Welsh transport minister Carl Sargeant has warned that Quality Contracts will be considered where partnership isn’t working. Rhodri Clark reports

Welsh transport minister Carl Sargeant has confirmed draconian cuts to bus funding in Wales and warned that he is exploring the Quality Contract option.

Bus Service Operators Grant and Local Transport Services Grant (paid to local authorities in Wales) will be replaced in April by a Regional Transport Services Grant, administered by council transport consortia. The RTSG for 2013/14 will total £25m, compared with equivalent funding of £33m in 2011-12. However, funding for community transport will increase.

The Welsh Government said the scheme would reward operators for delivering targets such as maintaining core routes, offering affordable fares for all groups, improving timetable planning and delivering multi-operator ticketing schemes that ‘simplify ticketing arrangements and reduce costs for the passenger’.

Similar incentives in England are accompanied by additional funding, but with no such extra funding in Wales the implication is that grant payments to operators could fall even further if they are judged not to deliver the WG’s desired outcomes.

Sargeant said: “This new scheme, rather than rewarding operators for the fuel that they’ve consumed – whether there are passengers on the bus or not – will now place an emphasis on bus companies to run services that serve the needs of the community and are used by passengers.”

The minister told a Welsh Assembly committee he wanted more Quality Partnership Schemes in place.

He continued: “I believe that statutory bus QPSs offer to achieve what we wish the bus industry to deliver, but I will continue to keep that under review, especially if there is little evidence that sufficient work is being done to evaluate the potential for such schemes.

“I would also consider supporting Quality Contract Schemes where there is clear evidence that a partnership approach will not deliver the improvements that we want.

“Quality Contracts require the consent of Welsh ministers to what are, in effect, bus franchises. I will look to bring forward regulations on this during 2013/14, so that there is a full suite of powers available to influence the provision and standards of bus services, if voluntary and statutory partnerships are not taken up with sufficient vigour.”

He revealed that a QC for part of West Wales would be examined. Last year, Arriva Buses Wales thwarted the WG’s plans for a TrawsCymru-branded network of long distance buses by operating commercial services south of Aberystwyth under its own new Cymru Express brand.

Sargeant said the WG had “worked at length” with local councils to develop a QPS for TrawsCymru between Aberystwyth and Cardigan.

“We continue to have discussions with Arriva about the terms of that scheme,” he added. “In addition, we shall look at the case for developing a Quality Contract for that corridor.”

 

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