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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Encouraging bus operators to keep to their timetables

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Woman getting on a bus

Outside London, 1.41 billion bus journeys were taken last year. Each of these journeys played a key role in getting people to their destinations. Whether it’s going to work or school, or visiting friends and relatives, passengers need the services to be punctual and reliable.  

Local bus services in England (outside of London and Hertfordshire) must be registered with the Traffic Commissioner and signed up to, and using, the bus open data service. In London and Hertfordshire, this task has been assigned to the relevant local authority (council). 

Bus operators are expected to achieve the punctuality levels set out in the Senior Traffic Commissioner’s statutory document for local bus services. In Scotland, different regulations apply. 

We realise there are challenges to this and we have increased vocational testing capacity to help support more drivers into the vocational driving industry. However, we acknowledge that recruitment regionally is ongoing and understand that this poses challenges for operators while providing vital services for communities. 

It is important that contingency plans are put in place to ensure services continue runnning because your passengers need to see that your bus service is reliable and know what they can do if they encounter issues.   

What bus operators can do 

Bus services should depart from timing points up to 1 minute early and 5 minutes late, and 95% of your registered services need to operate within this window.  

There are unplanned situations that can delay a bus service such as extreme weather conditions, accidents, and no-notice roadworks. But overall, bus services should be able to operate and run to their registered timetable.   

To help establish any timetable issues, it’s recommended that operators monitor their routes which could include the use of daily logs. You should also get feedback from drivers and keep records of anything that affects the reliability of the service.   

Having full and regular contact with local authorities and other relevant parties (such as utility companies) may help to get advance notice of potential disruption to services, such as roadworks.  Bus operators should communicate any potential disruption to passengers as early as they can.  

Where appropriate, by regularly reviewing the registered timetables, operators can be proactive in submitting variations to timetables so they comply with the details they have registered..   

You can read more about this in the statutory guidance.  

What is DVSA’s role? 

We monitor bus services in England and Wales to ensure they’re running to their registered timetable ensuring that customers are getting the service they expect.   

When we receive a complaint from a member of the public, we will approach you as the bus operator for a statement on the allegation, including the cause and what you are going to do to prevent further occurrences.   

We want to work with operators to make improvements, so depending on the number and severity of the issues, we may:  

  • conduct a full systems check on the operator   
  • potentially monitor services for punctuality  

This means we will assess at least 10% of your services - not just the one we’ve received the complaint about. To establish how the service is operating overall, we would monitor both days and times relating to the complaint and other times.   

If the monitoring is unsatisfactory, we will:  

  • give you an opportunity to comment on our observations  
  • refer you to the Traffic Commissioner for consideration of regulatory action  
  • advise you that your services may continue to be monitored for punctuality  

If the monitoring is satisfactory, we will let you know that we may continue to monitor your services for punctuality.  

Referral to the Traffic Commissioner

If an assessment of your systems is unsatisfactory, before we would consider referring you to the  Traffic Commissioner, we would:  

  • highlight the failings to you  
  • give you the opportunity to improve your systems   

You may need to make some improvements. These could include:  

  • amending timetables or routes  
  • cancelling registrations you are no longer able to provide effectively  
  • training drivers more or differently  
  • improving the way you monitor your own punctuality  
  • scrutinising the results to identify issues proactively  
  • improving the systems used to manage your bus services  

We don’t tell you exactly what to do to improve your service – you will be free to decide on what measures will work best for your organisation.   

That way, you’ll be keeping to your commitments, and providing the best possible service to passengers.  

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  1. Comment by Hannah posted on

    First buses in Leeds are regularly not showing up, and the information on the electronic display boards/ the First app is incorrect. The app often says an expected arrival time is “Live” but the bus simply doesn’t turn up. Not only that, but the times shown on the app and on the electronic boards are not the same as each other, and neither match reality. Passengers are therefore not aware if buses are cancelled and so we are stuck waiting at the bus stop for a long time - regularly over 30 minutes and often even an hour! Is there any way to register complaints about the lack of communication? Countless people have complained to First about it but nothing has been done.

    • Replies to Hannah>

      Comment by Julia (DVSA) posted on

      Hi Hannah. I'm sorry to hear you're having problems with your bus company. You will firstly need to contact them and explain the situation. This should give them a chance to look into the matter and reply with their findings.

      If the issues still don’t get resolved, you can then contact DVSA and we’ll look into the situation for you. There is more information here on what to do:

  2. Comment by Dean Harris posted on

    The fault with many buses currently running late and being cancelled is that of DVSA and government, many PSV drivers received letters from DVSA telling them they can get better money if they drive an HGV. The onerous CPC training program and cost is keeping many would be drivers who haven't driven for a while out of the industry. There simply isn't the amount of drivers in the industry to sustain reliable bus services

    Something HAS to be done to new get new drivers into the trade quicker and old drivers back into the trade easier.

    • Replies to Dean Harris>

      Comment by Julia (DVSA) posted on

      Hi Dean Our priority is to keep drivers and vehicles safe on the road. Tackling driver shortages in the bus and coach sector is a key priority which is why we have increased the number of vocational tests available by training more vocational driving examiners. Driver CPC is there to make sure drivers have the required knowledge of the road and to drive safely.

  3. Comment by Trevor posted on

    Pressure on drivers to comply with bus schedules and timed deliveries for goods drivers can be in direct conflict with road safety.
    How are you going to minimise this issue?

    • Replies to Trevor>

      Comment by Julia (DVSA) posted on

      Hi Trevor Operators of both public service and goods vehicles have to follow the relevant drivers hours rules relative to the type of work they undertake.

      The regulations have been in place for some time and DVSA deals with any non-compliance that is identified by our normal means.

      If required, Traffic Commissioners will take regulatory action and decide if it is still appropriate for those who fail to comply with the regulations to hold an operator licence.

  4. Comment by Mrs Teresa Tazey posted on

    Stagecoach are cancelling services in Deal, Kent stating they are making a loss.

    These services have been unreliable for months with buses being cancelled on the day. The only notification passengers get is via twitter, this is rubbish what about those passengers who dont have smart phones or a twitter account. Why would you plan to use a bus for it to not come and you be late.

    The service has become unreliable, that is why it is no longer viable, It is a disgusting way to get rid of unwanted service. Very underhand.

    • Replies to Mrs Teresa Tazey>

      Comment by Julia (DVSA) posted on

      Hi Teresa. Thank you for your comments. If you or someone you know is having problems with a bus operator, you should initially direct your complaint to the operator to see if they can help resolve the situation. If the situation remains unresolved, you can then complain to DVSA's intelligence unit at We can carry out investigations on behalf of the Traffic Commissioners who regulate the bus industry. When making a complaint to DVSA, you should include the name of the operator, bus number, destination, times of when the incident happened and any other relevant information.