The county’s mayoral body began the process to potentially introduce franchising in 2019, with efforts taking place to produce a business case.
However, this was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic when the number of bus passengers slumped.
And although numbers are still only half of what they were pre-pandemic, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority said the imminent end of Covid restrictions means it can proceed with putting a business case together, even though “recovery to any ‘new normal’ will still take some time”.
A report issued by the public body - led by metro mayor Dr Nik Johnson - said the Government will only offer an ongoing subsidy to the bus industry to support post-Covid recovery where transport authorities and operators have agreed a Bus Service Improvement Plan by October, which must involve either a partnership arrangement or franchising.
A previous strategic bus review from the combined authority recommended an ‘enhanced partnership’ between itself and Stagecoach, the only significant bus operator in the area. This would see them work together on actions such as branding, tickets, real-time information and timetables.
However, Stagecoach hit out at the plans, warning that it would lead to higher council tax bills.
If bus franchising is introduced, it would allow the combined authority complete control over how services are delivered in an area.
The new improvement plan would have to be put into action from April 2022 for the government funding to be secured, and there is now a Bus Operators Forum for Peterborough and Cambridgeshire which has brought together operators, passenger groups and officers from stakeholder organisations.
The combined authority already provides direct support to 70 bus routes which operators are unable to run at a commercial profit, but which are judged to be socially necessary.
Those routes account for about 10 per cent of the total bus network with the subsidy expected to cost taxpayers £3 million in 2021/22.
In a normal year, public subsidy accounts for about a third of the total turnover of the bus industry in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.
Meanwhile, the combined authority has submitted a funding bid to the Government to introduce zero emission buses over the next 18 months.
There are currently only two zero emission buses operating across the combined authority area.