MARK Drakeford has vowed to improve the bus network in Wales by introducing a new law this year.

The first minister said buses would be one of his government's priorities over the next 12 months, and changes would be made “in a way that promotes the public interest”.

Simpler ticketing systems, revised timetables, and better connections between services are all expected to be part of the government's wider plans for bus travel.

Mr Drakeford will also try to reform the franchising system for bus companies, bringing the network under more centralised control, likely via the government’s own firm, Transport for Wales (TfW), which already runs the majority of the nation’s rail services.

Drakeford: Deregulation of buses 'failed'

These changes would undo the deregulation of the 1980s and, the government believes, make bus travel more efficient, attractive, and affordable for customers.

Public transport improvements are also key to the Welsh Government's climate goals, which focus heavily on “modal shift” - encouraging people to use greener travel than the car.

Mr Drakeford criticised previous deregulation as a “failed system” that “puts profit before people”.

His new law, once passed, would “enable all levels of government to work together to design the network of bus services our communities need”.

Bus passengers in decline

Like most of the UK, passenger numbers have been in decline for years, and the coronavirus pandemic spelled disaster for public transport use.

The Welsh Government had wanted to revise the nation’s bus network in 2020, only for the those plans to be shelved when Covid-19 arrived.

The emergency government funding which propped up bus companies during the pandemic is now drying up, too.

Research by the Confederation of Passenger Transport reportedly estimated that passenger numbers wouldn’t reach 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels until 2030, unless changes to the system were made.

'Collaborative' bus network for Wales

The government claims introducing franchising across Wales would mean more control over how, where and when buses serve communities.

But the changes could be problematic in areas like Newport, where the city council already runs a bus company, Newport Bus. Last year, the local authority said Wales-wide reforms could be a risk to the viability of that business.

In the Senedd, Mr Drakeford said his government had “worked very hard with the industry to create a collaborative approach to shaping that future”, but warned any improvements would be limited by their cost.

“Funding will always be an issue - we simply do not have the money to do all the things that we would like to do,” he said. “But, the bus Bill will provide a new legislative basis to make sure that whatever funding is available is put into the system in a way that promotes the public interest.”