Wales bus services set for complete overhaul as government prioritises climate change action

The Welsh Government has published a white paper on the future of bus services with a single franchising model being one of the options under consideration.

Lee Waters, deputy minister for climate change, says: “Buses are the backbone of our public transport service. They carry three times as many passengers as trains, getting people across Wales to work and school, allowing us to meet family and friends, and offering a key lifeline for the quarter of people in Wales who do not have access to a car.

“The legacy of privatisation still prevents us from planning buses as a public service and designing networks to ensure that investment gets people where they need to go.That isn’t good enough.”

Waters points to the critical importance of addressing transport emissions to meet climate change objectives and says that the inability to plan bus networks is “a key barrier to delivering a just transition to net zero”.

The Welsh Government has previously proposed franchising alongside bus partnerships, but, driven by the climate emergency,  it now appears to be seeking a more comprehensive change under a new slogan: ‘One Network, One Timetable, One Ticket’.

Representing Welsh operators, CPT Cymru has given a cautious initial response, claiming that franchising could cost around £61milliion a year and seeking further information including a detailed timetable and “solid financial commitment to fund the changes Welsh Government proposes”.

“Bus operators have worked closely with Welsh Government during the pandemic, and look forward to continuing this approach to deliver the shared ambition of more frequent and reliable bus services,” says CPT Cymru.

“Regardless of the regulatory model, close working between all partners is crucial to improving Wales’ bus services. Ensuring that operators’ expertise in running services, their strong track record for innovation and existing strong relationships with passengers are fully utilised will be vital.”

Adam Keen, managing director of Comfort DelGro-owned Adventure Travel, believes the proposals can work in principle, but questions the significant funding stream required and the ability that bus operators will have to react to customer needs. “Bus franchising has been on the cards for a number of years so today’s announcement is not unexpected,” says Keen. “Franchising is being discussed in various regions across the UK and indeed, some cities in England such as Manchester and Liverpool, are already quite advanced in their plans. 

“Whilst there are certainly mixed feelings among various operators, Adventure Travel is supportive of the plans and we consider our company to be in a very strong position to adapt as required and therefore also in a good position to comment on the plans.

“I can’t imagine that any franchising system would be implemented until at least 2026 given the enormity and complexity of the task ahead, which gives rise to concerns over what happens between now and then, as well as how the model works from that point on. Investment is also a significant concern, with new zero-emission buses each costing upwards of £100,000 more than a diesel variant and no firm funding or subsidy plans are in place for those vehicles yet, unlike England and Scotland.”

The consultation runs until 24 June 2022