A report to Bath & North East Somerset Council’s cabinet is recommending that the West of England Metro Mayor be asked for a review of options for ‘franchising’ bus services across the West of England.

Franchising would see the current bus system- where commercial services operate on profitable routes and local authorities pay for additional “supported” buses on others– replaced by one where all routes, services and fares in an area are set through contracts with operators.

A report to the meeting on 9th March says that bus services are currently unstable and confusing. It says that franchising would provide simple, unified and integrated ticketing in one easy to use network with a single point of contact for passengers.

Only the West of England Combined Authority, as transport authority, currently has powers to introduce bus franchising. The report recommends that the Metro Mayor be asked to commission an independent review of options, including a fully-costed business case.

The report also asks the Metro Mayor to consider the adoption of “precepting” powers. Under the current devolution deal, WECA does not have the power to raise a Mayoral precept. Other Mayoral Combined Authorities do have precepting powers, meaning they can raise a precept on Council Tax to fund mayoral responsibilities, including public transport, as part of their annual budget setting process.

Councillor Sarah Warren, Deputy Council Leader and Cabinet Member for Climate and Sustainable Travel, said: “The Metro Mayor has said he would like to see London-style bus services, but London works on a franchising model- our own bus system is broken. We urgently need high-quality, co-ordinated. bus services that link up the places where people live and want to go. People need a stable network they can depend on, without all the constant changes we see now. With transport currently accounting for 29% of carbon emissions in the B&NES area, it’s time for new thinking that contributes to our net zero targets and puts the needs of passengers first.”

The report to cabinet follows a motion agreed at Full Council in October 2022 calling for a co-ordinated, imaginative, long-term approach to public transport, through bus franchising or equivalent across the West of England.

Greater Manchester will shortly be adopting the franchise model with the first round of franchised bus services likely to be introduced this year.

For full details read the report to cabinet.

The meeting will also be live streamed on the council’s  YouTube channel.