Bus policy and guidance
Transport Scotland sets the national policy framework on buses which is delivered by bus operators, local authorities, Regional Transport Partnerships and the regulatory authorities.
We have also published a suite of best practice guidance documents to assist in the provision of bus services.
Our bus policy aims are:
- To provide the environment for bus to act as an effective economic enabler by providing competitive, high quality public transport
- To enable bus to provide an effective alternative to the car by improving reliability, average bus speed and encouraging improvements to the quality of services and infrastructure
- To encourage investment in more efficient vehicles that produce less greenhouse gases and contribute to the targets in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009
- To link communities, people, places of business and employment and essential services through encouraging the maintenance and development of the bus network in Scotland
The majority of bus services in Scotland are operated on a commercial basis by private bus companies. Provided that an operator registers a service with the Office of the Traffic Commissioner they can operate any route they wish to any timetable.
Local transport authorities can provide subsidy for services that are not provided on a commercial basis but this is entirely a matter for the local authority.
Local authority run services
Section 34 of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 essentially gives local transport authorities the power to run local bus services that they were previously prohibited from doing under the Transport Act 1985. This power sits alongside their other responsibilities in subsidising local services were there is a need.
On 24 June 2022 the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 (Commencment No.5) Regulations 2022 came into force. This means that authorities are now able to operate local bus services using a PSV licence providing they are satisfied that the provision of such services will contribute to the implementation of their relevant general policies.
The 2019 Act does not restrict how authorities run their local services, however there are a number of existing duties which they should consider when looking to utilise this power.
To aid local transport authorities who wish to proceed with this option, we have produced an information note summarising obligations that should be considered.
Bus Service Registration in Scotland
On 31 January 2016 the Public Service Vehicles (Registration of Local Services) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2015 came into force. These regulations made changes to the bus service registration regime in Scotland as follows:-
The pre-registration period increased from 14 to 28 days to allow bus service operators and the relevant transport authorities time for meaningful discussion on the implications of any proposed changes and to plan accordingly to minimise any disruption or seek alternative options in the run up to service changes.
The registration period correspondingly decreased from 56 to 42 days, preserving the overall timetable from notification to service change at 70 days.
Guidance issued pre-changes
The Scottish Government expects bus operators and the relevant authorities to use the extended pre-registration period constructively to discuss proposed service changes and address any problems that may arise. To this end we have issued Best Practice Guidance for bus operators and the relevant authorities (any Passenger Transport Authority or local authority within whose area there will be a stopping place for the service).
The new timescales take effect on 31 January 2016. For the avoidance of doubt:
- If a bus operator sends a pre-registration notification to the relevant authority before 31 January, the 14 day pre-registration and 56 day registration periods will apply
- If a bus operator sends a pre-registration notification to the relevant authority on or after 31 January, the new timescales of 28 days pre-registration and 42 day registration period will apply.
Current Best Practice Guidance builds on work undertaken for Transport Scotland in Summer of 2015. This link contains the original report which formed the basis for the final guidance that was subsequently developed with stakeholders: Bus Service Registration Procedures - Developing best practice guidance
Office of the Traffic Commissioner
The Office of the Traffic Commissioner has amended the online forms to reflect the changes being made. These forms can be found on the Traffic Commissioners website.
These documents outline how operators, local authorities and Regional Transport Partnerships (RTPs) can work together to improve services within the existing regulatory regime.
- Guidance for Bus Operators and Transport Authorities in Scotland on Competition Issues in Respect of Statutory Quality Partnerships and Other Agreements
This document aims to provide guidance on when schemes or agreements will fall within the scope of competition law and how parties to such agreements can satisfy themselves that such arrangements are compliant with competition law.
- Buses for Scotland: Progress Through Partnership - A Guide for Local Authorities, Regional Transport Partnerships and Bus Operators
This guidance aims to facilitate the process of essential partnership working for Local Authorities, RTPs and Bus Operators on bus planning, service information, regulation and funding issues.
Statutory Quality Partnerships (SQPs)
This guidance is designed to help local authority decision makers understand the role of SQPs and to explain how they can be used as a powerful tool which can help to improve the delivery of bus services in their area, in conjunction with bus operators and RTPs.
Bus Punctuality Improvement Performance (BPIPs)
Guidance for local authorities and bus operators on the creation of BPIPs. BPIPs aim to the punctuality of bus services by creating a partnership through which the causes of service delays can be addressed.
The aim of this Framework is to assist Authorities and Bus Operators on approaches to the development of Park & Ride facilities in order to promote the construction of new facilities.
Moving into the Future: An Action Plan for Buses, the Bus Action Plan, was published as part of the National Transport Strategy in December 2006. It identified the need for Scotland-specific bus policy guidance on a series of topics, intended to promote and share best practice with a view to raising the standard of quality in the bus industry.
In March 2008, a High Level Forum of key industry representatives from central and local government, bus operators and regulatory bodies, highlighted the importance of pursuing initiatives on the basis of a partnership approach. The report of the high level forum is available. This is vital in working for effective bus services and in taking account of the developing roles and responsibilities of Local Authorities and Regional Transport Partnerships (RTPs).
As a result, the general guidance "Progress Through Partnership" was published in September 2008. Since then, a suite of bus policy guidance has been produced to provide a ‘toolkit' of initiatives which can be developed to address improvements in bus services.