Ambitions for TfW scaled back after rail serivce woes
THE Welsh Government has scaled back its ambitions for Transport for Wales following major disruption to passengers under new train operator TfW Rail Services.
The Welsh Government established TfW in 2015 as its own transport company, saying it wanted TfW to become like Transport for London, which procures and manages bus services in London through franchise contracts.
Transport Minister Ken Skates put flesh on the bones last January, telling the Senedd that the public transport network – buses and trains – “will be increasingly directly owned or operated by Transport for Wales”.
However, TfW is not mentioned in the Welsh Government’s recently published White Paper on how buses will be operated in the future.
The document is almost 16,000 words long and explains how the Welsh Government plans to legislate for bus franchising in Wales, where bus services have been deregulated since 1986.
The White Paper says it will be up to local authorities to decide whether to introduce bus franchises.
Even the relatively simple task of developing standardised bus shelters for Wales is not now regarded as a job for TfW.
The White Paper says this would be “delivered through a JTA structure” in “the long run” – referring to its new plan to create a Joint Transport Authority covering the whole of Wales.
The JTA proposal has come out of the blue, having not featured in the Welsh Government’s public consultations on reforms to buses, taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs).
The JTA would “address the challenges faced by local authorities” after funding and staffing cuts.
TfW’s career in providing public transport began in October, when the £5bn Wales and Borders rail contract replaced the Arriva Trains Wales franchise. TfW procured the contract on behalf of the Welsh Government.
TfW Rail Services suffered mounting problems with the ageing train fleet and cancelled many services in the autumn.
From November 11 to December 8, 4.5% of its trains were re either cancelled or more than 30 minutes late, ate, compared with 3.7% in the same period a year earlier. Punctuality y was also worse than an under ATW.
AMs held eld Mr Skates accountccountable, grilling ng him in the Senedd enedd and in an n Assembly committee. This was a new departure, ure, because the previous ATW franchise was a UK Governrnment creaeation. Minisnisters appear ear to have ve sidestepped ed similar r questioning ng over future re p roblems s with bus us services by diluting or abandoning ng the plan for or TfW to own wn or operate ate the public transport network.
Asked why TfW was omitted from the White Paper, a Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “The White Paper p is about local authorities and Welsh ministers having additional powers to better control buses, taxis and private hire vehicles across Wales.
“TfW’s role in delivering public transport services beyond rail will become clearer as we consider the responses to the White Paper consultation and further develop the business cases for bus and taxi/ PHV reform.”
The White Paper’s only suggestion on bus ownership is for councils to have powers to run their own services – as some do under current legislation – or to set up their own arm’s-length bus companies.
The powers could be exercised where private p bus companies are
uninter- ested in tendering subsidised services.
The franchising proposals are modelled on new powers which the UK Government gave in 2017 to English metro mayors – whose city regions cover large conurbations and multiple local authorities.
Wales’ White Paper says: “It is considered essential that the local authority consults on any proposal to franchise local services to allow for public scrutiny of the proposal.
“It will be for the franchising authority to determine how they contract for the franchised services, bearing in mind the funding g available to them and their objectives.” for
It appears that the Welsh Government will devote time to legislating for new powers which councils have already indicated they are unlikely to use.
When the Welsh Government consulted on the subject ahead of the White Paper, the Welsh Local Government Association – representing all 22 unitary authorities – responded: “We remain to be persuaded whether new legislation is required to solve the problems facing the sector.
“Increased and refocused funding, together with an increased capacity in local authorities, would go a long way to addressing g many y of the issues raised in the WG consultation paper.”
A train in the new Transport for Wales colour scheme
Economy and Transport Minister Ken Skates