How are bus services provided in Devon?
Bus services are still largely governed by the 1985 Transport Act, sometimes known as “deregulation”. This legislation allows any bus operator to run a bus service, as long as they register it with the Office of the Traffic Commissioner, and give the required amount of notice. The operator sets the timetable, route the bus will follow and the fares to be charged. They can also change the service, or stop operating it, as long as they have given the required amount of notice.
These services are referred to as “Commercial Services”, as the fares taken need to cover all the costs of operating the service. There is no external control over commercial services and neither the Traffic Commissioner or Devon County Council (DCC), have any powers to make an operator change the route, timetable or fares of a service. There is also no requirement for an operator to consult with the public on changes to a commercial service – they are simply run as commercial venture by the bus company.
There is also no protection for a commercial route, and therefore nothing to prevent another operator giving the required period of notice then operating in competition on a route. They would be free to charge different fares, have a slightly different (or the same) route, or use different size buses – the only requirement is that notice must be given to the Traffic Commissioner giving details of the timetable and route.
The majority of bus services in Devon (around 80%) are commercially run by Stagecoach Devon Ltd.
The remainder of the bus services in Devon are mostly “Supported Services”, sometimes referred to as “tendered” or “subsidised”; these are financially supported by DCC. This is where no bus company wants to run a commercial bus service, and DCC will consider providing a “supported service” on a specific route. This will normally be by tendering the service through our procurement process. DCC will specify the timetable, route and fares. Any bus operator can submit a tender and the tender is awarded based on various factors including price. Because these services are operated under contract, DCC retains control of the timetable, route and fares, and also monitors compliance and performance of these services. DCC have slightly more control over supported services and can in effect withdraw the tender if an operator is not fulfilling it. Major changes to supported services would usually be subject to DCC Cabinet approval or even on occasion a public consultation.
Supported services also need to be registered with the Traffic Commissioner in the same way as commercial services.
DCC is limited as to the number of supported services it can provide due to budget constraints.
Who has overall control of Bus Services in Devon?
Nobody has overall control of bus services in Devon. As described above, on commercial services the operator has the freedom to start, change or stop the service. DCC does have some control over those services which it financially supports.
The Traffic Commissioner has powers to ensure that bus services registered with them are operated properly, and has the power to call an operator to a Public Inquiry if journeys are regularly missed, or the service is often very late. The Traffic Commissioner can then impose a fine, or reduce the number of buses a company can operate. They can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Devon County Council’s Enhanced Partnership
Devon County Council and local bus operators are currently going through the legal process of forming an Enhanced Partnership. This should be in place by October 2022.
An Enhanced Partnership is an agreement between a local authority and local bus operators to work together to try and improve local bus services. It includes a clear vision of the improvements that the partnership is aiming for and accompanying actions to achieve them. The Enhanced Partnership does not give DCC any new powers over commercial services.
The local authority has formal responsibility to form the partnership. They can only proceed with proposals if they have the support and input of local bus operators.
Full details of the partnership, including Devon’s Bus Services Improvement Plan, will be published on the Travel Devon website in due course.
No bus services in Devon are franchised, and DCC do not currently have any franchising powers.
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