Municipal bus operation in Scotland encouraged by minister

Jenny Gilruth eencourages examination of municipal bus operation in Scotland

Local transport authorities (LTAs) in Scotland have been encouraged by Minister for Transport Jenny Gilruth (pictured) to consider operating municipal bus services after the Scottish Government commenced such powers under Section 34 of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019.

Municipal operation is among the options outlined in the Act that, it is hoped, will arrest bus patronage decline in Scotland and lead to improved services. Collaborative working via a Bus Service Improvement Partnership (BSIP) is another avenue, as is reregulation via the franchised model. Transport Scotland earlier said that secondary legislation to enable both the latter will be introduced “before the end of 2023.”

Where Scottish LTAs take up the ability to run local bus services themselves, they may do so “in any way they see fit within the wider context of their obligations,” says Transport Scotland. Such activities were previously prohibited under the Transport Act 1985. The new power sits alongside LTAs’ existing scope to subsidise services.

During passage of the Bill that subsequently became the 2019 Act, some LTAs in Scotland had indicated a desire for “a clearer legal framework to afford the option to run their own buses,” Transport Scotland said in an earlier consultation.

The 2019 Act “is not restrictive” in the way that those LTAs can run their own buses. As a result, they may choose to do so directly or via an arm’s length external organisation in which the LTA is the main shareholder but is not involved in day-to-day operation.

Under the Act, Scottish ministers may issue guidance in relation to exercising the new functions. Responses to the same consultation showed that four themes are dominant among the information that LTAs need for possible municipal operation: Legislative requirements, financial implications, competition impacts and bus service business models.

While Ms Gilruth has encouraged all LTAs in Scotland to consider using the new power to run their own bus services, she has acknowledged that not all will wish to do so, and that some will opt for alternative BSIP or reregulation approaches. However, “what is key is that LTAs will soon have greater tools at their disposal to revitalise bus services where required,” she adds.