Performance-based quality contracts in bus service provision

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - bus


Institutional reform of the bus sector is a topical discussion item in a number of countries at present. A specific focus is on ensuring a value for money (VM) regime to identify the benefits to society associated with each dollar of subsidy support from government. This paper promotes the position that a performance-based contracting (PBC) regime offers the best prospects of achieving a system-wide VM outcome. It proposes a reward system for bus operators that combines payment for delivering a minimum level of service (MSL), that meets government community service obligations, plus an incentive regime that rewards operators for patronage increases (above MSL patronage levels). The patronage incentive is based on expected user and external benefits deriving from service improvements and patronage increases. Cost benchmarking at relevant best practice levels is proposed as essential to ensure remuneration is based on efficient cost levels. The paper argues that a PBC approach is consistent with maximising social surplus from public transport provision across a geographic area, for any given budget constraint and regulatory imposed minimum service levels. The main alternative, competitive tendering (CT), is argued to be less attractive than PBCs in terms of securing the maximum social surplus to the community, given the total amount of subsidy support available, although CT is an appropriate non-compliance condition. This paper is a companion to Hensher and Houghton [Hensher, D.A., Houghton, E., Performance-based contracts for the bus sector: delivering social and commercial value for money, Trans. Res. B, in press] that details the economic framework and an application of PBCs.


Permission to publish abstract given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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