environment that everyone could benefit from. As part of the West Midlands Combined Authority, TfWM had been moving towards thinking not just about transport and transport investment for its own sake, but how it fitted in with housing, social inclusion and building better and healthier communities, decarbonisation, and improving air quality.

At the recent elections there had been a change from a Conservative mayor to a Labour mayor ,who has some different priorities – there would be more focus on social inclusion and in particular wanting to take back control of the bus network. Investment in transport had to be considered in the context of people's lives and enabling them to get to education, employment and healthcare.

It would be important to have fiscal devolution to go with the devolved transport planning functions. Revenue funding also needed to be considered, thinking about the operation of services as well as the infrastructure, to keep the network working at its best.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority head of transport policy Helen Ellerton summarised the five missions in the West Yorkshire Plan.

First, prosperity and an inclusive economy; second, heathier and happier communities; third, a strong transport system; fourth, sustainability; and finally to make West Yorkshire a safe region where everyone can flourish. An integrated transport plan includes a number of elements. The combined authority voted in March to go ahead with the introduction of bus franchising, allowing it to set the routes, frequency fares and overall standards of bus services in the region. Benefits will include a simpler range of fares, unified information provision, more bus priority measures leading to better punctuality, and greener vehicles.

A mass transit network centred on Leeds and Bradford is a priority, and capital funding of £2.5bn has been allocated under the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement, with delivery set for 2028. All these are expected to move forward over the next few years to allow the region to move towards an integrated transport network.

Developing an integrated transport was also the aim in Greater Manchester, said TfGM managing director Steve Warrener. Manchester's Bee Network was not about public transport for its own sake. It was about transport supporting and enabling economic growth and quality of life, protecting the environment, supporting net zero, connection people to education and job opportunities, development and housing. TfGM was working closely with private sector partners.

Since the first phase of franchising went live last September, patronage has increased and punctuality has improved, he said. "Franchising enables us to move quickly to do things we couldn't previously," he said, "the ability to plan the network differently. We're talking to businesses and communities to ask what they need."

The process is part way through, with a final phase to take place in January next year. Rail is also integral to the Bee Network, and TfGM is working with partners to integrate initially eight commute lines into the city centre.

Mr Warrener said: "There is a need for politicians locally and nationally to push the growth aspects, to unlock the full potential of transport. There is a need to change mindsets about public transport outcomes and not see it as just a cost."

Confederation of Passenger Transport chief executive Graham Vidler said his members were intimately involved in devolution, and he posed four questions.

First, "how do we deal with places and [smaller] authorities that don't want the additional responsibility or don't have the resources to deliver?" Authorities had been decimated in recent years and a lot of knowhow had been lost.

Second, "given funding will be tight, how can we show the additional economic benefits from transport funding?"

This partly required a conversation between central and local government, perhaps tying funding to aspects that contribute to growth, or between local authorities and private sector partners – for example bus operators introducing better buses in return for local authorities making operation conditions easier.

Third, were some issues and policies sufficiently important that they should be adopted nationally? As an example he suggested the fare cap or whatever succeeded it should be "nationally determined and applied". Similarly should there be a minimum standard of bus provision applied nationally?

Fourth, How should cross border issues over local authority boundaries be handled?

Mr Vidler suggested national standards should help, organisations would need to be brought together with a focus on passengers, and there could be a role for the sub-national transport bodies to share expertise across regions. It must not be forgotten that these issues are really important for the coach industry as well as local transport, he added.

Snapper Services chief executive Miki Szikszai returned to the theme of franchising. "We all know the trend to franchising has started and it will grow stronger." Snapper Services produces the Mosaiq Transit Intelligence Suite, which provides a public transport analytics platform.

Franchising was used widely in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and elsewhere, "but managing it is a challenge that has to be carefully negotiated," he said. "It needs to be cohesive. The operator is in an environment where they have to collaborate more with the authority, and the authority is more hand on navigating from one system to another, so both have to be more collaborative."

Successful collaboration depends on trust, accountability and transparency, he added. "We believe everyone wants this to work, but they need the right tools and environment."

Snapper Services had been working with West Yorkshire Combined Authority as they prepared to introduce franchising. Analytics allow authorities to understand and act on performance data and "to see the whole picture".

Franchising was just one part of the future of public transport, but there is a role for analytics in all models. "The overall objective is to make public transport better," he said.

Session one: Priorities for the next UK Government

Session two: Rail Reform, Delivery and Funding

Session three: Devolution and Transport

Session four: At the sharp end: de-carbonising our transport system