Agenda item

Bus Enhanced Partnerships

A report seeking approval from the Committee to establish an Enhanced Partnership Agreement with local bus operators.


The Executive Director of Economic Growth and Neighbourhood Services submitted a report seeking approval from the Committee to establish an Enhanced Partnership agreement with local bus operators.  The Enhanced Partnership Plan was attached to the report at Appendix A, the Enhanced Partnership Scheme was attached at Appendix B and a letter in response to objections that had been received from local bus operators was attached to the report at Appendix C.

The report explained that the agreement had been prepared to be in accordance with the Council’s published Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP), and it was a requirement of the National Bus Strategy for all local highway authorities to establish an Enhanced Partnership with all operators in the local area.  A BSIP had been published for the local area in October 2021 and set out an ambitious programme of measures to improve bus services in Reading.  Following adoption of the BSIP the Council had led the process to establish an Enhanced Partnership (EP) with local bust operators, in order to be in a position to deliver further bus service improvements.  As part of this process external legal advice and guidance had been obtained from Freeths LLP who had specialised knowledge of the regulations that were needed to set up an EP.

The EP consisted of two documents, the EP Plan and the EP Scheme.  The Plan set out proposals that covered the period 2021 to 2026 and drew on text from the adopted BSIP and did not add any proposals that were not part of the BSIP.  Its proposals aligned with the objectives of the National Bus Strategy.  The EP Plan reflected the ambitions for local bus services as set out in the approved BSIP, this included a range of enhancements and included improvements to service frequencies, a programme of bus priority measure and upgrading the bus fleet including the move to electric buses, subject to securing grant funding, in a number of categories as follows:

·         More frequent and reliable services;

·         Improvements to planning/integration with other modes;

·         Improvements to fares and ticketing;

·         Higher specification buses;

·         Improvements to passenger engagement.

The report explained that the EP Plan included detailed arrangements as to how the partnership would work, on-going governance and partnership working arrangements with all stakeholders, including local operators, including the establishment of an EP Board and EP Forum.  In addition, officers were currently working with the other Berkshire authorities to establish a Berkshire wide Forum to discuss cross-boundary services. 

The second document was the EP Scheme that contained only some of the proposals from the EP Plan that would take effect from 1 April 2022 in a number of categories that were set out in the report.  It was anticipated that this first EP Scheme would be reviewed once more detail was known about the availability of Government funding.  The Plan contained a variation mechanism to enable additional element to be added to the EP Scheme if funding was made available for element which did not currently sit within the EP Scheme.

In line with the relevant legislation, the EP Plan and Scheme had been sent formally to all local bus operators at the start of the 28 day objection period on 12 January 2022, with the bus operators having until 10 February 2022 to lodge an objection.  Objections had been received from Arriva and Thames Travel, specifically regarding the proposed governance arrangements for the EP.  However, further legal advice had confirmed that the objections did not meet the threshold required to stop the EP process and therefore the statutory consultation had been able to proceed as planned.  The Council was keen to continue to work closely with both operators to ensure the EP continued to be a constructive process.

Following a delay to the original programme to enable legal advice to be considered fully, the statutory consultation had commenced on 18 February 2022 and had closed on 4 March 2022.  Responses had been received from the consultees with some useful feedback which would be used to refine further version of the EP and the on-going operation of the EP arrangements. 


(1)     That the adoption of the Enhanced Partnership Plan and Enhanced Partnership Scheme from 1 April 2022 be approved;

(2)     That the Executive Director of Economic Growth and Neighbourhood Services, in consultation with the Lead Councillor for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport and the Chair of the Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport Committee, be delegated authority to make any amendments to the EP Plan and/or Scheme as a result of further announcements from the Department for Transport;

(3)     That the current funding circumstances as announced by the DfT and the implications for the future funding ambitions of bus services in Reading be noted,

(Councillors Stanford-Beale declared a prejudicial interest in the above item, on the grounds that she was a Council-appointed Non-Executive Directors of RTL.  She left the meeting and took no part in the debate or discussion.)

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