I was quite surprised by the way the local media did (or didn’t) report a very significant change to the way Bristol’s buses operate.
I reported for Original on the fact that by introducing what’s known as a ‘Quality Contract’ between itself and First, the city council could start to gain control over the city’s bus operator.
This would be a small step towards the kind of bus service many Bristolians would like to see in Bristol, but I believe it would be highly significant and deeply symbolic of the city’s direction of travel (if you’ll pardon the pun).
So I was quite surprised by the fact that both the BBC and the Evening Post (often perceived to be anti-First) didn’t really mention this significant development in their reports.
Both focussed on the fact Bristol could get a ‘Brunel Card’, a kind of Oyster card allowing travel on different types of transport around Bristol. This is certainly newsworthy, but I was surprised that both saw it as the main point of their story.
Bristol’s main bus operator, First, could be forced to cap bus fares and keep to new minimum standards of service.
Councillors in Bristol will this afternoon vote on whether to introduce new powers, known as ‘quality contracts’. They would – if introduced – allow councillors to set bus fares, specify the frequency of bus services, and dictate the types of buses used.
At present, the council has little control over bus operators in the city, who operate as private companies. First has regularly attracted criticism from Bristolians who complain about infrequent services and high fares.
Councils such as Bristol have been given the ability to introduce quality contracts by the Transport Act 2008.
The proposals could also see a new type of travel ticket introduced. Known as the ‘Brunel Card’, it would be valid on different types of public transport, as London’s Oyster card is.
The idea has been put forward by Labour councillor Mark Bradshaw, formerly in charge of transport policy at the council.
He told Original: “Where the council gets directly involved in negotiating things like timetables and sevices, you see an improvement. These contracts would give the council a seat at the table. Where people don’t perform well, the council can say “What’s going on here?”
“At the moment, when it comes to buses the council has very little say. Even though most people think the council has some kind of franchise arrangement, that is not the case at all.”
This is a blog by Martin Jones, a broadcast journalist from the south west of England. I currently work for BBC Somerset and used to work in commercial radio. Any views expressed are my individual opinions and not those of the BBC.