Recent government investment in bus services, through the Better Bus Areas scheme and smart ticketing initiatives for example, matched with the longer-term commitment to the so-called Bus Service Operator Grant prompted thoughts about longer-term planning for bus passenger needs.
The potential creation of a government company to run the strategic road network in place of the Highways Agency, alongside a five-year funding plan also shows fresh thinking is coming into road travel.
At present there is an odd patchwork quilt of regulation for bus services.
The Traffic Commissioners, among other duties, have a role in licensing services and enforcing punctuality. The Vehicle and Operators Services Agency (VOSA) provides limited monitoring of timekeeping alongside safety duties. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and ultimately the Competition Commission strive to ensure competition works for passengers. The Department for Transport (DfT) retains key roles in funding and policy.
Maybe it is time to look at streamlining these structures?
Could some form of bus regulator replace this mix? In return for a five-year funding settlement for buses could a new regulator, somewhat like the rail regulator, ensure the industry delivers what passengers and government want?
Could it enforce statutory bus partnerships and bring a focus to local authority duties around punctuality and traffic enforcement? None of this would run across the idea of a de-regulated industry but would put it into a more coherent framework that might benefit passengers.