The Local Transport Act 2008 (“the 2008 Act”) contains provisions to enhance the powers of local transport authorities in England and Wales to secure improvements to local bus services in their areas. Options for these authorities include through voluntary partnership agreements, quality partnership schemes and quality contracts (bus franchising) schemes.
Voluntary partnership agreements and quality partnership schemes offer the potential for local authorities to secure improvements to the standard of local bus services, alongside local authority investment in new or improved facilities for bus services and passengers. Quality contracts may provide for the payment of subsidy for the operation of local services under those contracts, and the 2008 Act includes provisions to make quality contracts schemes a more realistic option for local authorities.
Local transport authorities already have the power to enter into subsidised service agreements with bus operators, by virtue of section 9A of the Transport Act 1968 (for Passenger Transport Authorities) and section 63 of the Transport Act 1985 (for other local transport authorities). The 2008 Act amends these powers to allow subsidy agreements to be entered into, not only where services would not be provided at all in the absence of subsidy (as at present), but also where they would not be provided to a particular standard. Provisions in the 2008 Act also increase the maximum permitted duration for subsidised service agreements from five to eight years.
Except where specific provision is made in section 134 of the 2008 Act, the provisions of that Act are to be brought into force by commencement order made by the Secretary of State (or in some cases by the Welsh Ministers, in so far as provisions apply in Wales). The first commencement order is expected to be made early in 2009.