Working paper

Driving change: reforming urban bus services

A policy paper of the EBRD’s Sustainable Infrastructure group
Public transport Transport Urban planning Buses

Bus services dominate our public transport systems, particularly in emerging economies, due to their cost effectiveness and adaptability, as well as the ease of reallocation and reconfiguration of bus fleets to respond to changing service requirements.

However, cities are facing intensified calls to reform their bus services to provide high-quality, safe public transport services for their users and address environmental challenges, notably congestion and air pollution. To deliver sustainable solutions, cities are increasingly looking to renew fleets and infrastructure, integrate their bus networks and introduce priority bus corridors. Bus sector reform is recognised as a fundamental step in achieving these goals.

Reform of the bus sector changes the way bus services are planned, procured, monitored and operated. It can fundamentally affect the role of the city authority through increased control over financial flows, risks and service obligations and, in so doing, influence the composition, scale and duties of bus operators and service providers. The need for the reform itself, and the process to deliver it, must fully reflect the current operating model, problem definition, service quality desired and institutions and actors involved.

Delivering on these objectives requires enhanced sector funding, regulation and monitoring and, importantly, a more engaged city authority to take an active role in planning and regulation of the sector. This is fundamental in order to provide financial stability and to assume an increased level of risk, be it political, operational and financial. To turn political will into achievement, cities and national authorities need to act in the interests of residents to deliver a reform programme through effective and committed negotiation with operators.

This bus sector reform policy paper is for city authorities who seek to transform bus services in response to user expectations and environmental challenges. It builds on experience from cities in emerging markets and on proceedings of the bus sector reform seminar held at the EBRD in London in July 2017.

Bus sector reform changes the way bus services are provided. It is likely to have a major impact on current and future market actors, notably bus operators and passengers. The reform process will affect the institutional, regulatory and operational structure and related planning, procurement, operation, monitoring and evaluation functions of bus services in the city. The actors involved can be wholly public or include a large proportion of private operators and often comprise a combination of the two.

The intention is to change the rules of the game, so while their objectives may be noble, the city must recognise the likely scale of opposition to reforms. The reform process will require periods of detailed consultation and negotiation to steer the reforms towards the intended outcome. Careful thought should be given to the process and ultimate goals and priorities, in order to direct reforms along a well-prepared and determined path.

While presenting the “what” and the “why”, this paper focuses particularly on the “how” to improve services by laying out the rationale and steps for cities to achieve bus sector reforms, with case studies, examples and illustrations. While it principally applies to urban bus networks, many elements are relevant to regional and sub-regional public transport networks.

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