Bus franchising could take place in around two years, if the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority decides it is the best way forward. 

The interim head of transport at the authority said he believed the Combined Authority needed to ‘try and put its foot on the accelerator’. 

Bus franchising is one of the things being considered by the authority to improve bus services across the county and Peterborough. 

The Combined Authority has said bus franchising would allow it to specify routes, timetables and ticketing arrangements, then inviting bus operators to bid for contracts to operate those services. 

In its draft bus strategy, it states that bus franchising could be the “best way of delivering a modern, integrated transport system”. 

It said: “Franchising itself will not deliver new or improved services, greater reliability or lower fares. 

“These can only be achieved through increased investment in the network. 

“However, what franchising could offer is greater network stability and local authority control over the design and delivery of an improved network of services with a sense of a single, integrated system and identity.” 

The draft bus strategy was presented to the Combined Authority board on November 30. 

Cllr Anna Bailey, leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, said bus franchising could “at best” take four years before getting to the point of implementation, and possibly longer if there were any legal challenges. 

Tim Bellamy, the interim head of transport at the Combined Authority, said: “With regards to franchising, I would set the challenge to the team that if it is the right appropriate way forward, I would think two-and-a-half years would be more appropriate than four. 

“I think we need to try and put our foot on the accelerator on that. I can challenge the team to do that, they may well be interested in that as well.” 

Cllr Bridget Smith, leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, highlighted it was important for the authority to continue to focus on enabling people to access education and health services through public transport. 

Cllr Bailey said she still had some concerns around wording in the draft strategy as to whether it could include road charging. 

Mr Bellamy said he recommended that the authority kept the draft document as it is currently, but said work would continue to improve the wording. 

The board agreed that a six week consultation on the draft strategy should be held to gather views on the draft bus strategy. 

At the meeting, concerns were also raised by Cllr Bailey about the value for money and sustainability of the Ting bus service funded by the Combined Authority. 

A decision was taken by the transport and infrastructure committee last month to retrospectively agree to the new contract with Vectare to run the Ting service. 

This decision was ‘called in’ to the board by Cllr Bailey, in order to review the decision. 

Cllr Bailey said it was a complicated issue that she had been following. She said that a new contract for the service had been agreed by officers at the authority “without democratic authority” as members were not informed. 

Mr Bellamy said the breach had been taken “extremely seriously” and said it was being investigated. 

Cllr Bailey said the board should also be considering whether the authority should continue to fund the service, questioning its cost. 

She said “it is really a luxury, yearlong, low fare service for West Huntingdonshire, that we cannot afford.” 

Cllr Bailey said she did have a potential amendment to the recommendation to ask for officers to renegotiate the contract to include a break clause in March, so that the Ting service could be considered alongside the other services being funded by the Combined Authority. 

The board went into a private session to receive legal advice about the report. 

Returning to public session an officer said the proposed amendment to renegotiate the contract would not be in line with the advice they gave in the private session.  

Cllr Bailey’s amendment failed to get a majority of votes in favour. The subsequent vote to confirm the decision made by the committee did not receive enough support to pass, which meant the committee decision still stood by default.