Public transport procurement in Britain

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - europe, organisation - competition, organisation - contracting, organisation - privatisation, organisation - regulation, economics - subsidy, mode - bus, mode - rail


Bus, Rail, Franchising, Competitive tendering, Competition


Britain is one of the countries with the most experience of alternative ways of procuring public transport services. From a situation where most public transport services were provided by publicly owned companies, it has moved to a situation where most are private. Long distance bus services, most local bus services outside London and a small number of rail services are left to commercial operators to provide without regulation on a purely commercial basis. Most rail services, bus services in London and subsidised bus services elsewhere are competitively tendered by central or local government. In the bus industry, both forms of competition have substantially reduced costs, but competitive tendering of services planned by local authorities has been the more successful in boosting patronage. On the other hand, on the rail system, whilst competitive tendering has again gone hand in hand with a large rise in usage, it has also been accompanied by a large rise in costs. Some possible reasons for this difference are considered, but it does appear that caution should be exercised when transferring lessons from one mode to the other.


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


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